Council, Matthews in standoff over trees

A tree-loving businessman's efforts to save a stand of decades-old pohutukawa trees is delaying the construction of a pathway to give Bell Block pensioners safe access to New Plymouth's Valley shopping centre.

The long-awaited 180-metre pathway, alongside State Highway 3 on the northern outskirts of New Plymouth, is proposed to be constructed beneath a row of pohutukawa trees on land owned by Technix Industries Ltd and Fitzroy Engineering. Information obtained by the Taranaki Daily News under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act shows Technix owner John Matthews' willingness to give the green light for the path's construction across his land is contingent on the New Plymouth District Council negotiating a deal with lines company Powerco to bury the overhead electricity cables on the north side of the pohutukawa.

Matthews said the power cables were damaging the trees and burying the cables would stop this.

Being at the entrance to the city, he said, it was important to save the trees and moving the cables should be part of the upgrading of the whole area.

"The issue is the whole footpath and cycleway should have been sorted out when they did the highway but they just ignored us."

The path alongside Devon Rd inexplicably stops 180m short of Vickers Rd. Pedestrians, cyclists and mobility scooter users must instead traverse across a short gravel path and along a grass bank. Others take the risk of using the median strip along the side of the 80kmh road.

Matthews, who in the past was part of a team that saved a centuries-old puriri tree in Pukekura Park, said Technix was willing to contribute to the cost of burying the cables but he wanted the council to share the burden.

It is not known how much of the burden he wants it to share.

Negotiations over the path have been under way for more than two years and the council has withheld releasing parts of the records of those negotiations to the Daily News for fear it will prejudice those negotiations.

In a letter to Matthews, dated April 10, 2013, council Let's Go Project manager Carl Whittleston said the likelihood of the council reaching an agreement for a "cost share" for the undergrounding was remote and asked him to consider a "fallback option" that included encouraging people to use a "mown strip" on the "desired line for the path".

On October 1, 2013, Whittleston again contacted Matthews asking if there was a likelihood of an agreement for the council to build the path.

Matthews replied via email the next day, saying "the issue for undergrounding the powerlines is still unresolved and this is fundamental to progressing the footway/cycleway along the frontage.

"We will be in a position to endeavour to get these issues resolved in November," he wrote.

Whittleston said the issue was yet to be resolved.

Richard Ellis, of Fitzroy Engineering, yesterday agreed the powerlines should be buried as part of the path project.

Powerco corporate affairs manager Neil Holdom said where a customer requested the undergrounding of existing overhead lines, the customer was asked to pay a majority of the costs.

It was not possible to provide accurate generic per-meter costs for replacing overhead assets.

Taranaki Daily News