26 Jul 2017

Manawatu gorge closure: Businesses left in limbo

8:14 pm on 26 July 2017

Businesses in Woodville will have to wait until Christmas before they know whether a permanent alternative to the Manawatu Gorge road will go through, or bypass the town.

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Photo: NZTA

Since April, multiple slips have closed the gorge road that is the main route between Palmerston North and Hawke's Bay.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges visited both towns affected by the gorge closure today - Ashhurst on the western side of the gorge and Woodville on the east.

The towns have opposite problems: Ashhurst wants to get rid of the extra traffic being diverted through its village, while Woodville businesses want all the visitors they can get.

Rebecca Algie of Bridge Cafe says business had dropped 70 percent, but she'll keep the cafe open.

Rebecca Algie of Bridge Cafe says business had dropped 70 percent, but she'll keep the cafe open. Photo: RNZ / Jemma Brackebush

"Fairly emotional, I've put six-and-a-half years of hard work into it and it's on the edge of a cliff," Bridge Cafe owner Rebecca Algie said.

She received a visit from the minister today and said she was thankful he dropped by. She'll wait until December before making any major decisions.

"Pretty upsetting and nerve-wracking to not know what is in the future," Ms Algie said.

The cafe is located at the eastern entrance to the gorge, and as a result of the road closure in April, business has dropped by 70 percent, but she said working closely with the NZTA to place signs along the detour route has helped to drive people in.

John Gooding and Judy Thomson of Fish Spot in Woodville want assurance the new road will go through the town.

John Gooding and Judy Thomson of Fish Spot in Woodville want assurance the new road will go through the town. Photo: RNZ / Jemma Brackebush

John Gooding and Judy Thomson own Fish Spot, a local eatery on the main street of Woodville. They've owned the business for 17 years and had one main question for the minister.

"The biggest concern is the new road - if there's to be a new road - will it go through Woodville? That's the question we can't get answers to," Mr Gooding said.

Mr Bridges told the pair a proposal should be finalised by December.

Business has dropped by about 30 percent and Ms Thomson said business owners needed to know what their future might look like.

"If we know then we can plan, but at the moment everybody is hanging in the balance.

"We're battling away and hopefully we'll survive, but it would be nice to know and then we can plan for the next two years, three years, five years," she said.

Mr Bridges said it was likely the gorge won't reopen, and there will be a new permanent alternative road.

But what that may look like, and cost, was not yet known.

For Ashhurst residents on the western side of the gorge, the minister's assurance that there will be a bypass for the town was welcomed.

A mother of two boys, Jocelyn Woodward-Candy said since the gorge closure, the small village had become home to a state highway.

"The streets aren't safe for the kids to cross the road. It's speeding cars, people are in a hurry and aren't giving way at the roundabouts, it's crazy," she said.

Three organisations are tendering to investigate a long-term alternative and will report back to the NZTA next month. The first step in what could be a long journey towards a permanent alternative.

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