Doubts cast on cycleways

Dunedin Tunnel Trails trust co-chairwoman Kate Wilson, seen here standing by the Caversham tunnel...
Dunedin Tunnel Trails trust co-chairwoman Kate Wilson, seen here standing by the Caversham tunnel, hopes the trail will not be affected by the government’s new transport approach. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
A raft of Dunedin City Council cycleway projects could be in doubt thanks to a new government directive, a city councillor says.

Transport Minister Simeon Brown has sent a letter to councils informing them of his directive to NZ Transport Agency Waka Kotahi to halt work on government-subsidised walking and cycle trail initiatives that came under the Climate Emergency Response Fund (Cerf) banner.

"I understand that some local authorities have been developing programmes with NZTA and other stakeholders to reduce vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT) by the light vehicle fleet, using funding from the Cerf.

"I have given notice to NZTA to end its work on these programmes, and to not commit any further funding to local authorities (beyond existing contractual obligations) to develop these programmes."

Mr Brown commented further in an accompanying statement:

"This government’s approach to reducing transport emissions does not focus on telling people to drive less. This is different from the previous government’s approach."

Dunedin city councillor Steve Walker said he was "gobsmacked" by the government’s announcement.

"Further details and information will need to be analysed before we can be sure how this affects us, but for the first time in a long time I am starting to feel nervous about the completion of the shared path on the peninsula and of course the much-anticipated Tunnel Trails project.

The project is a 15km cycle and walking path between Dunedin and Mosgiel that will go through the Chain Hills and Caversham tunnels.

"There must also be doubt around several longer-term projects related to some community-led initiatives such as the Taieri Trails Group and those working on the Coastal Communities Cycle Connection."

Spokes Dunedin spokesman Jon Dean said the government’s announcement signalled there would be a "total reset" of transport priorities.

"While this is undeniably disappointing, this is the opportunity for advocacy groups such as ours to look at what message we want to send to government, and what projects we could promote to get over the line."

Urban and national cycleway projects had social and economic benefits, along with road safety benefits, which could not be ignored, he said.

"Transport is about freedom of opportunities.

"Cycleway projects are crucial links for people who can’t drive.

"The reasons that people bike are varied."

He would like to see the Tunnels Trail project progress, as this was crucial transport infrastructure for Dunedin, he said.

"It’s a really important connection, and needs to get across the line."

Dunedin Tunnels Trail Trust co-chairman Gerard Hyland said he hoped the project would still get backing from NZTA.

"This isn’t just a nice-to-have, this is a really important project.

"We’ve got our fingers crossed."

Trust co-chairwoman Kate Wilson said the trust hoped the trail would not be affected by the flow-on effects of the cancellation of Cerf funding.

"We didn’t get funding from that mechanism, but there is a lot of uncertainty right now."

Cycleway consultant Hamish Seaton, who has worked on popular off-road trails such as the Aoraki/Mt Cook-to-Oamaru Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail, hoped this new directive would not stymie off-road projects.

"But until we get a policy statement or something similar from the minister, it’s all a bit up in the air.

He said the previous National-led government had invested millions in cycleway projects because it could see the economic and tourism benefit.