A transport advocacy group is calling for an independent review and halt to a major $60.5 million Tauranga infrastructure redevelopment, just days before the first trees involved are expected to be removed.
Greater Tauranga spokeswoman Sue McArthur said the group was "deeply concerned" at the direction the Tauranga City Council project was headed in.
McArthur said she did not believe the design adequately catered for the need for different modes of transport in the future. She also did not believe the council was "making the right decisions for this city" regarding lowering carbon emissions.
McArthur's comments come as the council prepares to begin the removal of 16 trees on Cameron Rd, between the CBD and 17th Ave, as part of the first stage of the Building Our Future - Cameron Road, Te Papa project.
The project has long been touted as a means of future-proofing Tauranga for the city's rapidly increasing population by better accommodating transport abilities. It involves more crossings for pedestrians and cyclists, seating, part-time bus lanes, a bi-directional cycleway and reduced access at some intersections.
It will also result in about 30,000 trees, plants and grasses being planted. These include kauri, tōtara, nīkau and lancewood trees, smaller shrubs such as mānuka, kawakawa and kōwhai and floor planting including taro, tūrutu and New Zealand daphne - all of which are expected to grow well in Tauranga, attract birdlife, and will be around for a long time to come.
This includes about 80 large canopy trees and another 380 smaller trees.
McArthur said that while trees were "absolutely essential to the final appearance and performance" of the project, she wanted more planted on the sides of Cameron Rd instead of the existing median strip.
"Trees are a side issue of the main goal of building a truly multi-modal corridor in sections. That's where the focus needs to be with this, I believe," McArthur said.
"If that whole strip was removed and they put in a wire barrier to stop south-travelling cars colliding with north-travelling cars, that to me would be a good solution if it meant on the sides of the road we could have better pedestrian facilities, trees, cycle lanes, a proper bus lane. That, to me, would be a good solution for Cameron Rd.
"We are calling for a pause of the project and an independent review of it."
The first tree expected to be removed within the next week is located at the intersection with 9th Ave, where traffic lights will be installed. Another two trees near 15th Ave have been identified as hazardous and need removing for safety's sake rather than project work.
Several existing trees protected under the Tauranga City Plan will not be touched.
There are already 260 trees in the construction area of the first stage of the Cameron Rd project.
About another 80 large canopy trees and another 380 smaller trees were expected to be planted as part of the project's first stage.
Social scientist Carole Gordon MNZM supported the call for a pause and review.
Gordon would like to see Cameron Rd transformed into a boulevard with the trees lining the footpath to better accommodate more people, ageing people, climate change and a shift from car use.
She believed the existing design was still too car-centric for a rapidly ageing population that would need to walk or use mobility scooters to get around in years to come.
"Despite the fact it's a main thoroughfare it doesn't mean people and businesses can't thrive," she said.
Sustainable Bay of Plenty director Glen Crowther said he had received a lot of community concern about the plans for Cameron Rd and also supported the call for a review.
Tauranga City Council director of transport Brendan Bisley said the Cameron Rd project was vital to accommodate growth, reduce car dependency, lower the city's carbon footprint "and ultimately create a more sustainable, people-friendly city".
"Adding significantly more trees and planting will help us to create walkable, pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods that are safe, open and clean, with places to meet - all things our local Te Papa community has said they would like."
Bisley admitted the council was already reviewing whether there was an opportunity to put more trees in as a result of community feedback.
However, the new call for a pause to the upgrade and an independent review was unlikely at this stage.
Bisley said he was aware of Greater Tauranga's concerns but the council took the option of "balancing all transport modes" to keep congestion to a minimum.
"If traffic lanes had been reduced to a single lane in each direction to fit in the facilities Greater Tauranga would prefer, there would be significant congestion on the roads ... and this congestion would hold up buses as well as increase private vehicle emissions while they are stuck in that congestion."
Bisley said the project was about future-proofing the corridor for future housing and population demand that will result in more people walking and cycling, while still retaining the traffic lanes that commute along the road.
"The project is a balance between all these activities as well as providing significant amenity improvement through the provision of the additional trees and landscaping along the corridor."
Bisley said the council's focus on having more people living and working in closer proximity, creating cycleway connections, and establishing bus lanes from Tauriko to the CBD will help reduce the number of vehicles on the road and therefore carbon emissions.
The works for the first stage of the project are scheduled to be completed in October 2023.