Riccarton Rd fight warning for DCC

John Bezett
John Bezett
The Dunedin City Council should brace itself for a second "unpleasant" debate over the future of Riccarton Rd, but should not resile from the fight this time, a city councillor says.

The warning came from Cr John Bezett at this week's council infrastructure services committee meeting, as councillors voted to approve a $2.6 million plan to upgrade Riccarton Rd.

The upgrade - known as Option B - aimed at improving safety on the narrow road for residents, pedestrians, cyclists and other road users.

It is the latest step in the long-running saga over Riccarton Rd, which stretches back more than a decade and has divided opinion and pitted some residents against the council.

Option B was the more expensive of two options considered, and would see the road widened to 7m, with two 1.5m-wide shoulders, and would require the purchase of private land to make room for the work.

Council staff had recommended a cheap $1.8 million upgrade - Option A - which would have seen less road widening along the 4.2km section from Gladstone Rd to State Highway 87, without the need to buy private land.

Both options received a mixed reception when presented to a public meeting in Mosgiel last month, but Option A was rejected by the Mosgiel Taieri Community Board earlier this month, with majority support for the more expensive option.

At this week's committee meeting, the majority of councillors voted to proceed with Option B instead of Option A.

That was despite hearing budget constraints meant Option B could take longer than Option A, which would have been carried out in incremental steps and completed by 2020, councillors were told.

Mosgiel Taieri Community Board chairman Bill Feather said the board still supported Option B as the best approach, even though board members were "insistent" the work should be completed as soon as possible.

"We are dealing with safety concerns with this road ... there's not really a timeframe - it's now," he said.

However, Cr John Bezett sounded a warning, saying residents unwilling to sell slices of their land to the council, to allow the project to progress as planned, meant there was "a definite possibility of stalling this".

Council transportation operations projects engineer Evan Matheson said the council would apply for a notice of requirement and attempt to negotiate with individual landowners in the first instance.

However, powers available under the Public Works Act might be needed to force "compulsory acquisition" of land from residents unwilling to sell, he acknowledged.

The value of the land would in that case be determined by an independent valuer, but the process would involve a "potentially quite long" timeframe of up to three years, he said.

There was also the potential for "major unknown costs" for the council associated with working through that process, council senior policy planner Paul Freeland added.

Cr Bezett said councillors should "all be aware" they were starting down a potentially long road by approving Option B, and should be prepared for the process to become "unpleasant", but urged them to stick to the resolution regardless.

"At some stage some committed council has got to say enough is enough and stick to a resolution if it gets unpleasant."

This week's meeting was the second time the council had considered use of the Public Works Act.

Debate had been split between those - including the council - who wanted the road upgraded to improve safety, and some residents who suspected the council was pushing to convert the road to an arterial route for heavy traffic.

Opponents of the project had vowed to fight the project all the way to the Environment Court.

In late 2009, the council published a notice of requirement to acquire - by negotiation or force - private land along the road needed for a planned $5.4 million upgrade of Riccarton Rd.

However, the notice was withdrawn in May last year, after a panel of commissioners asked for substantial changes to the road's proposed development plan, and the New Zealand Transport Agency indicated it would not fund the modified work.

At the time, the drawn-out process was estimated to have cost $250,000, with the NZTA funding 65% of the bill.

At this week's committee meeting, chairman Cr Andrew Noone said the more expensive option was "the way to go", but acknowledged community "frustration" at the length of time it had taken the council to consider the road's future.

It was possible the council could in future accelerate the pace of work, although that - and the extra funding required - would be a matter for future annual plan deliberations, he said.

Mayor Dave Cull said Option B would be the safest for cyclists, and had his support because of that, while Cr Colin Weatherall said the debate had been "pretty torturous" and urged councillors to proceed.

Cr Fliss Butcher supported Option B "reluctantly", as she worried widening the road could encourage more heavy traffic to use it instead of other available routes.

Cr Lee Vandervis worried about the costs involved and supported Option A, suggesting Option B could be built later if required.

Following the debate, councillors voted to approve Option B.

Twists and turns

• Debate over future of Riccarton Rd stretches back a decade; council wants upgrade to improve safety, but some residents are opposed, fearing increased use as heavy-traffic arterial route.

• DCC intention to reclassify it as an arterial road signalled in 2003 study; reiterated in 2006 transportation strategy; suggested again in proposed plan change in 2009.

• February 2009, 36-year-old refuse collector killed after being struck by a passing van; the second fatality on the road in 16 months. DCC 2009 safety audit finds road's narrow width and lack of road shoulders threat to cyclist and pedestrian safety.

• Several plans for road's development proposed, culminating in November 2009 when council publishes notice of requirement for planned $5.4 million upgrade.

• Residents opposed, vowing to fight in Environment Court; plan scrapped and notice withdrawn in May last year, after commissioners seek substantial changes to plan and New Zealand Transport Agency indicates it would not fund modified plan.

• List of new options for upgrade whittled down to two - Options 8 and 9 - last September; Renamed Options A and B.

• Mixed support at Mosgiel public meeting last month; Mosgiel Taieri Community Board backs more expensive Option B.

• Councillors vote for Option B at this week's infrastructure services committee meeting; warned land purchases would be required, as would a notice of requirement, and possibly forced acquisition of land using the Public Works Act.



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