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Councillors at yesterday's Dunedin City Council meeting voted overwhelmingly, 11-3, in favour of considering more options that might allow some restricted vehicle access on the drive.
The vote - instigated by Cr Bill Acklin - means the issue will be referred back to the council's community development committee for further work, with results expected within months.
It was the latest twist in the saga surrounding the scenic coastal road, and came after councillors had first approved, then later removed, $487,519 in funding for the road in the 2011-12 draft annual plan.
The money was to upgrade the road for shared use by motorists, pedestrians, cyclists and other users, but the vote to remove it last month kept the road permanently closed to vehicles.
That prompted Cr Acklin to signal last week he planned one final bid to save some form of restricted vehicle access.
He said there had been a groundswell of public reaction against the move to keep vehicles off the road, and it was clear all users - be they motorists or cyclists - wanted access to the drive and views from Lawyers Head.
Cr Acklin's pleas found support from most councillors yesterday, although some who again switched sides supported consideration of only minimal vehicle access if a suitable option could be identified.
Cr Richard Thomson - changing his mind for the third time - said, as an example, vehicles could be allowed on the first Sunday and Monday of every month, and prohibited at other times.
He still believed the council's decision to ban vehicles had been "fundamentally correct". Arguments against vehicle access had at first prompted him to switch from supporting vehicle access to opposing it.
He would be prepared to switch sides again, allowing the committee to consider new options for limited vehicle access, but not if it became a "trojan horse" for earlier expensive plans to upgrade the road.
The new proposal could be achieved at little or no cost, would have little impact on other users and protect the area for non-motorists at all other times, he said.
Mayor Dave Cull believed the "best outcome" was to continue closing the road to vehicles, but he was "extremely uncomfortable" about a divided council making a final decision.
"I will support this motion with the hope we can achieve some kind of consensus around this table that would be a robust decision."
Deputy mayor Chris Staynes also backed the move, saying any decision made while the community and council were divided would be "unsafe", while Cr John Bezett believed there remained "room for everyone" on the road.
Ignoring motorists' arguments would see the issue coming back before councillors in future, and "I want to see some closure on this, and the way to do it is to reconsider it", he said.
However, Crs Lee Vandervis, Kate Wilson and Teresa Stevenson all opposed the move. Cr Vandervis said the debate had been "torturous" and the council's initial decision to prohibit vehicles should remain.
Cr Stevenson urged councillors to give the change time to settle in.
Following the debate, councillors voted 11-3 to review options for the drive, which will remain closed in the meantime. No funding for work on the road will be included in the 2011-12 annual plan.
A workshop would also be held, allowing councillors to discuss new options and reach a "compromise" for the road's shared use, Cr Acklin said.
How they voted
Yes: Crs Bill Acklin, John Bezett, Syd Brown, Neil Collins, Jinty MacTavish, Andrew Noone, Richard Thomson, Colin Weatherall, Fliss Butcher, deputy mayor Chris Staynes, Mayor Dave Cull.
No: Crs Teresa Stevenson, Lee Vandervis, Kate Wilson.