Drive set to reopen next year

Bill Acklin.
Bill Acklin.
For a brief moment, after 90 minutes' debate, it seemed as if a final decision on John Wilson Ocean Dr had finally been made - albeit one that would cost ratepayers $160,000.

Then Dunedin city councillors entered an hour-long discussion on what speed limit should be set for the upgraded road.

That decision, which could potentially add tens of thousands to the cost of the project, was left on the table for a 17th report on the matter from council staff ... and the debate lives on.

As it stands, the council yesterday decided the road would reopen to vehicles between 11am and 3pm on weekdays from early next year.

Councillors voted 8-6 in favour of Cr Bill Acklin's proposal to go with "option 4" from staff, to reseal the road, install a 5m-wide carriageway with a 50kmh speed limit, a 4m-wide shared pedestrian/cycle path and separate them with a low concrete barrier.

A 13-1 vote reduced vehicle access hours of 9am-3pm proposed by Cr Acklin, to 11am-3pm.

The proposals altered decisions made by councillors last November.

Decision made, councillors then spent another hour discussing a speed limit bylaw subcommittee recommendation to reduce the speed limit on the road to 20kmh, before resolving to receive a report on the implications of that, by the council's next meeting on December 10.

Yesterday's discussion started with news from staff that the New Zealand Transport Agency was no longer going to subsidise the project, meaning the proposed option would cost the council $160,000 rather than the $53,000 budgeted for.

Councillors voted 8-6 to find the other $107,000 from other council budgets, with those opposed raising concerns about what else would miss out, and whether the community should get a say.

Several decisions have been made about the road's future, but none has stuck since it was closed indefinitely in 2008, following a two-year closure for the installation of a sewerage outfall pipe.

"It's been through the wringer so many times, it's making a laughing stock of the council," Cr Acklin said.

"I really urge us to get to the end of this and bite the bullet ..."

Cr Lee Vandervis said councillors had done nothing about the road for so long, it was probably "the most acute public embarrassment in the history of the city council".

He did not necessarily agree with it, but thought the proposed option would appeal to all parties.

Cr John Bezett said he agreed, probably for the first time, with Cr Vandervis.

Cr Neil Collins called the issue a "long, sorry saga that had more plots and sub-plots than a Greek tragedy".

"Every time we discuss, it something comes up to delay people using that strip of land," Cr Collins said.

Neil Collins.
Neil Collins.
It was the hardest issue she had dealt with at the council, Cr Kate Wilson said.

"Despite many people thinking the stadium was hard, this was far, far harder."

She preferred the road would stay closed and was concerned it might not be a sound investment as it could well end up closed anyway for reasons "I don't want to dwell on".

The road was briefly opened in 2009, and closed two weeks later, after a death in the area.

Crs Acklin, Bezett, Syd Brown, Collins, Paul Hudson, Andrew Noone, Vandervis and Colin Weatherall voted in support of the proposals.

Crs Jinty MacTavish, Chris Staynes, Teresa Stevenson, Richard Thomson, Wilson and Mayor Dave Cull voted against them.

Cr Fliss Butcher was absent.

Cr Thomson said he was previously supportive of a compromise, but was "acutely disappointed" Cr Acklin had changed the position agreed in November last year without consultation.

Cr Stevenson said councillors should not be "biting the bullet" just to get rid of the embarrassment, and Cr MacTavish said she was concerned the proposals directly contradicted promotion of the area as a pedestrian precinct, which councillors had last November agreed to support. She was also unhappy about using unbudgeted funding for the road work.

She said she would be uncomfortable taking dogs or children along the path with cars travelling at 50kmh right beside her.

She latter tweeted: "For all the times I am proud to be a councillor, moments like this make me acutely embarrassed to be associated with such awful decision making."

Council general manager operations Tony Avery said the executive management team would find the money from other budgets while staff worked out how to stage the work in a manner that accommodated any speed limit changes, if those were required after November's council meeting.

Constructing the road so speeds stayed around a posted limit of 20kmh could potentially cost significantly more, he said.

Staff will prepare a report on the possibility of Ski Dogs New Zealand installing a training strip on the road.


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