Heavy metal: Auckland's gravel roads

By Bernard Orsman, Louis Houlbrooke

Rural Aucklanders want more city money to be spent on their urgent road needs, report Bernard Orsman and Louis Houlebrooke.

Julie Cotton says she wouldn't object to paying her rates if the unsealed road near her home was kept in a fit state.
Julie Cotton says she wouldn't object to paying her rates if the unsealed road near her home was kept in a fit state.

There is no end in sight to Auckland's bumpy and dusty rural metal roads, which are taking a back seat to big city projects like the $2.86 billion City Rail Link.

On current Auckland Transport (AT) figures, it will take more than 400 years to seal the region's 863km of metal roads, of which 78 per cent are in rural Rodney.

With nearly $900 million set aside for capital spending on transport this year - much of it on city roads and public transport - just $1.5 million is going to seal metal roads.

The investment in cycling is $8.7 million, more than five times the figure spent upgrading rural potholes.

A sealing schedule shows just five roads, totalling 17.34km, will get tarseal over a 10-year period. They are all in Rodney.

Of the 18 "high priority" roads on the AT website, all but one - Puriri Bay Rd on Great Barrier Island - are in Rodney.

Anyone navigating metal roads in places like Franklin, the Waitakere Ranges, Waiheke Island and most of Great Barrier Island can expect to wait decades for a smooth ride.

This lack of progress isn't going down well in Rodney where a campaign is under way to increase funding from $1.5 million a year to $10 million. Residents of the former Rodney District Council feel short-changed by the attitude of the Super City towards their roads.

Local Board member Greg Sayers said the figure of $10 million a year would take 30 years to seal all the metal roads - a drop in the bucket compared to the city rail link.

Mr Sayers has launched a web page for residents to log records of damage and health issues caused by loose metal and dust to help make a case for more money in next year's 10-year budget review.

The council's relaxed attitude to their plight, he said, could be put down to a centralised "out of sight, out of mind" attitude towards isolated rural areas like Rodney.

Rodney residents paid high rates, put up with unsealed roads, no rubbish collections, no sewerage and "just want a fair deal", he said.

Mr Sayers lays some of the blame with Rodney councillor Penny Webster, who he said was into her second term as finance committee chairwoman with nothing to show in the way of major sealing.

Mrs Webster said: "It's a passionate subject of mine. It's just that I haven't ... screamed and yelled quite as much as some. It's not just a case of throwing money at it. You've also got to get that cost per kilometre down."

The Rodney councillor does agree that the city lobby was clamouring for more money to be spent on public transport, but said they had to realise Rodney was 46 per cent of the Auckland region "and we need roads".

AT says the allocation of spending for sealing roads is a matter for its political masters at Auckland Council, saying there is no subsidy from the New Zealand Transport Agency. "Therefore the decision to increase or decrease this funding directly impacts on rates," said an AT spokesman.

He said local board advocacy had seen the original $400,000 annual sealing budget increased to $1.4 million (now $1.5 million), and local boards could allocate some of their own funding to the cause.

There was also up to $2 million available for upgrading roads in northern Rodney from the Araparera joint-venture 201ha forestry project, the spokesman said.

Izzy Fordham, chairwoman of Great Barrier Local Board, said 50km of the island's 108km of roads were unsealed.

Things had improved and the main road which runs the length of the island for about 30km was now fully sealed, albeit badly damaged in places by the wild storm on June 10.

She said the roads acted as shared footpaths. The board was investigating environmentally friendly products for some unsealed roads to help cut dust contamination of tank water.

"Going forward, our local board will continue to advocate for further sealing and maintenance of our roads to ensure that they can be safely used all year round," Ms Fordham said.

"We are bloody lucky", says Franklin Local Board chairman Andy Baker, whose rural community has a large percentage of sealed roads.

"I don't know why we're in the position we are in and Rodney are in the position they are in. Maybe it was different priorities (of the previous district councils)?"

Mr Baker said it would be nice to have Hamilton Rd on the Awhitu Peninsula sealed. The 2km to 3km road had few residents but was used by about four truck and trailer units a day to collect water for Coca Cola.

In West Auckland, many people wanted metal roads to places like Whatipu and Anawhata kept that way as a deterrent to keep hordes of people away, said Waitakere Local Board chairwoman Sandra Coney.

"There would be an outcry if we tried to seal some of them. It's a different ethic. It's part of going into a remote and wild place."

$17,000 a year in rates and road still a shambles

Julie Cotton lives on a beef and sheep farm in the most northwesterly corner of the Super City, 3.7km from the nearest stretch of tarseal, and does not like the gravel road one bit.

She and her husband, Rodney Cotton, pay about $17,000 a year in rates. They provide their own water, sewage, and take care of their own rubbish.

The upkeep of Burma Rd, which the Cottons share with about 10 other farms west of Wellsford, is the main service they receive from council.

"Vehicles fall apart on these roads," Mrs Cotton said. "For people whose houses front these roads, there is dust and allergens. There are situations where people can't drink the rainwater because dust gets caked on roofs and runs into water tanks full of carcinogens and stuff."

Mrs Cotton does not buy the line that relatively small numbers of people living on rural roads does not justify the cost of repairing the roads, saying rural residents had been paying rates for decades with no core services to show for it.

"People don't mind paying for something but when you are getting nothing that is when people become bitter. Rural people are decent people. We are not needy and we are not greedy. If we just had decent roads to drive on we would be quite happy to leave Auckland Council to take our money and run."

Mrs Cotton said it was highly offensive to see the council contributing $500,000 to a crystal chandelier for a city sculpture when rural people were living without basic services. "It is the over-spending on things that aren't core business that really rips our undies. That is really insulting," she said.

On the web
www.sealrodneyroads.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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