Great asset, but it needs to be finished

The Otago Harbour shared pathway, Te Awa Otakou. PHOTO: GERARD O’BRIEN
The Otago Harbour shared pathway, Te Awa Otakou. PHOTO: GERARD O’BRIEN
The Dunedin City Council needs to be reminded that it promised to finish the harbour shared path, Christine Garey writes.

What caused an outcry on Otago Peninsula was a speech by a government minister followed by a visiting ambassador describing Te Aka Ōtākou, the shared path around the harbour, as complete.

For those with long memories, these statements triggered a unified and clear response from most in the community — this project is most definitely far from finished.

The Peninsula side was originally known as the Portobello/Harington Pt Rd Safety Improvement Project, aka the Peninsula Connection and now Te Awa Ōtākou, a beautiful name gifted by mana whenua. It was designed to deliver significant safety improvements for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers travelling from Vauxhall all the way to the bottom of Taiaroa Head.

It was first requested by the community from 2002, committed to by Dunedin City Council in 2015 and was to be completed by 2023-24. However, three sections remain incomplete.

It is only recently — as construction work has come to an end on the latest sections of the project and public comment that the project is finished — that it has dawned on the community that the commitment made in 2015 may have all but been forgotten by decision-makers around the council table.

This community-led project evolved out of a request by the Macandrew Bay community in 2002 for a footpath wide enough for two prams side-by-side.

Pressure grew from the wider Peninsula community against a backdrop of serious injury accidents and fatalities. It was picked up as a project in 2005 by the then newly formed Otago Peninsula Community Board, becoming its top priority and it remains so.

During the consenting process, mana whenua graciously agreed to extensive reclamation of the harbour which was necessary for the project to proceed.

The first of three sections yet to be constructed stretches from the Ōtākou bus stop around Fisheries Corner. Eroded by the sea and under water during storm events, the road is becoming more frequently affected. There is also a genuine fear of accidents, with buses having to cross the centre-line on a blind corner. It’s a busy road, especially during the summer season with visitors, and it’s the only road access to the end of the peninsula.

If cut off, it affects the community, marae, emergency services, but also all those whose livelihoods rely on four visitor attractions, including the globally significant Royal Albatross colony, not to mention the wider impact on the city’s economy.

The second section is from Portobello past the school to the bus turnaround. From a safety perspective, its proximity to the township and through the narrow cutting by the school makes this section a priority.

The pupils attending Portobello School are entitled to the safety that other Peninsula students now experience every day.

The final section includes the Desert Road, as it is known locally, and ends at Ōtākou bus stop. This more straightforward inland section could be constructed over an extended period. A delayed approach to this part may be a compromise the community is willing to make if within an agreed timeframe and with the other two sections prioritised for early completion.

While these three remaining sections at the Ōtākou end of the Peninsula were due to be completed first, back in 2015, there was a need for the council to change the sequence, due to Waka Kotahi’s funding criteria at the time.

These three sections then became last in the order. At the time, the council clearly restated its commitment to complete the whole project. The council also resolved at the time that any future work on the project was to be built to the "agreed final layout standard", i.e. the agreed design, following extensive community consultation.

There have been no council resolutions to the contrary since.

It is not surprising then that there is an expectation from the community that the commitment to complete what began as the Portobello/Harington Pt Rd Safety Improvement Project will be honoured by the council as a priority and to the agreed design. Resource consent has been granted — what remains is for funding to be secured.

Benefits have already been experienced by Dunedin residents, particularly those who live and work on the Peninsula as well as visitors from further afield. The completed sections have already improved safety, connected and strengthened communities in their every day lives, provided recreational opportunities previously unavailable and given better access to the harbour.

It has unlocked potential for new businesses, as well as significantly enhancing the Peninsula’s status as a desirable destination.

The completed sections have been reinforced and raised to deal with the effects of sea-level rise. The shared path is well used and there has been a significant drop in accidents on the improved sections of road.

To ensure the completion of this long-awaited project, to finish what it started, the council needs to prioritise the project. Te Aka Ōtākou, nearly marathon length in its unique setting around Otago Harbour, will enhance our city as a destination.

However, it will take the community to yet again remind the council, through the annual plan and early next year through the long-term plan, what it promised and has yet to deliver — a world-class asset.

— Christine Garey is a Dunedin city councillor.