Dramatic U-turn on road plan

John Wilson Ocean Dr has been closed to vehicular traffic since 2006. Photo by Craig Baxter.
John Wilson Ocean Dr has been closed to vehicular traffic since 2006. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Dunedin city councillors have made a dramatic last-minute change to plans for John Wilson Ocean Dr, by axing a proposed upgrade and instead voting to keep the road closed to vehicles.

Councillors at yesterday's annual plan deliberations voted overwhelmingly 10-2 against keeping funding of $487,519 for the upgrade in the proposed 2011-12 budget.

Instead, they threw their weight behind an alternative - suggested by Cr Lee Vandervis - to remove the funding and keep the road closed to vehicle traffic.

It was the latest twist in the long-running saga over the future of the road, which has continued on and off since it was closed in 2006 to allow construction of the Tahuna outfall.

Councillors continued the debate at yesterday's deliberations, but it appeared a flood of submissions received in recent weeks, most calling for the road to remain closed to vehicles, had won the day.

Several councillors conceded they had been swayed by the feedback, after the council had earlier approved the $487,519 upgrade - subject to annual plan consultation - to make the road safe for motorists, pedestrians, cyclists and others.

The change of direction came only after council staff sought legal advice yesterday morning, which confirmed a late change was lawful despite having already consulted the public and identifying a preferred option.

Cr John Bezett said he was happy to recommend the money remain in the budget, and test support for it through a vote, to honour the council's previous commitments.

He argued the council had already sought public input on the road's future during a two-day hearing, which saw a 50-50 split between those wanting the road reopened to vehicles and those who argued it was a better facility closed to vehicles.

The recommended upgrade was the option that resulted, and "I'm not sure why people are changing their views now", Cr Bezett said.

He said any last-minute change to remove the funding would not end the debate, and the council needed to stick to its previous decisions.

"People are sick and tired and they want council to make up their minds ... we are not going to win this one. Whichever way we go there are going to be winners and losers."

Cr Richard Thomson argued against the spending, saying he had previously thought the road's closure to vehicles was "ridiculous" but had changed his mind after using the vehicle-free road to recuperate from a back operation in recent months.

It was a "substantially more enjoyable" experience than the last time he used the road to recuperate from a back operation, when the road was open to vehicles, he said.

"I have moved from an atheist to an agnostic, and I'm afraid now I'm a believer."

His views won support from councillors including Cr Jinty MacTavish, who said feedback on the proposed upgrade was "absolutely loud and clear".

"It's saying spending on this is not what they want us to be doing."

Cr Kate Wilson stressed the road would remain open to people, just not vehicles, if the funding was removed.

However, Cr Bill Acklin - a member of the council's John Wilson Ocean Dr hearings committee - said the community had been split over the future of the road at the earlier hearing, with 50% of submitters wanting some sort of vehicle access.

The proposed upgrade had aimed to ensure the growing number of pedestrians using the road remained safe if it was reopened to vehicles, he said.

"[The] $487,000 here is not about cars, it's about people."

Cr Bezett's resolution to retain the funding was lost 10-2, winning support only from himself and Cr Acklin. Cr Vandervis' resolution to remove the funding and keep the road closed to vehicles was then carried with majority support.



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