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Best to get proposed ‘bridge to the past’ right

Opinion Piece

The sweeping curved Turanganui River Bridge, the concept for which comes up for approval by Gisborne District Council today, will become a visual centrepiece for the Waikanae area as well as going some small way to righting the loss of a historical marker.

The bridge will extend from the mouth of the Waikanae Stream across the river to Eastland Port’s slipway, which will be modified and host heritage interpretations of this area where key formative events took place for our nation.

The site is significant because it is so close to the sacred rock Te Toka a Taiau/Taiao, an important tribal boundary marker and where the first physical contact between Maori and Europeans occurred on the mainland. The rock was demolished as part of construction work on Gisborne’s harbour in the late 19th century.

While it is disappointing the bridge is unlikely to be completed before the 2019 sestercentennial commemorations, the council staff recommendation of support for a superior, high-quality bridge, rather than rushing the process, is probably the right one.

The project will involve a community engagement process through the design phase and a resource consent, which will take time. A final timing update will be available by the end of the year.

The fact Eastland Community Trust is likely to be a key funder of the project, which will cost from $3 million to $6.6m, should go some way to calm mumblings that it is a grandiose waste of money.

One project that is a must for 2019 is the upgrading of the Cook Landing Site. There has been a lot of criticism about the unkempt state of what is the first national historical reserve in the country, and the place New Zealand’s modern history began.

This project is 100 percent government-funded, with the money probably available before the end of the year once a concept plan is approved.

That leaves the inner harbour project, still the subject of debate and frequent letters to the editor, and the historical interpretations project as the two remaining to help make sure events marking the 250th anniversary of first meetings between Maori and Europeans are of a standard that they should be.