Northland leaders not yet ready to give up highway bid

25 Jan 2018, 2:36 PM

Local body leaders say there’s still plenty of merit in a proposed four-lane highway between Northland and Warkworth, despite the newly-elected government reportedly being less enthusiastic about the project than its predecessor.

Prime Minister Jacinda Adern was recently quoted as suggesting neglected regional roads – as well as alternatives to roading in some urban areas – would be better candidates for funding than proposals like the Northland-Auckland four-laning.

She said Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter would meet with local mayors to discuss which regional roads would be prioritised.

However, Northland’s local body leaders say they are not yet ready to give up on the long-held view that a four-laned Northland-Auckland route is vital to the region’s future.  They insist that despite its apparent fall from favour, recent progress to advance four-laning into the North desperately needs to continue.

Far North Mayor John Carter says Northland ‘absolutely’ needed more money for rural roads, and in particular its unsealed roads, but this should be in addition to – rather than at the expense of – its main economic route.

“The reality is this route is our region’s most vital transport link to Auckland, and the rest of New Zealand.”

Whangarei Mayor Sheryl Mai says the rationale for utilising Marsden Pt-based Northport as part of the solution to Ports of Auckland’s universally-accepted capacity issues has merit and should be actively pursued.

“This will also meet future export and import requirements for the Upper North Island as the Northland and wider economy continues to grow.”

This sentiment is echoed by Kaipara’s Acting Mayor Peter Wethey, who is concerned at the impact on Northland’s economic growth if the four-laning does not go ahead.

“Given the growth in horticulture in the Far North, the development of key access route to markets is critical.  Any delay in progressing the highway improvements will be counterproductive to the region’s economic development.”

Northland leaders also stress tourism’s role as a major earner for the north.

Northland Regional Council Chairman Bill Shepherd says the proposed four-lane highway has advantages not just for transporting freight, but also for better – and safer – tourism and associated employment opportunities.

“While Northland is blessed in terms of some outstanding natural treasures that attract both local and overseas tourists, much of our success in this area is also dependent on key infrastructure, including roading.”

“As well as design issues the lack of suitable passing lanes in some places, force tourists and local commuters to share some of the most dangerous and busy stretches of highway with fully-laden logging trucks.”

Chairman Shepherd says the four-laning proposal could go at least some of the way towards reducing the risks to all involved and improving the safety and reliability of this important route.