Rotorua Eastern Arterial: What the candidates think

By Matthew Martin

ORIGINAL PLANS: This map shows the original options for the Rotorua Eastern Arterial. The pink line is the Te Ngae Rd upgrade option, the dotted blue line is the Vaughan Rd extension option and the red line is the route chosen by the Rotorua District Council and NZTA. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
ORIGINAL PLANS: This map shows the original options for the Rotorua Eastern Arterial. The pink line is the Te Ngae Rd upgrade option, the dotted blue line is the Vaughan Rd extension option and the red line is the route chosen by the Rotorua District Council and NZTA. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

It's been on the books since the early 1960s and has caused protest marches and heated debate in the council chamber - now the controversial Rotorua Eastern Arterial has been given more funding by the Government.

Last Sunday, the Government announced it would sink $212 million into 14 regional roading projects, including $12 million to "accelerate investigation and design" of the Rotorua Eastern Arterial (REA) project and others in Nelson and Hawke's Bay.

The proposed arterial route will run from the airport to Sala St, over the traditional land of three Te Arawa hapu, taking through traffic off Te Ngae Rd and speeding up travelling times. Up to 50 homes will have to be demolished for the proposed road.

Construction is scheduled for between 2020 and 2025 and could cost up to $114 million.

Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick and MP Todd McClay welcomed the announcement, saying it was a positive step forward and the road was essential to Rotorua's future economic development.

Rotorua's council decided a few years ago that its preferred option was the designated route through tribal lands, but failed to comprehensively consult with the hapu affected - Ngati Hurunga Te Rangi, Ngati Te Roro o Te Rangi and Ngati Uenukukopako.

This led to protests by those affected with about 300 people marching on the council's Civic Centre in June last year, which forced the council and New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) to do a full cultural impact assessment with the hapu.

It also led to the formation of the Positive Rotorua Environmental Society so concerns could be fought for in the Environment Court if necessary. The society preferred upgrading Te Ngae Rd if a road had to be built.

The plans hit another road block in December when NZTA announced it would postpone indefinitely its resource consent application to the Rotorua District Council, saying it wanted to better understand the effects of the proposed road.

This week, NZTA Waikato/Bay of Plenty regional director Harry Wilson said the agency welcomed the extra funding to speed up work on the route. But new timeframes for work would not be known until a new investigation and design phase was completed.

The Rotorua Daily Post asked the region's five election candidates what they think.

Waiariki MP Te Ururoa Flavell

I support the city being progressive and having improved access between the city and port is a good thing. If this can happen while ensuring that the rights of tangata whenua, the iwi and hapu who belong to that land is protected, then that would be the best outcome.

The cultural importance of the land that will be taken under this current proposal far outweighs travel time that's being talked about. There are alternative options which need to be considered more thoroughly and accommodations made to find common ground.

Rotorua MP Todd McClay

The REA is about economic development and jobs. It opens up Rotorua's eastern suburbs to future development by industry and iwi, development which cannot take place without a major roading upgrade. It allows businesses and jobs to relocate to Rotorua to take advantage of low cost land and a skilled workforce close to NZ's busiest port at Tauranga.

The REA is important for the future of Rotorua and the economic growth and welfare of the wider Bay of Plenty region.

It allows for a full discussion with hapu, iwi and all residents of Rotorua about how to bring jobs and investment to our region.

Labour Party candidate for Rotorua Tamati Coffey

By simple calculations, the Government might spend a whopping $4 million on the REA for "investigation and design". However, because the whole road project is such a tender and ongoing issue with many Rotorua locals, landowners and iwi, I hope that the money is spent on fresh, quality research to see after all these years if we still need it. I am absolutely into progress for our region, but if there is no solution found between the NZTA and those affected hapu and landowners, then we might need to concede that the REA be relegated to a shelf in our museum.

Labour Party candidate for Waiariki Rawiri Waititi

Whilst they say this will increase economic development, jobs, reduce travel times and improve safety for drivers through Rotorua, there is still the issue of the rights of iwi and hapu who are directly affected by this route. Iwi and hapu have sacrificed and given too much already to give more. I am not willing to support the eastern arterial until the people of Owhata are satisfied with the proposal.

I believe there is more we can do with the $212 million within the regions other than investing in roads. There are significant employment, health, education, social and housing issues that that money could be well spent on.

Mana candidate for Waiariki Annette Sykes

Mana doesn't accept election bribes - especially when funded by the unwanted sale of state-owned power companies, and especially when there's been significant opposition by local hapu. Robust, independent consultation will be critical to the future of the project. Mana priorities for multimillion-dollar spending is investment in job creation, more homes for whanau on low incomes, and finding real solutions to roading bottle-necks. Why build yet more new roads, over yet more hapu lands, and why not invest in developing better public transport options for Rotorua instead? And public transport creates many more jobs than roading projects ever do.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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