Progress Nelson-Tasman chair Craig Dennis, Nelson deputy mayor Paul Matheson and Nelson MP Nick Smith near where the proposed Southern Link would join with Whakatu Drive. Photo: Andrew Board.

Southern Link approved

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The Southern Link project has been approved and work will begin within three years, Prime Minister Bill English has announced today.

The controversial road, which is proposed to run from St Vincent St to Whakatu Drive near the Beatson Rd roundabout, has been the subject of a business case study by the New Zealand Transport Agency since 2015.

Nelson MP Nick Smith says the road met the requirements to proceed and work will begin within three years, if National is re-elected.

The project has vocal opposition, most recently from Green Party candidate Matt Lawrey who last week blasted Smith over a lack of news on the case study.

“The answer to Nelson’s congestion is a combination of smarter use of our existing infrastructure, better public transport, including free travel for under-19s, and more people living in and close to the CBD.”

But Smith says the link is “critical” for Nelson.

“The Southern Link Highway is critical to Nelson’s future in providing the efficient connection between the region, the city and the port. It also provides the exciting opportunity to transform our beautiful waterfront into a boulevard for walking and cycling.”

The cost of the project has skyrocketed from an estimated $45 million in 2004, up to $135 million. Smith says that’s due to “greater abatement” on St Vincent St and better integration with the inner city roading network.

The previous attempt at building the Southern Link was canned in 2004 when the Environment Court ruled against it. Smith says new rules mean the project is unlikely to face the Environment Court.

“The government, and myself as minister, has rewritten the law such that this project is more likely to go to a board of inquiry. We had similar projects like Waterview in Auckland and Transmission Gully in Wellington that were not able to be consented under the old system and both have been consented under the board of inquiry process. That gives me confidence here as well,” he says.

Progress Nelson-Tasman chair Craig Dennis, who has been campaigning for the Southern Link, was thrilled with the news.

“We are very pleased that National have committed to building this within the next three years. It’s a huge piece of the jigsaw that’s needed for this region to unlock its potential.”

Asked about the impact on Victory, Smith says the project should be viewed in a regional context, not one community.

“My commitment to the Victory community is to ensure that they are engaged on the detail so that we can do a very professional job of this.

“There is a noisy group of antis that just do not like roads and that’s just an argument. You never get any substantive progress if you say you’re not going to proceed until 100 per cent of people are happy. I can recall the strong critics of the Stoke bypass and the Ruby Bay bypass, what everybody says after these projects are completed is why didn’t we do it years ago?”