PM's cycleway dream stuck on uphill slog

By Mathew Dearnaley

Only about 10km of new tracks have been constructed from the New Zealand Cycle Trail's $50 million fund. Photo / Glenn Jeffrey
Only about 10km of new tracks have been constructed from the New Zealand Cycle Trail's $50 million fund. Photo / Glenn Jeffrey

Prime Minister John Key's national cycleway has hit a bumpy patch, with only about 10km constructed from the $50 million fund set up for the project.

Almost a year after Mr Key announced seven "quick-start" cycle trails, three have yet to gain construction sign-offs.

Although 100km of trails have been developed for what was touted as a scheme to help small communities through the recession, most have been upgrades of bush and farm tracks, from the Department of Conservation's squeezed budget.

Only about 10km of new tracks have been constructed from the New Zealand Cycle Trail's $50 million fund - at a cost to the Ministry of Tourism of $600,000 - towards a target network of 2000km of "iconic" trails to be completed over the next two years.

Cycle Trail spokeswoman Mei Taare, of the ministry, said it was doing everything it could to help local sponsoring organisations prepare themselves, "but they still have to prove their trails can feasibly be built".

"It's one thing to have these great wonderful concepts but you still have to prove that you can build them - that there isn't some 50-mile ravine in the middle of it."

Mr Key told the Herald he was "happy with the progress".

"Obviously it takes time to get all the work completed but we're confident it's on track and in the end 2000km of trails will be available for New Zealanders and international tourists to enjoy. Putting together the contracts is what takes some time - the actual building of the track is quite quick."

Approvals are close for two of the quick-start projects, in the Far North and the Southland and Queenstown Lakes districts, but the potentially lucrative Hauraki Plains Trail faces a major funding shortfall.

The Hauraki District Council says it needs $10.2 million to develop a successful three-day trail between Kaiaua on the Firth of Thames and Waihi, against a Government funding cap of $4 million.

A draft feasibility study of the 108km trail says it has the potential to become the national cycleway's "flagship" project. The study also predicts between 36,000 and 64,000 annual users by its fifth year, given its closeness to large population centres, attracting $8.7 million to $16.4 million of direct spending to an area of below-average incomes.

But the council only last week appointed a subcommittee to seek extra funding, after accepting staff advice that the trail has to be long enough for cyclists to stay several nights to reap those sorts of gains.

Even the name of the Mountain to Sea trail, two components of which Mr Key is due to open near Ohakune in early July, is in doubt as it remains unclear how much of the Whanganui River will be incorporated.

Also expected to be opened in July Cycleway dream stuck on uphill slog

is the 50km St James trail near Hanmer Springs, which will include spectacular high-country scenery.

About 2km of the 70km North Island Rail Trail between Pureora and Ongarue has been formed since construction began a month ago, and the 100km Waikato River trail between Atiamuri and Lake Karapiro is heading towards completion for the world rowing championships in late October.

But although the ministry is due to receive feasibility studies for a second round of 13 trails today, it is still working on details before signing construction funding contracts for the first "quick-start" stages of the 90km Hokianga to Opua trail in the Far North and the 175km Around the Mountain loop south of Queenstown.

The Far North District Council says it has approval in principle for 40 subsidised workers to start developing a disused rail corridor next month between Kawakawa and Okaihau, but Venture Southland expects to take up to three months obtaining resource consents for its trail.

- NZ Herald

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