Article: Nelson Mail : ADAM ROBERTS

Nelson MP Nick Smith has reaffirmed his commitment to the southern link road, telling a meet-the-candidates gathering in Tahunanui last night that if re-elected he will strive to have it formally designated.

He would also push for a cycleway along Rocks Rd, he told about 40 people at Tahunanui School, where he was joined on stage by Green Party candidate Aaryn Barlow, Labour candidate and list MP Maryan Street and ACT party candidate Paul Hufflett.

The first half of the nearly two-hour meeting was dominated by the southern link issue, with Ms Street and Mr Barlow against it, and Dr Smith’s view supported by Mr Hufflett. Members of the audience also backed him.

Dr Smith, who was comfortably ahead of the rest in last week’s Nelson Mail poll of the Nelson electorate, has consistently advocated for the southern link to cater for the region’s future traffic needs and get heavy traffic off Rocks Rd.

Promising last night to get the designation and plan changes completed for the southern link, he said this would give certainty over Nelson’s long-term plan and ensure the region was ready to build it when traffic volumes warranted.

He said a properly designed cycleway was the next step for the area, and he wanted to work with the Nelson City Council to advance this in the next term, and secure government funding to assist with the cost.

Rocks Rd should be the slow route, for walkers and cyclists, not the route for the commuter traffic and the heavy traffic to the port, he said.

He pointed to the Richmond Deviation and the Stoke bypass (Whakatu Dr) as successful models.

Ms Street said she did not support the location of a highway through the Victory community because she had seen what it had done to Tahunanui, which she said suffered socio-economically.

“Why would you wish that to be replicated on another community in Nelson?”

The community and government needed to find “creative ways” to solve the problem.

If the southern link was such a “crack-hot idea”, it would have happened by now, she said.

But one Tahunanui resident said the community was starving and falling to bits, and no amount of creative thinking would change that unless the route was changed.

Mr Barlow said shifting traffic through the southern link and ploughing a motorway through the Victory community would be to repeat the mistakes of the past.

The country needed a fresh approach to transport, with more public transport and liveable cities, he said.

The Greens would encourage places like Tahunanui to be more pedestrian-friendly, and invest more in public transport.

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It was a very difficult position for the community, but he asked the group whether they would want the Victory community to have the same burden.

“No, we want them to share it,” one audience member responded.

Dr Smith said he was sick of people saying imaginative options were needed.

The southern link was not perfect, but such decisions were about satisfying the greatest possible number of people, and the new route would affect one sixth of those currently affected.

“I’m sorry, this debate is over a decade old, if the Greens and Labour cannot come up with a realistic alternative of where the freight goes, they don’t deserve your vote.”

Mr Hufflett said he supported the southern link, and it was a call that should have been made a long time ago.

Nelson needed to see a strong Centre-Right government returned at the election to have any hope of receiving the necessary funding to see the project through, he said.