A Tauranga hapū has revealed the core reason behind their opposition to an $11 million cycleway stretching past their marae, as the project sits in limbo 16 months after it was meant to be finished.
A representative for Ngati Kahu, of Ngati Ranginui iwi, said the hapū felt they were "being pushed out of existence". Construction of the 19km Ōmokoroa to Tauranga Cycleway's final leg on State Highway 2 served as the catalyst for this concern.
The revelation comes as Western Bay of Plenty District Council documents, obtained by the Bay of Plenty Times, reveal the council - with Tauranga City Council - paid more than $20,000 for a feasibility study in 2019 to explore alternative options to the project's original plan of running along SH2 from Wairoa Bridge to Carmichael Rd, past hapū land.
The study was prompted by the hapū's original concerns at the potential conflict between cyclists and motorists accessing driveways to their marae and homes.
The cycleway was meant to have been finished in November 2019 and its final leg hangs in limbo.
The documents reveal much of the delay came as part of a change in hapū representation, which renewed concerns at potential dangers outside Wairoa Marae.
However, according to the documents, these concerns were largely unfounded.
The council again explored alternative options late last year, despite the 2019 study, and these were expected to be reviewed this month by partner organisations such as Tauranga City Council and New Zealand Transport Agency Waka Kotahi.
Minutes from a March 2019 district council meeting show then hapū representative Lou Te Keeti raising safety concerns with the Western Bay council and other project partners.
Council deputy chief executive Gary Allis responded, saying the concerns were taken into account in the design process and measures had been proposed to reduce the potential for conflict.
More meetings were set up to help resolve the issue.
In the March meeting, Te Keeti proposed investigation of alternative access to the marae and neighbouring properties from Carmichael Rd as a possibility to replace the current SH2 entrances.
Further minutes and emails show that in August 2019, the Western Bay and Tauranga councils agreed to fund a feasibility study to investigate costs and constraints of this option. This study cost more than $20,000 and found the original SH2 plan was the best option.
A report from the study found although the community identified a perceived safety risk to the planned shared pathway, study author and transport engineer Harriet Henderson said in her report "the risk may not be founded".
"The current form of SH2 does not provide safe access for all people using the transport corridor, including existing cyclists and pedestrians, therefore providing separated facilities will provide improved safety and access across the entire route. It will also improve attention to the presence of cyclists at the intersection, including when the Wairoa Marae have tangihanga, therefore reducing the risks around a cyclist-motorist conflict.
"Such a facility will also make cyclists more visible and improve the awareness of other modes," Henderson said.
In February 2020, Allis wrote to the hapū, inviting them to an information evening regarding the construction of the cycleway's final section. Senior project manager Andrē de Jong also wrote to the hapū and asked that any feedback regarding the plans be sent by March 11, 2020.
On March 16, 2020, Te Runanga o Ngati Kahu chairman Piripi Hikairo emailed the project team that the hapū would be represented by a team to continue to discuss further development and it would work to its own timeframes "to allow for proper consultation internally and externally".
On March 31, the team wrote to the councils to invite them to the marae to discuss the potential impacts on the marae and its people, plus their diminishing landscape and environment. However, it was acknowledged the Covid-19 pandemic hampered these efforts.
The project has now been largely on hold while the council and hapū await results from the partner review regarding the alternative options.
Speaking to the Bay of Plenty Times in response to questions about the delay, hapū representative Mokohiti Brown said Ngati Kahu's "bottom line" was that the cycleway did not continue on SH2, passing driveways to the marae and neighbouring properties.
"This is where our history is. State Highway 2 [land] was taken by the Public Works Act and then land was given by Ngati Kahu and land was taken from Ngati Kahu. We are having to deal with those impacts even as of today," Brown said.
"We were a rural hapū. Growth has happened around us to the extent it has arrived on our doorstep.
"We feel like we are being pushed out of existence."
Despite this, the hapū was not against the cycleway, which they felt was ultimately a good thing, Brown said.
"We understand where the council and NZTA are coming from. They have to weigh up the costs versus the benefits but for us, the benefits [of using a different route] are huge."
Brown said finding an alternative route to complete the cycleway allowed the marae to stay as it was while also giving Ngati Kahu a chance to raise awareness of the hapū with the community and share the history of the land via information boards - similar to what has been done with other hapū and city cycleways.
Alternative options were being explored that the hapū preferred but he was not in a position to reveal more yet, he said.
"Both parties are continuing to work together to find a solution. We've got better relationships and are moving forward with that."
Things were looking positive, he said.
Brown said the change in hapū representation was to increase its resources to work more effectively with the project, alongside Te Keeti.
Another hapū member, who spoke on condition they were not named, said they would like to see the cycleway finished for the benefit of everyone.
"Western Bay council wants a cycleway, we want to ensure our needs are looked after – those are the entrance to the marae and families' properties. That's why we say 'no' to it going on SH2.
"We are not saying 'no cycleway'. We are saying there are better options than using SH2."
The Ōmokoroa to Tauranga Cycleway is made up of both new and existing off-road shared paths and local road connections. It is expected to attract 130 to 200 commuter cyclists a day and additional recreational riders.