Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Labour MP backs 'holiday highway'

Northland’s Kelvin Davis puts electorate before party policy in support of National’s $1 billion road upgrade.

Kelvin Davis says the Puhoi to Wellsford upgrade is essential.
Kelvin Davis says the Puhoi to Wellsford upgrade is essential.

Labour's only Northland MP, Kelvin Davis, is backing National's Puhoi to Wellsford extension, the roading project mocked as an unnecessary "holiday highway" by his caucus colleagues.

Mr Davis revealed his support for the upgrade to the main route to Northland as the recent storm stirred up a political debate over the state of the region's roads.

List MP Mr Davis came into Parliament when Shane Jones, who was also willing to reject the party line on economic development projects for the north, stepped down earlier this year. However, even Mr Jones did not support the Puhoi to Wellsford project.

But Mr Davis yesterday told the Herald he was being told "loud and clear" by Northlanders to stop criticising the project.

"The message I'm getting from the North is 'Kelvin, stop taking pot shots' at what has come to be seen as an essential piece of infrastructure.

"They want a safe and solid highway that's going to get our people and goods in and out and that's not at the whim of Mother Nature.

"This weather event has shown how vulnerable and susceptible the North is and it's really important that we have a road where emergency services and whatever can get through, but also we've got to have a road that's going to be able to export our produce outside of Northland and one that's not going to be washed away in the next storm or flood."

He said his support for the project did not put him "entirely at odds with the Labour Party policy".

After the election, he planned to have discussions with Northland's mayors and councils to help come up with an integrated transport plan for the North.

"It's the people of Te Tai Tokerau who I want to represent and so I've got to have a good look at what's proposed by the North. It could be identical to the Labour Party position, it could have differences, but we'll have to see what happens post-election when we sit down and have that conversation."

Labour's transport spokesman Phil Twyford said the party's stance was the road should be postponed. Instead Labour would spend a fraction of the more than $1 billion earmarked for the project to fix the worst accident black spots and congestion pinch points on the existing route.

He said the Government was grossly overstating the importance to Northland of the project.

"It's a spurious claim to suggest that knocking a few minutes off the journey time between Puhoi and Wellsford will somehow transform the economy of Northland and I think they do people a grave disservice to say that."

- NZ Herald

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