Northland leaders are intensifying their call for the Government to get moving on its State Highway 1 Brynderwyns fix promises.
This comes as the latest estimates suggest Cyclone Gabrielle’s economic hit to the region will reach at least $112.8 million.
The numbers come from a new Northland Inc. economic impact report detailing the effects of the repeated closures to the Brynderwyns’ section of State Highway 1 in the weeks following the weather event.
Northland Mayoral Forum chair Vince Cocurullo said the new figures backed up what the North’s leaders had long known about the essential nature of the SH1 link into the region.
“We’re talking New Zealand’s major road access into and out of Northland for thousands of vehicles a day. It’s part of the essential fabric of the country’s wider economy and key for people from around the world wanting to access important iconic locations such as the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and Cape Reinga,” Cocurullo said.
The new report, released on Monday, has revealed the region’s daily $1.94 million hit from each of the 58 days the Brynderwyns were fully closed. That hit is almost double the initial back-of-the-hand impact estimates soon after the Valentine’s Day cyclone.
Cocurullo said the economic impact of the full closures was amplified by the state highway’s additional 15 partially shut days and the main North Auckland rail line being closed too.
The heavyweight Northland Mayoral Forum is the combined voice of the North’s four council leaders - Whangārei District Council’s mayor Vince Cocurullo, Far North District Council’s mayor Moko Tepania, Kaipara District Council‘s mayor Craig Jepson and Northland Regional Council‘s chair Tui Shortland – who together helm local government for the region’s more than 200,000 people.
Cocurullo said the new economic impact report highlighted a Brynderwyns fix was needed now towards a resilience solution ensuring Northland economic hits did not keep coming.
He said its figures also highlighted the importance of the Government finishing New Zealand’s four-lane Auckland to Northland expressway, the Brynderwyns fix a critical part of this.
Cocurullo said the mayoral forum was signalling loud and clear - on the eve of New Zealand’s October 14 national election with voting starting from October 2 – that the Brynderwyns fix as part of the Auckland to Northland expressway was a crucial issue for Northlanders and therefore any politicians wanting to represent the region.
He said the Government had recently indicated the Brynderwyns was part of its nationwide priority roading plans.
Northland leaders wanted to see action on that, particularly in light of the new economic impact report.
“We don’t need any empty promises to Northland at election time,” Cocurullo said.
He said another 10 days’ SH1 closures further south at Dome Valley had amplified the economic impacts from the Brynderwyns being shut.
This amplification was further increased with the ongoing Far North SH1 closure over the Mangamukas. Its 13km stretch of state highway had closed for more than a year, this time round in the latest recurrence of its serious weather-related resilience issues and was not expected to reopen until May 2024.
Road and rail into the region were not reliable. This was having a major bearing on the potential expansion of New Zealand’s best natural port at Marsden Point.
The port is being eyed in many quarters as the prime option for shifting Auckland’s port out of that city.
Cocurullo said the Government’s recently released draft Policy Statement highlighting its strategic roading priorities included maintaining New Zealand’s existing transport system to meet current and future user needs, increasing resilience so the system coped better with natural hazards and making transport routes substantially safer.
It also detailed the need for well-designed and operated transport corridors and hubs as well as providing efficient and reliable connections for productive economic activities.
These things were imperative for Northland’s economic development, Cocurullo said.
He said the now Warkworth end point of the Auckland to Northland expressway needed to shift north, including through SH1′s Dome Valley between Warkworth and Wellsford, the Brynderwyns and to the entrance to Whangārei.
Northland Inc chief executive Paul Linton said the closures’ true Northland economic impact extended beyond the new report.
Losses for Northland’s tourism sector because of the Brynderwyns closures were an additional financial impact, Linton said.
The new figures highlighted how crucial it was to have resilient Northland infrastructure to ensure the region’s economy could function, he said.
Roading and rail networks connecting Northland to the rest of New Zealand were critical in determining the economic success of all the region’s industries.
They both needed prioritising in government planning to ensure the Northland community’s livelihood.
“We cannot wait another 10 years for resilient infrastructure,” Linton said.
■ Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air