Residents of Tauranga's rapidly-growing coastal suburbs could soon be leaving their cars at Baypark and catching the bus to work in a bid to reduce the city's traffic congestion and parking problems.
It was part of a new vision that could see Baypark transformed into a transportation and retail centre.
Strong support has emerged for the venue to become the city's first official park and ride spot for commuters.
The move coincided with a push to locate a bus interchange at Baypark. If successful, small-scale retailing could follow the interchange - including cafes and dry cleaning and parcel collection points.
The prospect of a bus interchange and retailing at Baypark has followed the emergence of planning issues and mounting public opposition created by shifting Bayfair Shopping Centre's bus interchange to Farm St at the rear of the mall.
Tauranga City Council's transport manager Martin Parkes said it had given a park and ride and bus interchange at Baypark ''real go-forward''.
He was updating yesterday's meeting of the regional council's public transport committee on difficulties encountered since Bayfair's owner AMP Capital withdrew its agreement last month to put the bus interchange directly behind the shopping centre.
A report to the meeting said Bayfair had objected to losing carparks. Changes required to the original site by a safety audit and development plans for the shopping centre meant that Bayfair ''no longer found this site suitable''.
Regional councillor Jane Nees liked the idea of Baypark becoming a transport hub that linked to major events held at the sports and entertainment venue.
Traffic could enter Baypark from the northern side beside SH29 to Maungatapu and exit from the same side - taking traffic away from Truman Lane.
The region's transport chairman and former Tauranga mayor Stuart Crosby called it a ''fantastic opportunity'' caused by the withdrawal last month of the shopping centre's support for the original location of the interchange.
He said it had created another opportunity for Baypark which had for years been mooted for park and ride.
Crosby told Bay of Plenty Times Weekend that the potential for Baypark had been gathering momentum since preliminary works started on the Baypark to Bayfair (Baylink) roading project and the noticeable increase in traffic volumes last year.
He said there was still time to modify the design of the Baylink roading project to accommodate the park and ride and interchange.
Bay Venues Ltd, the council-controlled organisation that operated Baypark, has welcomed the proposal.
''We are very supportive of the concept,'' chief executive Gary Dawson said.
A bus interchange would allow more people to use public transport to access events and activities held at Baypark. And commuters would be able to grab a coffee before jumping on a bus, he said.
''We will be trying to make it happen . . . there's plenty of land.''
Dawson did not see the Monday-Friday park and ride as affecting the running of Baypark because most big events were held at weekends.
Whenever all the carparks were needed outside of weekends, it was usually during holidays.
Regional council transport policy manager Garry Maloney said the new bus interchange at Bayfair shopping centre had been planned for over five years following a request from Bayfair.
There were pedestrian and vehicle conflicts at the current location at the front of the shopping centre where buses had to navigate a busy section of the carpark, he said.
However the permanent relocation had now been significantly delayed following the request from Bayfair to shift the interchange 40m, so it fronted houses in Farm St owned by AMP Capital.
Parkes said if the interchange at Baypark went ahead, they would still need one at Bayfair. But the loss of the preferred location meant it would take at least a year to design and consent the new site further up Farm St.
With the current interchange needing to move by May, it meant the council had to have a temporary interchange up and running in Farm St by April-May.
Pharmacist Sue McArthur of Tauranga transport advocacy group Greater Tauranga explained the problems with siting Bayfair's bus interchange on Farm St.
He told yesterday's meeting that it was unbelievable that Baylink had been designed without bus lanes.
''We reject the Tauranga City Council's proposal to locate the bus interchange in Farm St.''
Advantages of putting bus interchange at Baypark
- Extra transport options for people visiting Baypark.
- Reduce traffic congestion around Baypark, particularly during events.
- Increase patronage for Baypark's commercial activities.
- Limited risks to future expansion of interchange.