A plan to lower the speed limit in Whakatāne district towns to 30 kilometres per hour has been described as fanatical by Mayor Victor Luca.
“I have no problem with a 30km/h limit near schools, which seems sensible. I am not in favour of a 30kmh limit around urban Whakatane,” Dr Luca said.
Residents have until July 30 to have their say on Whakatāne District Council’s speed management plan, which includes lowering speed limits to 30km/h on urban residential streets sometime between 2024 and 2027.
The council adopted the draft plan for consultation at its recent infrastructure and planning committee meeting and is urging the community to make submissions.
“The safety management plans that Whakatāne District Council has come up with are at the urging of Waka Kotahi and it is they that have placed some quite tight guidelines that don’t give [the council] much room to manoeuvre. However, we could go for 40km/h rather than 30km/h. For some reason, we went for the latter,” Dr Luca said.
“Waka Kotahi are showing a level of fanaticism and idealism that I am not convinced is going to yield significant results. They are trying to reduce deaths and injuries to zero in the cheapest way possible, by slowing us down to a snail’s pace.”
With legislation introduced in 2022, the transport ministry has laid down a framework for councils throughout New Zealand for setting speed limits in their districts.
The framework states speeds must be reduced to 30km/h for areas around schools and school travel routes, and 30 to 40kmh for local urban streets. Speed limits of 40 to 60kmh are allowed for urban connector streets linking residential areas.
The council’s draft plan includes 30kmh limits for all roads in urban areas except a handful of urban connector streets that will stay at 50kmh. In a report to councillors, staff said having 30kmh, 40kmh and 50kmh areas would be too confusing for drivers and result in a proliferation of speed signs.
Whakatāne council’s elected members are urging district residents to make submissions on the plan.
Deputy mayor Lesley Immink said it was another example of a Crown agency imposing changes on councils.
“It’s going to be a really hard ask. I don’t think anyone disagrees with keeping it at 30kmh around urban schools, but [the plan] raises lots of concerns, for example, Harbour Road, at 30kmh.
One Port Ōhope resident, Pam Mossman, told the Beacon she was always happy to see improvements and safety to roads but questioned whether any issues with safety had more to do with the condition of the roads, rather than people’s speed.
She said having a 30kmh limit on Harbour Road would have a serious impact on Port Ōhope residents’ daily commute.
“My husband travels to Kawerau each day, as do a lot of Ōhope residents. The proposal, combined with the proposal of Waka Kotahi to have a variety of speed zones between Whakatāne and Kawerau, would increase travel times significantly over the working week.”
Council transport planner Joe Metcalfe said Whakatāne district ranked 10th out of more than 70 other districts for high rates of serious crashes involving speed and had the second-highest crash rate involving pedestrians. He said something had to change.
“We want everyone who calls the Whakatāne District home, or who visits our community, to be safe when using our streets and roads. To do this, we need the right speeds on our roads for everyone, whether you are walking to the shops, biking to school, driving to work, or making deliveries.”
Whakatāne urban connector streets, where speed limits will remain at 50kmh, include Landing, Domain, Eivers, Valley, Arawa and Gorge and Keepa roads and Peace, Hinemoa and Te Tahi streets. In Ōhope, Pohutukawa Avenue will stay at 50kmh.
Metcalfe said along with setting speed limits, the council would also be installing infrastructure that encouraged appropriate speeds and work with other agencies, such as police, on enforcement methods to ensure people kept to the limits.
“New Zealand has some of the worst road fatality rates in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) with crashes costing our society almost $6 billion dollars each year. That’s a lot of resources being taken out of our healthcare system that could be drastically reduced if we all just take a bit of extra time on our roads. Great Aunt Betsy might just get that hip replacement without needing to wait four more years if we all just slow down.”
The draft District Speed Management Plan, including maps showing which speed limits apply to which streets, and a link to where people can make a submission, is now available to view on the Whakatāne District Council website, whakatane.govt.nz or paper copies of the plan are available at the council’s customer services office.