$500m roading project defended at hearing

Roading bosses have refuted suggestions the building of an ambitious half-billion-dollar project to the south of Hamilton could result in "some form of social apocalypse".

A hearing into the Southern Links proposed network of state highway and arterial roads began yesterday with the NZ Transport Agency and Hamilton City Council seeking to secure the proposed project's "footprint".

Southern Links aims to connect the region to the south of Hamilton and proposes three new river crossings.

NZTA counsel Suzanne Janissen told the hearing's four commissioners the $500 million project was the result of 50 years of investigation and planning.

It would connect State Highway 1 from Kahikatea Dr in Hamilton to Tamahere and the Waikato Expressway in the south; and SH3 from Hamilton International Airport to central and east Hamilton.

Neither NZTA nor Hamilton City Council has set aside funds for the network in their 10-year plans but Janissen said it was important the proposed project was future-proofed to ensure "incompatible future land uses" didn't compromise the network.

NZTA and the city council have sought a 20-year lapse period, saying that neither party could guarantee funding in a shorter time period.

Janissen said a 20-year timeframe brought with it "the potential for community effects of uncertainty" but said the agency was committed to mitigating such effects through consultation.

Independent consultants, employed by Hamilton City and Waipa and Waikato district councils to assess Southern Links, have recommended a timeline be produced to justify the 20-year timeframe.

Janissen said the agency was generally hesitant to provide a timeline because the public often interpreted it as a "clear line in the sand".

Janissen said the consultants' recommendations showed a fundamental lack of understanding of what a future-proof designation was.

She said a lot was made in the consultants' report about the social effects that might occur during the lapse period, "however, there is little to support the supplementary report's strong inference that there will be some form of social apocalypse if the reporting team's additional conditions are not accepted".

Tamahere residents have been a strong critic of the Southern Links, saying they could be stuck in limbo, possibly unable to develop their land, while waiting for roading bosses to act during the next 20 years.

Janissen said fewer than 10 farming properties and "very few businesses" would be directly affected by Southern Links.

During the lapse period, farming operations would be able to continue in the designated area provided no significant structures, such as milking sheds, were built.

The hearing, chaired by commissioner Doug Arcus, is expected to run two weeks.

Waikato Times