Staff study possible solution to cycleway debate

Dunedin city councillor Richard Thomson thinks he might have a plan that could satisfy the desires of both sides of the debate over which part of Portobello Rd/Harington Point Rd to improve first.

A suggestion in the Dunedin City Council's draft annual plan that it review the order of remaining widening and cycle/walkway work on harbourside road around the Otago Peninsula resulted in 600 submissions and ignited a fierce debate between peninsula communities and between them and cyclists.

The Portobello and Broad Bay communities argued for their sections to be done first, as per the present plan, while cyclists and residents on the Vauxhall/Glenfalloch section, which would connect two already completed sections, argued their section should be moved to the top of the list.

Both groups used safety as the key argument for picking them.

The debate became personal at some stages, with accusations made by some in the Portobello/Broad Bay communities that the council was ''hell-bent'' on starting at the city end of the road partially because Cr John Bezett and Mayor Dave Cull, a cyclist who rides the Vauxhall/Glenfalloch section nearly every day, lived there.

Cr Bezett yesterday said he ''bitterly resented'' the implication, and reminded the public he had clearly disadvantaged himself when he pushed in 2007 to do the Macandrew Bay segment of the road first, and had sought the opinion of the auditor-general on whether he and other councillors should withdraw on the matter.

He said the auditor-general had cleared peninsula-dwelling councillors to sit in on the discussion and vote, but he had decided to withdraw from both as a matter of clarity.

Mr Cull said he would chair the discussion, but also would not participate or vote because there remained the perception he would allow self-interest to influence the decision.

Also, he did not like the inference that to prove he was not biased meant voting one way in particular.

Cr Neville Peat, of Broad Bay, felt he was less affected so did not need to withdraw.

Cr Thomson, the council's finance committee chairman, told councillors he had come up with an idea that he thought could work, but staff would have to do the modelling to confirm it could.

He believed it could be possible to complete both sections simultaneously, or as close as possible, at no additional cost and little or no impact on rates over the next 10 years.

It would, however, mean borrowing money earlier than planned, possibly affecting the council's goal of reducing its overall debt level to $200 million by 2023.

He noted the work could not begin in the 2014-15 year anyway because the programme was already fully committed to completing improvements on a section of Harington Point Rd, so feedback could be prepared in time for the setting of the 10-year budget in 2015-16.

He suggested a starting point for the work be named, should it prove impossible to do both at the same time. However, councillors agreed not to specify a priority in case it led to what Cr David Benson-Pope described as further ''tension and aggro'' in the community until they heard whether Cr Thomson's idea was workable.

Finance and transportation staff said they could have a look at the model proposed by Cr Thomson and report back to the council on Friday, so it could make a decision.

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