Ocean drive debate revs up

There were impassioned pleas and an angry walk-out as debate over the closure of Dunedin's scenic John Wilson Ocean Dr to motorists showed no signs of dying down yesterday.

Keeping vehicles off the road was signalled by councillors with a vote last month, but the fallout from the move continued at yesterday's Dunedin City Council public forum.

Three speakers, upset the results of last year's public consultation had been swept aside, won applause from the public gallery as they took turns taking councillors to task over the closure.

Two members of the John Wilson Promenaders group, who also used the forum to congratulate councillors for the decision, endured muttering and scoffing from the gallery.

The pair's arguments even prompted one man sitting in the gallery to stage a walkout, after loudly declaring their arguments were "beyond belief".

"I really can't listen to this rubbish," he said as he went.

Councillors last month voted to remove $487,519 for John Wilson Ocean Dr from the 2011-12 draft annual plan. The money had been pencilled in to pay for upgrading the road to a shared space for motorists, cyclists, pedestrians and other users, following public consultation last year.

However, the funding decision was subject to last month's annual plan consultation, and a flood of fresh submissions from those opposed to vehicles on the road prompted a last-minute change by councillors.

A bid by Cr Bill Acklin earlier this month to reinstate vehicles for restricted hours, following a smaller $50,000 upgrade, also fell just one vote short.

Yesterday, Dunedin man Robert Gilmore told councillors they had misread public opinion by listening to annual plan submissions. Most of those wanting vehicle access to continue believed they had been heard after last year's consultation, and had not made second submissions to last month's annual plan. That left the way clear for those opposed to vehicle access.

"The simplest and cheapest solution to this problem is to remove the bollards and return John Wilson Ocean Drive to what it was before - a beautiful scenic drive," he said.

Joan Mann said her wheelchair-bound husband needed vehicle access to enjoy the view from Lawyers Head.

However, John Wilson Promenaders organiser Gerard Liddell applauded the vehicle ban, saying the drive was Dunedin's only wide carriageway free of vehicles where pedestrians, cyclists and others could feel safe.

There were snorts of derision as he argued the health benefits promoted by closing the road to vehicles outweighed the arguments for vehicle access.

St Kilda resident Justine Tindley agreed vehicles should remain banned, pointing to the litter and other problems they brought with them. She said use of the area was only now starting to grow, after 50 years of vehicle access, and believed the controversy would eventually be forgotten.

"In 10 years' time . . . it's just going to be crowded full of people."

The council will meet again on June 27 and vote to confirm the 2011-12 annual plan without the $487,519 funding needed to reopen the road to vehicles.

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