Rocks to go; Warrington track to be reopened

Warrington resident Alistair Wright with the rocks blocking an access track to Blueskin Bay that are to be removed after a council decision yesterday. Photo by Peter McIntosh. Two large rocks blocking a track to Blueskin Bay since 2008 are to be removed and vehicle access reinstated as soon as possible.

The majority of Dunedin city councillors present at yesterday's infrastructure committee meeting voted to reopen the illegally closed track at the corner of Bank and Bay Rds in Warrington for a six-month trial to see if the perception of issues was real.

Council staff confirmed proper process was not followed to close the track in 2008, so it was closed illegally, but still recommended it should remain closed until safety issues with visibility, steepness and lack of traction could be resolved.

The Warrington community has been divided over the track for years, with some residents concerned about safety, particularly of pedestrians using a path where the track rises to meet the formed road at the corner.

In proposing the reopening of the track, largely used historically by people putting boats in the water, deputy mayor Chris Staynes acknowledged the safety concerns but said the track had been closed for six years and used for more than 60 years before that, with no record of any accidents on or near it.

''There is a lot of emotion and anecdotal evidence being given that these rocks should stay and this is high risk, but there's no recording that it has been in over 60 years. We need to identify whether the need to keep it closed is real or not real.''

Mayor Dave Cull said he did not believe there was sufficient problem or proven risk with the track to justify all the trouble over what appeared to be a ''short, straight track with very good visibility'' and summed up sentiment around the table that staff time could be better spent on other matters.

''There are oodles of intersections and situations around our town which are far more risky than this that we haven't prioritised yet. Why are we going to so much trouble with this one?''

Crs Andrew Noone, Jinty MacTavish and Aaron Hawkins recorded their votes against reopening the track, following an hour of questions and debate.

That followed a submission at a public forum from a representative of the Warrington Ratepayers and Householders' Association, Sir Julian Smith. The group has been battling to keep the track open since the closure was first suggested about 15 years ago.

Sir Julian said he was ''horrified'' by the staff report on the matter as it ''wants to echo a view probably promulgated by the community council'', and questioned if anyone who wrote it actually visited the site.

Staff responded it was based on visits and information, including photos, from residents, as well as professional safety advice from staff and others.

With the illegality of the closure confirmed, the only remaining issue was safety, Sir Julian said, and there were no concerns on that count as there was no record of any safety problems in the track's long history.

He suggested other matters staff raised, particularly concerns about visibility from the track, were mistaken or irrelevant: ''It is a legal paper road and there is a public right here that should be preserved.''

Cr Noone and Cr MacTavish said they could not vote for the road to be reopened without more assessment of the safety issues because of the level of concern among Warrington residents, some of whom, Cr Noone said, had been equally as concerned about it as Sir Julian, for equally as long.

Cr Hawkins was concerned about possible environmental effects on the bay of the road reopening.

After the meeting, Sir Julian said he was pleased common sense prevailed.

''It has been a long process. There have never been any issues there and there aren't going to be.''

Transportation group manager Gene Ollerenshaw said staff would visit the site next week to look at what low-cost safety measures could be put in to make pedestrians aware of the track once the rocks were moved.

He did not want to confirm a time for removing the rocks, other than ''as soon as possible''.

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