Irate residents confront roading official

MATT STEWART
Last updated 05:00 03/02/2014

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Irate residents turned out in force to ambush a roading official after being told their countryside could be the site of a new link road to Transmission Gully.

Last week Takapu Valley landowners were blindsided by letters from the NZ Transport Agency telling them their properties could be bisected to create a link road to the new inland highway.

On Saturday about 50 residents gathered at Stephen Mulholland's farm to ambush NZTA project manager Jo Draper and a roading engineer who were visiting to privately consult another property owner.

The Mulhollands had hoped the ruse would draw out more detailed answers in a public forum but after an hour-long standoff, Ms Draper - who was clearly upset - said she had not come prepared to discuss "wider issues" with residents and media but a public meeting was being planned to address residents' concerns.

Mr Mulholland said NZTA's reasoning did not stack up and he could not see how building a road through the rugged valley could be cheaper than adding a lane to State Highway 1, which is the other option being considered by the agency.

"A lot of their statements don't seem to stand up to scrutiny."

A family who built their dream home in Takapu Valley say the proposed 6km road through the area has shattered their "little window of loveliness".

Carol and Dave Houston have four children under nine and had hoped to create an idyllic family environment reflecting Mrs Houston's upbringing in the valley.

The proposal has a double sting for her - when she was nine-years-old her family was forced to move when power pylons were built in the valley.

"They're always trying to pick on us," Mrs Houston said.

Sheep and cattle farmer Richard Brown is one of only three landowners to be consulted and said agency staff had effectively told him to "keep his mouth shut".

"They're very casual and nonchalant about destroying a rural area - it's like they were just buying a Big Mac."

Ohariu MP Peter Dunne said he was as "shocked and stunned" by the surprise plan as everyone else at the meeting.

"I think there are alternatives that are far less disruptive and the way NZTA has dumped this on people is unacceptable."

NZTA Wellington highway manager Rod James said both options would require property acquisition and affect a similar number of properties.

Although it would affect about 80 properties and run through several large historic farms, Mr James said the Takapu Valley option was a shorter, more direct link to Transmission Gully, gave greater resilience in a natural disaster and a more consistent gradient.

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The agency recognised how unsettling the news of a roading project could be for landowners.

"For this reason we prefer to give people this news in person, and at an early stage in the planning process.

"In this case we are having one-on-one discussions with property owners that may be affected by two broad options for developing a new road between Petone and Grenada," he said.

Residents' concerns would be a "significant factor" in assessing options and a consultation process due to start in mid-February would give the community a chance to review the options and have a say on proposals.

- The Dominion Post

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