The economic survival of Te Puke's shopping centre has been linked to the right roading decisions being made once the motorway bypassing the town opened in about 18 months.
Te Puke Fast Forward chairman Graeme Walker said the 5000 people living in the Maketu/Pukehina end of the Western Bay might decide it was more convenient to shop and do business in Papamoa or Tauranga if the highway through Te Puke was was not well maintained
The accountant was echoing widespread community concern that the Western Bay council needed to strike a good deal before it accepted ownership of the 18km stretch of highway from Paengaroa to Domain Rd.
However he went one step further by linking the future prosperity of the town with ensuring that residents living in the eastern end of the council's area, including Pongakawa and Paengaroa, were not tempted to jump on to the Tauranga Eastern Link.
Mr Walker said the council must consider the possibility that residents will say "to hell with it" and travel on a nice, new road rather than use the old highway.
"It is a threat to Te Puke if we don't have a reasonable road. That concerns me deeply," he told councillors yesterday. The council was hearing submissions on its 2014-15 Annual Plan.
He opposed dropping the speed limit to 80km/h on the old stretch of highway once the bypass opened next year.
Mr Walker said the council must negotiate a higher road works subsidy than the current rate of 46 per cent before it took over the old highway from the NZ Transport Agency, otherwise ratepayers would not be able to afford to keep the old road at a satisfactory standard.
Long-established Te Puke retailer Lynette Lochhead, of women's fashion shop Lynette's, told the Bay of Plenty Times it was critical that the road was maintained because the bypass was going to have a big impact on the town anyway.
If it was allowed to deteriorate the impact would be even bigger. Mrs Lochhead said the road in and out of Te Puke needed to be kept safe and looking tidy.
Making it a pleasant driving experience would make a huge difference to people's choices about which road they took.
Murray Holyoake of Xcetera gift shop was less convinced that people would opt for the new road because many would already be about halfway to Te Puke by the time they reached the option of hooking on to the bypass. He said the old road would not be much of a deterrent to people continuing to regard Te Puke as their service centre.
"It would be nice to see that the maintenance was kept up."
Mr Holyoake's concerns were more about the loss of business from motorists passing through who opted for the new road. He anticipated that some of the cafes that catered to travellers would close. Even some customers from further afield such as Whakatane, Opotiki and Gisborne had told him they would go through to Tauranga once the link road opened.
The council will decide on Mr Walker's submission next month.