This week the Environment Court is conducting hearings for the O2NL consent process. Lonnie Dalzell from Waka Kotahi presented their proposal for resource consent.
Affected parties presented evidence or concerns.
As the chair of the Horowhenua New Zealand Trust, Antony Young represented the trust’s opinion on the process to the court in the HDC chambers. This is what he said:
“One frosty morning in June 2021, Frank and Karen Slobbe left their home in Foxton Beach just after 5am. They were excited about attending a motorcycle enthusiast convention in the South Island. Riding their Ducati, they planned to catch the ferry in Wellington. Frank and Karen never made it there. They were struck by a car in Manakau near Kuku East Rd at about 5.35am. A man was driving his work car north when he thought he saw a pair of headlights turning across his lane.
“He swerved onto the shoulder of the road but overcorrected and caused his car to fishtail into the path of the Slobbe’s motorcycle. Both died at the scene. They left behind three daughters Sarah, Selina and Lisa, and son Michael, and five grandchildren. The Slobbe’s second-eldest Selina, a police officer in Horowhenua, is painfully reminded of that horrific accident as she travels past the crash site nearly every day.
In the past five years, [2018-2022] 89 individuals have perished or suffered life-altering injuries on this very road. That’s over double the number recorded the previous five years.
“Later that year, on November 9 four people travelling in a van back from Wellington to Taranaki along State Highway 1 at Kuku, collided with a truck about 3pm. Richard Parsons a school caretaker, Cass Jordan a teacher and Tracey McKenna a teacher’s aide, were all staff at Devon Intermediate School. The fourth person, Joep Vergroesen, was the owner of a popular local cafe in Egmont Village. None of them made it home to see their loved ones that night.
“On Saturday morning around 6.30am last April, 18-year-old Bradley Te Peeti, a former student at Waiopehu College, was involved in a two-car crash on Arapaepae Rd. He was transported to Palmerston North Hospital where he died.
“On September 28 last year, 81-year-old Jennifer O’Neill was run over by a truck in broad daylight right in the centre of Levin on the corner of Oxford Street and Queen St East. She was using a walking frame at the time.
Young people. Elderly people. Parents. Locals. Out-of-towners. Māori. Pakeha. This relentless stretch of road shows no mercy.
“In the past five years, [2018-2022] 89 individuals have perished or suffered life-altering injuries on this very road. That’s over double the number recorded in the previous five years.
“Every day 1750 trucks travel along that southern stretch of road between Ōhau and Manakau. I hold my breath when driving over the narrow, bending Manakau rail overbridge or pulling out from Buller Rd onto State Highway 1 onto an unprotected turning lane. When I get caught up in a traffic jam on this highway, I don’t think about being late for a meeting or getting home. I think of Frank and Karen Slobbe.
“I ask you to listen with your hearts and understand the profound impact that these accidents have had on us, on our neighbours, our friends and our loved ones.
“Now I appreciate that no one in this chamber is objecting to the road.
“But having read the submissions, nor are you here to wholeheartedly support it either.
Every day 1750 trucks travel along that southern stretch of road between Ōhau and Manakau.
“It’s easy to think of Waka Kotahi as the bad guys here. After all, they’re the ones who want to build this expressway.
“But the thing is, THEY don’t want the road. WE want the road.
“At the Horowhenua NZ Trust, we are here to represent the voices of the Brad Te Peeti’s and the Jennifer O’Neill’s and their whanau and friends.
“We’re here to represent the 1700 very active and concerned followers on our Facebook “HorowhenuaŌ2N:L Expressway Discussion Group.”
“We’re here to represent the 18,000 drivers who use this road every day.
“We’re here to represent the 650 businesses, employers, and workers that we talk to regularly that rely on that road to get their products up and down or commute for their jobs.
“We ALL want this road. Why hold it up?
“Sure, you argue, the community want Ō2NL. But they aren’t affected like you.
“Maybe that’s right. And I don’t know your situation intimately.
“But I can say, personally I am one of those who saw my life uprooted because of this road.
“After three years of being assured by Waka Kotahi that our property wouldn’t likely be affected by Ō2NL, we learnt that it would.
“Our house was to be in the direct path of an access road.
“Our farm, our happy place, our 1000 blueberry bushes would go.
“Our income and small business that was going to see us beyond retirement would be shut down.
But having read the submissions nor are you here to wholeheartedly support it either.
“The many locals we got to meet, some of whom became good friends … we would miss seeing each summer.
“While bitterly disappointing at the time, we knew that the bigger picture is that the needs of the community should prevail over the needs of a few.
“The Horowhenua New Zealand Trust supports the Ō2NL Expressway, but we have two concerns: unnecessary delays and escalating costs.
“The budget has swelled from an initial estimate of $687-$790 million to $1.58 billion.
“Our concern is added cost blowout.
“With each delay, adjustment, or addition, costs increase.
There have been at least two other occasions in the past where Wellington policymakers have flip flopped on Ō2NL
“We saw that with Transmission Gully. We saw that with the Otaki Expressway.
“Why are we so concerned?
“Government has a finite budget. They have and will always be faced with tough trade-offs sometimes due to unforeseen circumstances hoisted onto them.
“We saw Cyclone Gabrielle rage through the Hawkes Bay and Tai Rawhiti earlier this year.
“At that time the Government sought to provide financial relief.
“At the same time, the Minister of Transport at the time, considered downgrading or delaying Ō2NL one assumes to help fund other potential priorities.
“I don’t think any of us would deny the need to assist those farmers and families in those worst affected regions getting the assistance they need.
“There have been at least two other occasions in the past where Wellington policymakers have flip-flopped on Ō2NL.
“That’s how fragile the road is. Ō2NL is not a done deal.
“If costs were to escalate further, Ō2NL could easily be delayed, even jeopardised.
“And that would be disastrous for our district.
We’re here to represent the 18,000 drivers who use this road every day.
“I don’t want to take away from the issues others are raising and the negotiations taking place.”
But I ask those of you and this court to consider this point.
“Delays will cost lives.
“Another 100 road deaths and serious injuries will take place by the time this road is due to be completed in 2029.
“And that’s if it gets opened on schedule.
“A delay of six months will add nine more people that count.
The Ō2NL Expressway is not just a road; it’s a lifeline.
“More additions to the plans, more testing, more consultation adds more delays.
“Delays that will cost unnecessary lives.
“Let us not delay progress. Let us embrace the vision of a safer, brighter future for our community. The Ō2NL Expressway is not just a road; it’s a lifeline. Let us come together to support the journey to safer passage.
“Ngā mihi. Thank you.”