Bay access hot topic for board meeting

Gerard Collings
Gerard Collings
Years of debate over vehicle access to Blueskin Bay will come to a head in Warrington tonight, when the Waikouaiti Coast Community Board considers the views of a divided community.

Board members will consider reinstating vehicle access to a track leading to the bay, after it was blocked in about 2009 by the placement of two boulders at the board's instruction.

The issue has rumbled on since, as some residents lobbied the board and the council to remove the boulders.

More recent complaints about a lack of consultation over the placement of the boulders had prompted a rethink, board chairman Gerard Collings said yesterday.

''I've looked back through and I think probably the board could have discussed the matter a little bit more broadly with the community.''

The board had invited feedback on the rethink, resulting in 43 public comments, split evenly between those wanting vehicle access and those worried it posed a safety risk.

The responses included a petition signed by 141 people calling for the boulders to remain but Mr Collings told the Otago Daily Times the decision was ''not a popularity contest''. It would be up to board members to decide what weight to give to the comments, the petition and the views of Dunedin City Council staff.

The board was expected to make a recommendation to the next full council meeting on June 23, but could refer it to a council committee if needed. Council staff, in a report to tonight's meeting, said reinstating vehicle access would pose safety concerns.

The track was for pedestrians and not suitable for vehicles, making it ''unlawful and dangerous'' to drive on and the placement of the boulders legal, staff concluded. Some residents asked the board to resist calls for the track to be reopened to vehicles.

Jackie Hughes, on behalf of the Warrington Playcentre, said the playcentre used the access track on visits to the bay and worried children would be at greater risk if vehicles used it.

Others disagreed, including members of the Warrington Ratepayers and Householders Association, who disputed the conclusions of council staff and said claimed safety concerns were ''absurd''.

The track had been used as vehicle access for many years without incident, which also rebutted claims it was too narrow for vehicles, the association said. If the width of the track was the issue, the association would ''happily undertake widening of the road'' at no cost to the council.

Public Access New Zealand chairman Alan McMillan said safety concerns were unjustified and the boulders were ''probably without legal authority'' and should be removed.

The group suggested the board consider improving the track to improve access to Blueskin Bay.

Mr Collings told the ODT he would ''like to think'' tonight's decision would resolve the debate, but that might not be possible.

''The reality is that because of the community feeling, not everyone's going to be happy.''

- The Warrington Ratepayers and Householders Association's chairman is Sir Julian Smith, managing director of Allied Press, publisher of the Otago Daily Times.

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