Transport Minister Steven Joyce made his first visit to Waterview yesterday, and he was promising full consultation over a motorway project that will dissect the West Auckland suburb.

Feelings have run high in the community over the $1 billion project - the final stage in a 48km western bypass of central Auckland - and Mr Joyce's visit began with a confrontation by protesters during a walk through Alan Wood Reserve.

The planned motorway will run through the reserve, with an estimated 5ha of open space threatened by the project.

Protesters accused the minister of breaking promises by scrapping a Labour Government plan to run motorway tunnels through the area, TVNZ reported.

That plan would have seen most of the new motorway run through twin tunnels, a plan abandoned by National after estimates put the project at more than $2 billion.

A new $1.4 billion proposal includes two shorter tunnels covering a total of about 1.8km, leaving the rest of the motorway at surface level and destroying up to 365 homes.

The first tunnel would be 1.15km long between New North Rd and the intersection of Blockhouse Bay Rd with Great North Rd, at which point the motorway would emerge for about 150m before disappearing into a 700m covered trench through Waterview.

Waterview Primary - a 156-student, Decile 2 school just off Great North Rd - is also worried about the new development.

Principal Brett Skeen said that while the school was resigned to a motorway, the construction was scaring people from moving to, or staying in, the suburb.

"We have lost three kids this week, purely to do with the motorway coming. For a little school like us, that is quite major."

Waterview Primary wanted to be judged on the quality of its education, not the presence of a motorway, and declining student numbers had funding implications, he said.

Motorway project manager Clive Fuhr later confirmed to the Weekend Herald the Transport Agency had contacted 180 homeowners in the area, and was actively negotiating to buy 20 homes.

Mr Joyce was confident Resource Management Act changes would speed the project, though the motorway consent process was expected to take most of next year.