Consultation promise after outcry

By Patrick OSullivan

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Hastings resident Gordon Vogtherr says council speed restrictions are unnecessary and ``Big Brother''. Photo/Duncan Brown
Hastings resident Gordon Vogtherr says council speed restrictions are unnecessary and ``Big Brother''. Photo/Duncan Brown

A groundswell of motorist discontent over lowered speed limits has prompted the Hastings District Council to allow the public to have their say on the subject again.

The council passed a Safe Speed Zone on January 30 to help improve road safety. The zone affects 31 roads on the Heretaunga Plains, which have nearly all reduced from 100km/h to 80km/h, effective from March 17.

Despite the council running a publicity campaign before implementing the changes, motorists inundated Hawke's Bay Today with letters, texts to the editor and phone calls complaining about the changes and lack of consultation.

Havelock North retired businessman Gordon Vogtherr wanted to know how the council could allow the changes.

"Talk about Big Brother," he said.

The lowered speeds were "archaic" due to the increased quality of roads and cars.

"There is nothing wrong with the roads - the roads are perfect - it's the idiots that are driving," he said.

Prominent Havelock North businessman Rod Drury said he was puzzled how major changes could be made with no apparent consultation.

"I'd like to know the process around how the decision was made - it is almost as if it was done by stealth," he said.

"I don't think the council has a mandate to change these things. For us frequent commuters it is incredibly frustrating. Why meddle with this sort of stuff?"

He said the national norm was 100km/h on an open road.

A one-week-old Facebook page titled Bring back our 100K roads has received more than 1200 likes from just three posts. It says the changes will not save lives and asks for information on which councillors voted for the zone.

The government delegated speed limit decision making to local authorities in 2005 and public consultation on the zone changes began late last year.

Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule said there had since been questions on specific changes.

"In response to these concerns, council will consider offering the public a further opportunity to air their views with another round of consultation," he said.

Council CEO Ross McLeod said any new round of submissions would not affect the March 17 changes.

"Council has made the conscious decision to leave the speed limits as they are during the consultation period and has confidence in their validity," he said.

Mr Yule said the council lowered speeds "for all the right reasons".

"Many individuals and organisations have called for the speed limits to be lowered and our own statistics suggested that this move would have a major effect on lessening the number of accidents on these roads," he said.

The zone covers 3 per cent of the district's roads - about 58km on the Heretaunga Plains. The 58km has seen 32 per cent of Hastings District's fatal crashes in the last 5 years.

NZTA statistics show crash risk and injury severity increase with speed. At 100 km/h the crash risk is 1.6 times higher than at 80 km/h. The risk of dying in a 100 km/h crash is 2.4 times higher than at at 80 km/h.

Three district roads have received an increased limit for the sake of consistency.

Black Barn Rd in Havelock North goes from 70km/h to 80km/h as does Richmond Rd (Hastings) and part of Evenden Rd (where it intersects Pakowhai Rd). Pakowhai Rd's previously 100km/h areas have reduced to 80km/h and its former 70km/h section has been bumped up to 80km/h.

Hastings District Councillor Wayne Bradshaw said it was contrary to democratic principles if people felt they were not part of the decision-making process "You want people to at least feel they have had a say," he said.

The new round of consultation will be discussed at a council meeting in May.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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