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 ‘top priority’

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Traffic congestion, “rat running” and a “choked” city will be Nelson’s future if locals don’t have their say on a transport plan currently out for consultation, warns the city’s mayor.

After the general election, in which National was ousted from government, it was thought by many that the Southern Link project was off table.

The Link was also not part of a suite of regional roading projects that National were planning on petitioning the Labour-led government to keep.

However, Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese says the Southern Link is still the highest priority in the Top of the South and thinks the new government will support it. But she says if Nelsonians want it to happen, they will still need to have their voices heard via the Nelson Draft Regional Traffic Plan.

“We want to send a clear message to the new government that this project is vital for Nelson and its future. As a high growth region, doing nothing or creating delays will ultimately result in the commercial heart of the Top of the South – Nelson City – being choked and starved and ratepayers footing increasing bills for roads that are operating at over capacity.”

The Nelson Draft Regional Traffic Plan will help decide the future direction of the region’s traffic strategy.

Currently, the draft plan has $21 million of NZTA money set aside over four years for further investigation and “pre-implementation” for the controversial Southern Link and a new walking and cycling route along Rocks Rd.

A detailed NZTA investigation into the Southern Link – which would see a new highway built from St Vincent St through the suburb of Victory and to Wakatu Drive – concluded last year and showed there was a need for a third route to the city in the future but recommended “network optimisation” in the meantime.

Rachel says network optimisation would mean clearways, or three laning, on the two existing routes to the city, Tahunanui Drive and Waimea Road. It’s a move she doesn’t support.

She says if the Southern Link isn’t progressed, the already busy arterial routes into Nelson will be “choked”, and create “rat running”, where drivers take back roads through residential areas instead of main roads.

But opponents say Nelson voters showed that the Southern Link was not a priority for the region when it voted for Labour in the party vote at last year’s election. This was despite the National Party promising to build the road within three years if re-elected.

Nelson city councillor and 2017 Greens candidate Matt Lawrey says it is unlikely that the Government will support the Southern Link, considering all parties that now make it up spoke out against the Link during the election.

He says that it’s rare for a government to be thrown out after one term so it was likely it would be six to nine years before the Link was back on the central Government agenda.

He says,  rather than focus on the Link, there is a “window of opportunity” to make the waterfront inviting for all. This that did not rule out needing an arterial route by 2030, as the NZTA report says.

However, Matt says the report also says that the route does not necessarily need to be the Southern Link. “If we don’t take action now we may well get to three or six or nine years and still have done nothing to make the waterfront safer and nicer for everyone. And we won’t have an arterial route.”

He also implored people to submit on the draft regional plan but with a view to ensure Nelsonians get a walkway/cycleway along Rocks Rd that they can be proud of.

“If we don’t push for it, it might pass by.”

Rachel says without the Southern Link continuing “the problems and costs for Nelson ratepayers and residents will continue to increase”.

However, Matt says that her position is unsurprising considering she has “staked her entire political career on the Southern Link”.

“But Nelsonians have to ask whether her position is realistic based on the Government of today and at least the next six years. It’s important Nelsonians realise that because otherwise we will miss out.”

Submissions for Nelson’s Draft Regional Land Transport Plan close at 5pm on Friday 9th February 2018.  The plan can be found online on www.ncc.govt.nz and in hard copy at the council’s Customer Service Centre and libraries.