Letters to Editor: Plea to save railway, rent rise outrage

Photo: Gerard O'Brien
Photo: Gerard O'Brien
Today's Letters to the Editor from readers cover topics including saving the Taieri Gorge Railway, outrage over Oamaru rent rises and a plea to keep things as normal at a Dunedin school. 

Campaign to tear up track must be thwarted

The cleverly orchestrated campaign to tear up the Taieri Gorge Railway, a Tourism NZ award-winning journey, and replace it with another cycleway is reminiscent of the disastrous decisions of Dunedin’s past. Four cable car lines were torn up in the name of progress; the Dunedin Tramways city-wide network met the same fate. The clean green Dunedin trolley buses were replaced with diesel belching omnibuses, and the arbiters of these disasters simply walked away having wielded their bureaucratic axes.

This ploy by Mr Simms and his iconoclastic colleagues, coming when the train is, so to speak , ‘‘up on blocks’’ thanks to Covid, is fooling nobody. There are many options to be explored and many possible partners could be involved; thinking outside the square may well bring about a desired result.

L McConnell

Andrew Simms (open letter ODT 15.11.23) mistakenly concluded that low Dunedin passenger numbers for the train in the last 12 months indicated lack of interest or cost barriers. Not so.

The train was not available to the Dunedin public as it had been before Covid. Instead it has operated as a charter service for special interest groups such as cruise ship passengers. The 1804 people from Dunedin referred to in the open letter may have have been on a local special excursion, such as Dunedin to Waitati.

During the last cruise ship season, friends were on holiday in Dunedin. A highlight of their visit was to have been a trip on the Taieri Gorge Railway, but the train was inaccessible - i-Site staff were unable to help with bookings, the website had been deactivated, and a visit to the railway station found the booking office locked and dark. To add to our bemusement, the train was actually at the platform, waiting to take cruise ship passengers on an outing denied to the locals.

There is no way of knowing how many other potential passengers like us missed out on the amazing experience of a Taieri Gorge rail trip during the past year. Please do not allow Andrew Simms to misinterpret the cause of the low Dunedin passenger numbers.

Anne Prior

One hopes the ODT charged Andrew Simms and his two wheel fanatics megabucks for his fantasy filled so-called letter to the DCC. One can only hope there is enough common sense left on the council to ignore the never ending campaign to close one of the world's iconic rail journeys.

Do we really need another cycle trail? Surely the wonderful Dunedin harbour trail should keep them happy. Thankfully two correspondents in the same issue (15.11.23) had letters published exposing the ridiculous figures being used to justify closing the rail journey full stop. No, it should be restored to the full journey to Middlemarch and publicised and promoted worldwide, and why not have a reduced rate for locals, especially if they bring visitors with them. 

Then when that is back on track get the cable cars back up High St. What a pair of world-famous heritage attractions that would be for Dunedin, along with a working railway station.

Neville Idour

In a letter today (ODT 15.11.23), M L Graham seems less offended by the financial implications of the Taieri Gorge cycle trail proposal than by the depiction of Andrew Simms in flagrante delicto, cycling in public.

Children exposed to cycling when young are likely to perpetuate the behaviour in later life and in their own children. Perhaps your correspondent is hoping that the next government will save these youngsters and others from the well-documented sequelae of cycling: reduced traffic congestion, lower carbon emissions, and better physical and mental health.

Erika Buky
Broad Bay

Rent rise an outrage - Oamaru pensioner

I live in a Waitaki District Council flat and have just had a 56% rent rise.

It’s all very well to say the rise is to be set at a percentage of market valuation. Community housing is just what it is called, because the people using that housing are people who cannot afford to rent in the private sector and have limited means and funds. The amount of money the council is making from the rise doesn’t put them in a good light. It should be the good of the people before profit.

My rent is going from $141 a week to $220 a week. Compared to Dunedin and Timaru, which both are larger than Oamaru, in Dunedin a one bedroom flat is $195 a week and in Timaru $141 a week.

Unfortunately it will hit all of us in the pocket as most of us are pensioners. This is the highest rental increase since I moved to Oamaru just over five years ago.

Lynette Ross

[Waitaki District Council assets manager Joshua Rendell replies: Waitaki District Council does not make any profit from its community housing units. The decision to set rents at 85% of market value, providing tenants with an affordable rental property, was to reduce the amount of ratepayers money that subsidises community housing. Following notification of the new rents in September, council partnered with MSD, the local budgeting service and EnergyMates to offer in person drop-in sessions to support tenants.

Some tenants will see larger rises, having paid lower than average rents in the past. All tenants still benefit from a 15% discount on market rates for similar rental properties in the Waitaki District.

We currently have a waiting list of 54 people for our community housing, 19 of those who are in our highest category of priority.

We encourage any concerned community housing tenants to contact the Waitaki District Council property team so that we can support them.]

Plea to keep school as normal please

It is disappointing to read that the Ministry of Education wants George Street Normal School (GSNS) to enforce its enrolment zone and reduce numbers. This move would destroy the school’s unique character.

Relative to other Otago primary schools, GSNS is particularly culturally diverse, with children from 30 different nationalities (ERO 2022 report). Just over 50% identify as European/Pākehā, 10% as Māori, and close to 40% as from other cultural backgrounds. Many of the latter live out of zone.

When picking up grandchildren, it is a joy to observe students from different backgrounds playing happily, and parents and children at ease to converse in their own language.

Our country is increasingly interconnected and diverse, but our world is rife with religious and ethnic tensions.

In this context, we need to ‘‘grow’’ children who are curious and tolerant about other cultures and know how to relate well to people who are different from themselves.

Based on its cultural diversity, GSNS asked the Ministry of Education if it could be a special character school. It was declined. This is a missed opportunity. As a ‘‘normal’’ school, GSNS is a base for teachers in training to gain practical experience. Its diversity makes it a perfect setting for trainee teachers to become culturally competent educators.

Furthermore, it is a perfect setting for research into supporting children and families from different cultures, English language learning and building cross-cultural understanding.

The NZ Curriculum is based on eight principles: one of these is cultural diversity. There is a wonderful opportunity for GSNS to be a school of excellence in this area.

Hopefully, the Ministry of Education recognises this and allows GSNS to become a special character school and maintain its rich cultural identity.

Janet Pereira
St Leonards

Address Letters to the Editor to: Otago Daily Times, PO Box 517, 52-56 Lower Stuart St, Dunedin. Email: editor@odt.co.nz