Saturday, 25 May 2019

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Serious concerns raised at Cathedral Coast Walkway meeting in Hahei last weekend

Serious concerns raised at Cathedral Coast Walkway meeting in Hahei last weekend

On my count, more than 140 people attended the public meeting last week Saturday at the Hahei Community Centre about the proposed Cathedral Coast Walkway. When I arrived at the meeting, I thought it would from a reporting perspective fairly standard - just say what happened.

But it became soon clear to me that I would have to write something closer to an opinion piece than a report. And I won’t be honest if I say that I left the meeting unperturbed.

Things started off with Thames Coromandel District Council Great Walks project manager Garry Towler and Department of Conservation "track builder" John Gaukrodger giving an overview of where things are at.

They said the proposed walkway is planned from Hot Water Beach to Ferry Landing with stages 1A and 1B to kick off as soon as external funding of $3.2 million has been secured. The two stages will, in essence, link the blowhole at the Te Pupuha Recreation Reserve (just south of Hahei) with Cathedral Cove and Cathedral Cove with the Purangi Estuary. The route has been surveyed and included in the costs are six cantilevered structures to be placed, according to the information sheet handed out to all those who attended the meeting, "… along some of the most breath-taking viewing spots along the walk."

They also said a pay and display parking facility will be constructed on the old wastewater treatment plant at Pa Road (the residential street in Hahei giving access to the current walkway to the Te Pupuha Recreation reserve) before December 2015 and negotiations are underway for a pay and display parking facility centrally located on private land off Lees Road (the road leading to the Purangi Estuary).

A track will be built from the Lees Road car park to link in with the existing Cathedral Cove track. The last part of stage 1B of the proposed walk will be on a track that will follow Lees Road to the Stella Evered Memorial Park adjacent to the Purangi Estuary. The Lees Road car park will be sealed and so will Lees Road up to the car park.

The proposed Cathedral Coast Walkway will ultimately be part of the Coromandel Great Walks which, according to the information sheet, "… will eventually link the whole [Thames Coromandel] district through a variety of great walks around the coastline and across the spine of the Coromandel."

Garry said that he hoped the meeting would conclude with a few people putting their hands up to be part of a working group that would help them to work through the issues the community may have.

Following this introduction the floor was opened for questions and two things became clear to me. The first is that no one questions the benefit of a Great Walks project for Mercury Bay and the Coromandel as a whole. But, and that is the second thing, there is great doubt that Hahei is the right place for the first walk to be constructed.

Everyone was in agreement that the proposed walkway will bring greater numbers of visitors to Hahei, an area that is already stretched to the limit during summer.

A number of Pa Road residents expressed concerns about tourists choosing not to park in the new pay and display car park at the old wastewater treatment plant, potentially making access to their own properties more difficult. A comment from Gary that proper signage and road markings may address the issue didn’t wash, with one Pa Road resident saying that such measures will force her family and friends to park in the pay and display car park instead of in front of her property.

The Lees Road residents are also concerned about the effect of increased traffic to and from the Stella Evered Memorial Park. According to John, the track along the road will be built such a distance away that the road can be widened, but Gary said widening isn’t on the cards at the moment.

A comment from one of the attendees that a few walks maybe should be built at other locations in order for the existing issues in Hahei to be sorted out first was met with enthusiastic applause.

When Garry was asked what he would do if it became very clear that the Hahei Community doesn’t want the proposed walkway, at least not in the immediate future, he said he’ll be happy to ask the Mercury Bay Community Board to consider recommending to Council that the Hahei ratepayers hold a referendum on the issue. However, he said, if external funding is to be obtained next year (from the likes of the Lotteries Commission), an application has to be lodged before the end of this year and work on that will have to continue.

This is why I left the meeting perturbed - answering more questions, Garry said planning the Cathedral Coast Walkway started more than a year ago and to date about $100,000 has been spent (not clarifying if that incudes staff time or not). Now I think the project - not the Great Walks as such, but the proposed stages 1A and 1B - is in real danger of falling over. It seems as if a working group will be formed, and good on the people from Hahei for participating in that, made up of representatives from Lees Road, Pa Road, Hahei Beach Road, the Hahei Business Association, the Hahei Ratepayers Association, Hahei absentee ratepayers and Coastal Walkways. But those representatives will put their constituents’ views forward. And if what was raised at the meeting is an indication of those views, then the plan to build car parks at the old wastewater treatment plant and Lees Road to cope with the extra influx of people the proposed walkway is going to bring, isn’t going to cut the mustard.

The meeting last Saturday really should have been held a year ago and the $100,000 spent so far would have gone a long way, thinking out loud, in the planning (and even construction) of a walkway from the Purangi Estuary to Ferry Landing or from Ferry Landing to Wharekaho or, maybe a bit more ambitious, from Wharekaho to Kuaotunu to Matarangi to Whangapoua or New Chums Beach.

A lesson is to be learned here. We need the Great Walks in Mercury Bay, we absolutely do. The idea is great and the benefits will be enormous, but talk to the affected ratepayers first. Make sure everyone is singing from the same song sheet. And the great idea, which we absolutely need, will absolutely happen.

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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.