Latest road safety funding cuts prompt warning

By Rosemary Roberts

New cuts in government funding for road safety programmes threaten highly-effective community "buy in" to the work in Northland, says John Williamson, chair of the Roadsafe Northland and a Whangarei district councillor.

The changes were foreshadowed a couple of months ago, alarming the Northland Regional Transport Committee; the Whangarei District Council has now learned that the axe has fallen.

Reductions in subsidies will hit several "soft" targets including road safety, local roads and even state highways, so cash can be freed up for developing routes deemed to be important for economic development, called "routes of national significance".

The overall effect of the subsidy changes for the WDC will be a $332,700 reduction in subsidy income. The initial cut to the road safety programme subsidy will take it down from 75 to 61 per cent.

Subsidised road safety programmes in Northland like the very successful volunteer-run Coffee Brakes for tired drivers have been growing year on year - paralleling a dramatic drop in the regional road toll.

Coffee Brakes have increased from ten in 2010 to 23 in 2011, involving a large number of community groups, supported by donations of coffee and other supplies from various firms, he said.

Cr Williamson launched into a strong defence of the present system at the September WDC meeting, saying the cuts are likely to be destructive on several levels.

As well as forcing local authorities to come up hard cash instead of being able to count a large range of in-kind donations including time and materials in meeting the 25 per cent local government share of the cost, he said the changes would compromise community "buy-in". Community involvement had played a vital role in growing the programmes and had had a flow on effect of getting the road safety message out to a much wider audience through example and word of mouth.

"If we as a council can't come up with the money I believe we need to be making a really strong case to the government. We have to ensure the Regional Transport Committee lobbies the government on this - jumping up and down might be an exercise in futility but we still have to be seen to be jumping up and down."

The New Zealand Transport Authority (NZTA) has announced the changes in its Investment Priorities for the 2012-2015 National Land Transport Programme.

Steven Town, NZTA Auckland/Northland director, said the changes were in response to "challenging economic circumstances" and government directives.

More money would actually be invested in the land transport programme than previously but "there has been critical need to prioritise land transport investment where it is most needed.

At present the WDC contracts out the management and co-ordination of the Community Road Safety programme to RoadSafe Northland, contributing a $10,000 to cover costs.

- Northern Advocate

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