Falls footbridge plan put off

By John Cousins

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The community group dedicated to improving one of the Bay's most popular beauty and swimming spots is disappointed that a $500,000 footbridge is unlikely to be built for at least three years.

McLaren Falls Environment Enhancement Group chairwoman Maret Manson said the footbridge was urgently needed because there was no room for pedestrians on the one-way road bridge.

"Someone is going to get injured," she said.

The group's hopes were dashed last week when the Western Bay of Plenty District Council voted 7-5 against building the footbridge, despite putting aside $350,000 for the project in its 10-year plan.

Western Bay Mayor Ross Paterson said the footbridge was one of many capital projects that had been dropped after ratepayers delivered the message that the council needed to live within its means.

"Spend on what you need, not the nice-to-haves," he said.

Mr Paterson said $500,000 was the equivalent of a 1 per cent rates rise and the issue was about the whole amount, not the $150,000 shortfall. The council agreed to defer the project for three years.

Construction of the bridge was originally planned to follow the $30,000 landscaping of the area and the widening of the road between the highway and McLaren Falls.

Kaimai Ward councillor Margaret Murray-Benge is refusing to give up.

She intends to press for a review of the decision by the end of this year. She will seek support for the move at the June 28 meeting to sign off the 10-year plan.

Miss Manson said the group was angry and disappointed by the vote. It followed a community meeting with the council a couple of weeks ago that showed what had been achieved at McLaren Falls and highlighted the need for the footbridge.

"It was our last big push for them to understand the issues."

Continuing concerns about the safety of pedestrians on the road bridge was also high on the agenda at the group's AGM last Monday. The meeting was attended by the Kaimai Canoe Club and a couple of rafting companies.

She said everyone was pressing for the construction of the footbridge because the area around the bridge was "diabolical" on flow days and over the summer - and that did not include the 24,000 people who crossed the bridge last year to visit McLaren Falls Park.

The footbridge would eliminate the danger to pedestrians who were forced to use the road bridge and could not hear approaching vehicles because of the noise from the falls.

Miss Manson said the netting on the side of the bridge was also dangerous. In a recent incident a pedestrian narrowly avoided getting hit by a car when the netting he was clinging to on the side of the bridge gave way and he fell back.

She said the netting had done nothing to stop thrill-seekers jumping off the bridge.

A recent report to the council said the new bridge could be positioned so that jumping from the upstream side of the road bridge or downstream side of the footbridge would be "undesirably difficult".

- Bay of Plenty Times

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