A long-running impasse over the future of Nelson’s transport network could be decided this year.
The Nelson Future Access project aimed to solve more than 30 years of debate, with feedback to be invited soon on the concepts developed so far.
The project was led by the Transport Agency in collaboration with the Nelson City Council, and was based on the needs of all users. It was also mindful of the history of attempts over three decades to improve access through the city.
The main argument has revolved around the desire to improve the city’s waterfront, along which State Highway 6 runs, and the consequences of shifting the road through another suburb.
The Transport Agency described the current transport system as an “hourglass” as it was in a highly-constrained geographic environment, with hills on one side and Tasman Bay on the other.
It said Nelson and Tasman were growing regions, with a population expected to increase by between nine and 25 percent over the next 30 years. The growing demand for travel was being squeezed through two arterial roads that must function as “all things to all users”.
The current project focused on developing a detailed investment programme for a transport system that supported community aspirations for Nelson.
Mayor Rachel Reese said it was progressing well and she hoped it would be a turning point towards a workable solution.
“We’re expecting options to be in front of the public by the middle of this year and I think it’s going to be a good step forward for all Nelsonians, so we can really plan the future of this city.
“We need some clarity of direction for growth in the city and I think this is going to be a really positive outcome.”
Reese said the project looked at short-term as well as long-term fixes that took into account future transport trends, and the city’s connection to its waterfront.
The Nelson Waterfront Action group has long believed the only solution was to move the state highway off the waterfront and through an area of the city fringe.
Spokesperson Jeremy Matthews said that was still the group’s view, but it conceded that more needed to be done to work with the potentially-affected community.
He said shifting the highway was contentious because people did not know what it might look like.
“It has to be carefully and very well done. If they’re going to just ‘barrel’ a road through there that is nothing like good enough,” Matthews said.
He said the plan had failed so far because of people’s “inability to see what could be achieved”, not only for the waterfront but the community that stood to be affected by a shift in the highway.
Reese said Nelson was among the first cities in New Zealand to declare a climate emergency, which meant emissions reduction was going to be important to any future decisions on a transport network.
The project also aimed to encourage a greater level of intensification rather than continuing to develop on the fringes.
Ms Reese said creating a “city-to-sea connection” had been important since before she was elected to the council for the first time in 2007.
“But working with a state highway network, when it’s right in the middle of your waterfront certainly creates some challenges,” she said.
The council bought property on the waterfront several years ago for a planned Haven Precinct development, of which city councillor Pete Rainey, who was re-elected last year after a three-year break, was part of.
Rainey said the waterfront had a lot of potential, but it was important to keep an open mind about the solutions that would stand the test of time.
He was hopeful that the current council would find a progressive and enduring solution to the city’s transport network.
“From what I’ve seen so far, and it’s still early days, I’m pretty encouraged by the talk that’s happening.
“We have a common set of goals we’re all pretty happy with.”
The Transport Agency said feedback on the potential project packages that have been developed would be invited from March or April this year, and it would then advise on a recommended package in June.