A proposal to illuminate the historic Matapihi Rail Bridge with a lighting display now has the support of a council committee.

The woman who came up with the idea is excited to see it coming to life, but there are murmurs of dissent from some in the Matapihi community who feel they should be better consulted.

Tauranga City Council's city transformation committee voted seven-to-one this week to set aside $200,000 for the project.

If their decision is approved by the full council, the money will be allocated in the council's 10-year budget - Long-Term Plan 2018-28 - and the council will hear community views through the plan's consultation process next year.

How the illuminated bridge could look from the Tauranga waterfront. SUPPLIED/TCC
How the illuminated bridge could look from the Tauranga waterfront. SUPPLIED/TCC

Councillors also talked about initiating a community fundraising effort for the project, which they believed would enhance the waterfront and may become an attraction.

The committee's decision went against a staff recommendation to drop the project because it was not a priority and Matapihi residents were not keen. The staff thought vandalism was also a risk.

They believed bridge owner KiwiRail could be open to the idea, depending on a risk assessment and more detailed plans.

Committee chairman Larry Baldock was the sole nay vote, saying the committee should seek support for the project from the Matapihi community before going any further.

He also objected to councillor Steve Morris' suggestion the council could just whip $200,000 out of the $23 million draft city centre public amenity budget to light up the bridge.

A lighting designer's concept design for lighting up the Matapihi Rail Bridge. Supplied/TCC
A lighting designer's concept design for lighting up the Matapihi Rail Bridge. Supplied/TCC

Greg Milne of the Matapihi Residents and Ratepayers Association said asking residents to make submissions through the Long-Term Plan was the wrong way to go about consulting on the issue.

"If they get locked into a submission process it won't gain much traction. The people who have already opposed the idea will want a face-to-face meeting.

"They just need to float the idea in a better way."


He said the bridge lights idea had been raised at a recent Matapihi community meeting and a "vocal minority" objected.

"The comments were along the lines of: 'So the council thinks they can come to Matapihi ... and put fairy lights on our bridge without talking to us - what the hell!' " Milne said.

Some in the community had a long history with the bridge, including running fundraisers to build the first footpath.

"There's kind of a feeling that the Matapihi bridge is our bridge."

He liked the illumination idea and thought the lights would help make the bridge safer at night, an outcome many residents wanted to see.

Helen Knight. Photo/George Novak
Helen Knight. Photo/George Novak

Helen Knight, whose bridge lights submission to the council 18 months ago kicked off the investigation, was excited to hear the council might run with it.


"I think it will be great if they can do it."

She said she would be happy to help fundraise for the project.

Matapihi Rail Bridge

- Goes between south end of The Strand and Matapihi peninsula
- Rail bridge built in 1924
- One of oldest structures in central Tauranga
- Footbridge, bolted to southern side, built in 1950s to stop people dying by jumping off to avoid trains
- Rail bridge owned by KiwiRail, footbridge by Tauranga City Council
- Waterfront icon, scene of many wedding pictures

Concept design

- Prepared for the council by lighting designer Marcus McShane
- He estimated $500,000 cost to light up the whole structure
- Maintenance and operation estimated to cost $40,000 a year
- Suggested using LED lighting to illuminate the whole structure
- Individually-controlled lights to create moving patterns
- Lights could be configured - colours and patterns - for special causes or events