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‘Wellbeing’ a tipping point for our railway

Opinion Piece

Re: Signs study will favour rail line link, October 4 article.

While East Coast MP Anne Tolley’s cautiously positive comments are welcome, as a long-serving community advocate for all communities, CEAC (Citizens Environmental Advocacy Centre) is now obliged to add to this story about Gisborne rail’s importance to all our East Coast communities along the route of this historic railway.

On a warm summer day in 2002 before the Napier local body elections had begun, members of our Pirimai Residents Association Inc (PRA) were meeting our Napier deputy mayor Anne Tolley at a noisy residence alongside the “truck road to Napier port”, then called “Napier Hastings Motorway”.

Residents were becoming worried about heavy truck noise/vibrations and air pollution affecting our health. We also lived in this community.

Anne Tolley sat on the back porch of this home discussing the noise of the trucks while having a cup of tea/coffee, while several residents asked her what she could do for the residents to mitigate against the health hazards from the 24/7 truck noise/vibrations and air pollution.

Sadly, after that encounter no resolution was ever given us as Mrs Tolley, as deputy mayor, said she had no power or control to offer any such mitigation.

Later that year CEAC had a lawyer forward a letter to the Napier City CEO requesting urgent mitigation for residents based on their health concerns.

The council offered us a simple wooden fence, but nothing of any real substance.

Then in 2003 residents approached a Labour MP, Minister of Finance Sir Michael Cullen, for assistance under the community group CEAC facilitated called Napier Heavy Traffic Community Forum.

Sir Michael was keen to assist us and finally agreed to offer funds allocated to Transit NZ to place a “quiet, smooth road surface” along parts of the truck road near residential communities.

So we did get some real satisfaction then — until around 2012, when the rail disaster occurred. The line to Gisborne was closed after flood damage, and truck volumes began to rise to a level where residents were suffering sleep disruption and health concerns again.

CEAC had earlier joined the Gisborne Rail Action Group (RAG) in 2010, on its formation, to advocate for more environmental transport solutions, in solidarity with those suffering from overuse of road traffic.

We are now very proud that the years of action and advocating for “common sense transport solutions” has been taken on board. Raising awareness of health and wellbeing issues with everyone involved in restoring rail to its role as the best environment-friendly solution to our communities’ future is being supported. We hope Anne Tolley recalls our long suffering.

We are finally receiving support for the restoration of our precious railway from the BERL study nearing completion.

An important factor in the methodology of this report is the way community wellbeing is carefully considered. This could be the tipping point of needing the railway restored to service again as, after seven years without a railway, the roads became so dangerous that they were literally falling apart, unable to handle all the road freight. The cost of roading maintenance was not sustainable. Environmental sustainability was also being threatened.

On behalf of our community, CEAC is grateful for the care given to ensure our rights to health and wellbeing were included in the rail study.