Eastside hapu are celebrating the cancellation of a controversial roading project across Maori land that's been on the drawing board since 1963.
The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) yesterday confirmed the Rotorua Eastern Arterial (REA) will not be constructed and the designation over the land will no longer be required.
But, what will happen to land held by the Crown, previously owned by three Te Arawa hapu and purchased under the Public Works Act, is not yet known.
Nireaha Pirika, a member of Te Roro o te Rangi and Ngati Uenukukopako, and an organiser of a large protest against the project in June 2013, said the announcement was great news.
"It's been a long journey, but something we were never going to give up.
"My family has been involved in opposing it right from the very start.
"All three hapu have been working hard out in the background to get this resolved. We need to now make sure it comes off the district plan, which should just be a formality," Mr Pirika said.
Hurunga te Rangi spokesman Michael Staite said he shed a tear when he heard the news.
"The announcement was overwhelming. I have to pass on my gratitude to all those who opposed the designation and a special mention to my uncle Peter Staite who has fought hard against the designation for decades.
"The announcement brought a tear to my eye and I'm sure many other hapu members feel the same.
"The process has been an interesting one for myself, from a grassroots level to sitting at the table with the NZTA, and marching on the council in June 2013 - it's been a long time coming."
The REA was put in place to cater for expected growth in the district and covered land between Te Ngae Rd and the edge of Lake Rotorua.
NZTA Waikato/Bay of Plenty regional director Harry Wilson said investigations showed growth could be managed with upgrades to Te Ngae Rd and the REA was no longer seen as a long-term solution.
In February, Transport Minister Simon Bridges announced a $24 million roading package to upgrade Te Ngae Rd, but left the door open regarding what the Government would do with land held under the REA designation.
Yesterday's announcement allowed the land to be used to support the Rotorua Lakes Council's spatial planning and gave the community and developers certainty, Mr Wilson said.
"The city's eastern corridor has long been identified as the location for the majority of future residential and employment development in Rotorua and the Transport Agency has been carrying out extensive investigations to find the best transport plan for this area's future."
Mr Wilson said after a further review the Transport Agency was confident the decision to lift the designation was the right one.
"For now, we plan to start work on the initial $24 million roading package which will focus on the eastern and central corridors with an upgrade to State Highway 30/Te Ngae Rd.
"This will include improvements at the Te Ngae and Tarawera Rd intersection, four-laning a section of Te Ngae Rd, and improved walking and cycling connections.
"As part of this package State Highway 30A Amohau St will be revoked and the ownership handed to Rotorua Lakes Council to support their CBD revitalisation strategy."
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said an item to formally lift the designation will be on the agenda for the council's strategy, policy and finance committee meeting on April 21.
"This will provide greater certainty as to how the land can be used in the future.
"We're also aware that the lifting of this designation will require NZTA and council to continue to work together to ensure the appropriate investment is made as required for future proofing of the Te Ngae corridor and to assure our community that Rotorua's long-term growth aspirations will not be constrained by transport capacity limitations."
Rotorua MP Todd McClay said the decision was "probably the right one".
"The NZTA have put a lot of thought and consultation into it."
He said he would work closely with the council, iwi and the wider community about what can be done with the land in the short-to-medium term to meet demands for housing and possible commercial and industrial opportunities.
"The NZTA have worked well with the wider community and I'm grateful for the commitment they have given me to continue to invest in local roading infrastructure. I will be holding them to that commitment."
Former Rotorua mayor Grahame Hall said it was scandalous.
"Because all of the work and modelling done showed it was clear that with just 1 per cent growth in Rotorua over 12 to 15 years Te Ngae Rd would be packed full again."
Mr Hall questioned what had changed.
"They need to front up and tell us why. I don't believe the council have done the ratepayers any favours, this should have been taken to the Environment Court for them to decide. I have some real concerns, not for tomorrow or the next day, but in the next 20 years. They have taken the easy way out to placate the protesters and our children and grandchildren will suffer."