SEALING the roads into Te Urewera and Lake Waikaremoana could be a more viable proposition in the wake of an agreement last week between Ngai Tuhoe and the Crown to settle historical grievances.
The unsealed sections of road through the national park are managed by Wairoa and Whakatane district councils, although funding for the day-to-day maintenance of the road is provided by the New Zealand Transport Authority (NZTA).
An NZTA spokesman says sealing the road is not a high priority and there are no plans to seal it in the near future.
Ngai Tuhoe chief negotiator Tamati Kruger says the onus for sealing the road is on Wairoa and Whakatane district councils, but neither have funding to make this a feasible proposition.
While Tuhoe iwi have not been involved in the road sealing issue, Tuhoe’s position is that sealing the road would help productivity and growth of the area.
Sealed roads would give people travelling from Rotorua, Napier, Wairoa and Whakatane better access to Te Urewera.
“We have had knowledge of meetings between Wairoa and Whakatane but we were not invited,” says Mr Kruger.
A question arose of where Tuhoe stood.
Mr Kruger says in his capacity as chairman of the Tuhoe tribal authority, he would have been in support of sealing the road.
“Tuhoe are supportive and we encourage the Tuhoe community to get behind that.”
The $170 million settlement offered by the Crown includes an agreement to work with Tuhoe over 40 years to improve quality of services.
Mr Kruger says infrastructure is likely to be the most immediate focus. This includes basic utilities such as water and electricity supply, town planning, sewage systems, health and educational services.
“These are necessary for economic development to proceed. We are looking at developing farming, horticulture, agriculture and tourism. To me, the sealed road is part of the economic strategy.”
Wairoa Mayor Les Probert says while Wairoa and Whakatane district councils have known for some time NZTA is unlikely to come up with funding for sealing, both councils believe it is an economic development proposition rather than a roading proposition.
“If you look at the link between Rotorua, Napier, Wairoa, Whakatane and Gisborne as a complete circuit, it gives you a picture of a tourist link.”
Mr Probert says a lot of people go to Lake Waikaremoana in summer but the roads are not suitable for campervans. He believes some insurers will not provide coverage for campervans used on the region’s unsealed roads.
From that point of view, it is not a state highway . . . it is a second rate road.
“We’re going to work on it until we find a solution,” Mr Probert said.
“Think 20 years ahead. From our point of view, it’s an essential part of the future. If we can open up the links, this is the road to economic development — particularly in terms of fishing and tourism possibilities.”
Mr Probert says the Government is keen to take timber, wool and meat out of the high-productivity region but the region wants something back.
“We’re not talking about the Government improving a second-rate road. We’re looking at economic development.”
The focus should not be on the cost, but what sealed roads will provide in the way of employment, tourism and infrastructure associated with recreational pursuits.
“We haven’t discussed funding. We’re looking at the feasibility of it.
“We’re not sure where the funding will come from at this stage. When the settlement is made, and we know who owns what, we can progress from there.”
Mr Probert wants to make it clear Wairoa is not expecting funding from the Crown’s settlement with Ngai Tuhoe over ownership of Te Urewera National Park.
“Sealing the road would benefit Tuhoe if they have money to put into tourism and access to park resources. Once the settlement is made, we will have a talk with them.”