Chair men disagree over ocean drive access

Ian Mann (left) and Ken McIntosh have divergent views on the future of Dunedin's John Wilson...
Ian Mann (left) and Ken McIntosh have divergent views on the future of Dunedin's John Wilson Ocean Dr. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
Two men, two wheelchairs - and two very different views of the future of John Wilson Ocean Dr, at St Kilda, in Dunedin.

Ian Mann (82) is reliant on his wheelchair, after hip replacements left him unable to walk more than a few short steps at a time.

Ken McIntosh (53) is also reliant on his wheelchair, after a series of operations to remove a tumour on his spine left him an incomplete tetraplegic in 2003.

Both men also shared a love of John Wilson Ocean Dr and the panoramic views of coastal scenery from Lawyers Head, at the end of the drive.

But their views diverge when it comes to the future of the road they both love.

Mr Mann wanted it reopened to cars, allowing him to be driven to the top by wife Joan to take in the view.

Mr McIntosh was equally adamant it should remain vehicle-free, fearing the return of motorists would make it unsafe for people like him.

It is a stark lesson in the difficulties faced by the Dunedin City Council as it grapples - once again - with the scenic drive's future, five years after it was closed to vehicles in 2006.

The decision by councillors on Monday to send the issue back to the council's community development committee, to explore more options for the road's future, has been met with guarded acceptance by groups lobbying on both sides this week.

However, Mr Mann told the Otago Daily Times the solution was simple: allow vehicles back on to the road, and encourage everyone to share.

"It's a wide road - it's practically three lanes. There's any amount of room for everyone.

"Given a little bit of goodwill from everybody, there's no reason why it can't be good."

Mr Mann, who uses a wheelchair or mobility scooter for trips outside, said he had visited the area "from time to time" over the past 22 years, since retiring to Dunedin.

He was now unable to walk the length of the drive, and unwilling to brave cold weather and "freeze to death" while exposed to the elements in his wheelchair.

"Old bones don't like being cold."

That left only vehicle access if he wanted to enjoy the views from the drive and Lawyers Head.

"I'd love to be able to go along in the car, sit and have lunch, watch the view for half an hour or so. I wouldn't do it every day - perhaps not every week - but I think the opportunity should be there."

Those objecting to any form of shared vehicle access were being "quite selfish", he believed.

The councillors' decision on Monday was "a step in the right direction", but limited vehicle access should be available each day, he argued.

However, Mr McIntosh said he had been converted after initially believing the road's closure to vehicles was a bad move.

He used to visit Lawyers Head in his mobility van, to eat fish and chips and enjoy the views, but since its closure to vehicles had discovered the joys of a wide-open and vehicle-free road.

"You'd see other people around. There's families with kids on there. It's just so good. And there's no way I would use it if vehicles were riding on it as it is, because it's just too dangerous.

"The young fellows use it as a race track."

He visited the area "once a fortnight" at the moment, and every few days in summer, and believed there was no comparable vehicle-free alternative in Dunedin.

Initial council plans - since discarded - to spend $487,519 upgrading the road for shared use had been "just crazy", as had the ongoing arguments over its future.

"Every week, there's something different about it. Next week, it will be that they're just going to open it [to vehicles] again and have it back as a normal road."

Mr McIntosh also believed the solution was simple. The council should stick to the vehicle ban.

"It's only one small bit of road that people can't drive on. There's plenty of other ones they can drive to if they want to have a look around.

"There's no other place like it [John Wilson Ocean Dr] in Dunedin that families can go out with their kids on bikes and walk.

"It's the only thing like it around."


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