Southland District Council investigating new route to complete cycle trail
The Southland District Council has withdrawn its Around the Mountains Cycle Trail High Court appeal and will investigate whether it can temporarily complete the cycle trail using existing roads.
The council met behind closed doors on Wednesday to discuss options for completing the trail, an issue which has haunted it for some time.
It has been slammed by the public over the massive cost blowouts that rose from an estimated $8 million to about $14m.
The council was presented with three options: do nothing, investigate the "Heartland Ride" or investigate the option of completing the alternative route in the Mararoa Valley.
At the meeting the council agreed to investigate the "Heartland Ride" option, which would see the Centre Hill and Mavora Lakes Roads being used to complete the trail from Centre Hill to Walter Peak.
Southland District Mayor Gary Tong said the option provided the council a holding option for a time to allow the trail to be completed and marketed as a complete ride.
The council could then consider how to develop the trail to the Great Ride standard, he said.
The council could not do nothing as it had contractual agreements with funders, including central Government, to complete a Great Ride from Kingston to Walter Peak, he said.
"We don't believe we can develop a Great Ride at this time because of the costs, which are estimated to be in the range of $3m to $6m."
A business plan would be drawn up investigating the options and it would have no assumptions and only facts, Tong said.
Staff would now prepare a detailed business case for completing the "Heartland Ride" option for a period of time.
The plan would include costs, risks and funding options.
"Nothing's set in concrete," Tong said.
Staff would also negotiate with funders about a variation to the contracts, he said.
Council chief executive Steve Ruru said the council would need to work through the issues it was facing in completing the trail with the funders.
"We would like to hope they will understand the position we're in and the process we've been through."
Ruru estimated at this stage it would take three to four months to put together the business case.
Last year the Environment Court decided in favour of Fish & Game's challenge of the district council’s plans to build the cycle trail down the remote Oreti River valley.
The council had looked to appeal the Environment Court decision in the High Court, but has now abandoned the idea.
The council had reached agreement with Fish & Game Southland over costs after Fish & Game won the Environment Court appeal.
The council is to pay Fish & Game $175,000 for its costs.
The forecast cost for the cycle trail consent, Environment Court hearing and appeal of the Oreti section were just under $1.9 million.
Southland Fish & Game chairman Graeme Watson welcomed the Southland District Council withdrawal of its high court appeal, calling it a "wise move".
"We're delighted this long, drawn-out battle is now behind us and we can move on."
Watson said Fish & Game would be happy to work with the Southland District Council to develop a new route for the cycle trail down the nearby Mararoa Valley.
It was time for all parties to co-operate and build something the region could be proud of, Watson said.
“We now have the opportunity to shift from what was threatening to become an embarrassing debacle to a positive development which will benefit Southland.”