A 2018 deadline for Nelson to spend regional funds from the New Zealand Transport Agency on a revamped waterfront route is "artificial" and can be changed, Nelson MP Nick Smith says.
The agency and Nelson City Council are proposing to put most of a $22.9 million fund toward redeveloping Rocks Rd.
In public addresses and council meetings, both councillors and staff have emphasised the use-by date for the funding.
However, Smith disagreed with this focus.
"Well, it is over-stated. The Government has the flexibility to allow the funding to be used on any timing. There is no legislative barrier, simply a decision for government," Smith said.
Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee confirmed the date was not set in stone.
"I think the point Dr Smith makes is it would be kind of crazy to just go spending that simply because there is a deadline out. We are always keen as a government to get the best possible outcomes," he said.
"Whatever you put in now will be a compromise if you knew that the southern link was going ahead so that's why we want this accelerated process of getting the investigation and design [for the link] completed."
The Government announced a share of $12m in late June to carry out investigation work for the controversial link that would provide an alternative route for heavy traffic.
Yesterday it announced $100m for urban cycling networks throughout the country.
As a result, Smith said, the council would have to look again at its Rocks Rd plans.
He said the new cycling fund would mean money for the coastal road's upgrade and the regional funding could be spent on relocating the state highway.
Smith said it was about investing in cycleways and roads to the advantage of the city.
However, the investigation potentially giving the go-ahead to build the southern link is not expected to start until late this year or early next year.
When asked what the Government would do if the investigation did not find evidence to support building the highway, Brownlee said "the Government has not put up $12m outside of the land transport fund to get a report to say don't do it".
He said that did not mean ignoring evidence, but was about having "faith in the fact that Nelson is a vibrant place, its growing economy, and that its potential for seeing the full utilisation of that southern link road is very, very high".
However, Brownlee said it was still appropriate to go through an investigation phase to get the business case together.
Brownlee and Smith said a board of inquiry, where projects are fast-tracked outside of the Environment Court, may be used to move the highway ahead.
"The board of inquiry is no guarantee, but it is a faster way of getting to a decision that is from start to finish a nine-month process. So yes, it would be highly likely that a process like this would go through that process," said Brownlee.
The NZ Transport Agency's senior safety engineer Andrew James has told Rocks Rd residents that the link was separate from the redevelopment of the coastal road.
But Smith said the two needed to be co-ordinated because heavy traffic taken off Rocks Rd would ultimately change the design. That did not mean the roads had to be done at the same time.
He denied he wanted the Rocks Rd project to be parked.
"It's perfectly sensible to be continuing to have a discussion around the development of Rocks Rd as a boulevard with enhanced cycling, walking, and recreation. But, we should not be spending large funds of government or council money unless it is properly co-ordinated with a plan around the long-term future of the state highway," he said.
Bicycle Nelson Bays welcomed yesterday's cycling funding announcement, but co-cordinator Chris Allison said Smith needed to guarantee that if Nelson did not use the regional funding by 2018 it would not lose it and that the $40m-50m estimated for the southern link would be made available.
- The Nelson Mail
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