The focus of this submission is primarily Tasman District Council’s role in providing regional cycle assets and in particular its support of the Great Taste Trail.
Tasman District Council has invested - and continues to invest - in developing a range of cycle ways, lanes, and trails as part of urban and reserve/forest-based cycling facilities. This submission strongly supports these efforts by Council. In the past cycling may have been viewed as a low volume, private recreational or transport choice. More recently, large and increasing numbers of Tasman residents are using Council cycling facilities. This significant growth underlines the potential for cycling as a community, tourism and wider transport activity.
Bicycle Nelson Bays shares the view of a recent Nelson Mail editorial that: “The more our local councils build facilities catering for two-wheelers, the greater the numbers that will use them. This in turn means: extending the life of existing road facilities, including parking; reducing peak-time traffic snarls; potentially healthier and happier people …and citizens generally in closer connection with their community.” (28 March 2014)
We understand that this year, as in previous years, Council will be receiving a number of submissions from organisations and the wider community regarding Council’s approach to funding the Great Taste Trail. Bicycle Nelson Bays acknowledges the need for Council to both contain its debt and to be selective about which infrastructure and community projects it can and does fund.
In this respect Council is to be congratulated on its past support for the trail, which has seen the route completed from Richmond to Wakefield to the south and in the west through to Motueka with an extension to Kaiteriteri. As Council is aware, user feedback on this facility (and indeed on TDC walkways and cycleways generally) is very good, and as noted in the Draft Annual Plan the highest use sections are those which are now completed.
There is no question, however, that the real economic return from the trail for the Tasman region and its residents (and therefore for Council) is connected to having sufficient length of this type of off-road trail available to attract out-of-region visitors for multi-day visits. While it’s good to see that Council has included further funding for the Trail in its Long Term Plan it should be noted that this timeframe greatly delays completing the whole asset. This not only delays the benefit to the region, but it allows competing regions and their cycle trail products and services to become well-established as an alternative to this region. That outcome will have a further negative impact on local businesses and communities.
In relation to Nelson-Tasman Tourism, Council has publicly questioned whether rates sourced from all ratepayers should be used to directly fund one industry. This same argument would appear to be applied to the Great Taste Trail. The point needs to be made however that Council already funds infrastructure which supports some local businesses at a significant cost to ratepayers (e.g roads primarily used by forestry and mill vehicles), and infrastructure which supports local tourism businesses is in principle no different. If Council is making a choice to support some aspects of the local economy and not others, the decision-making behind this selective funding will need to be transparent to those affected businesses and their related local communities.
Council may also feel - with some justification - that it has not received a reasonable level of central government funding as a contribution towards the significant cost of completing the Great Taste Trail. In relation to the funding received by New Zealand Cycle Trails projects in other regions this has left TDC with a disproportionate financial burden. While this is a valid issue for Council to address with central government it should be noted that this situation stems, in part at least, from the approach taken by TDC in negotiation with NZCT at the outset of the funding process. In contrast to other regions TDC would not commit a set sum to the project so a corresponding figure for central government’s contribution was unable to be requested. As a result, central government chose its own level of (relatively low) contribution to the project. It is to be hoped that future TDC approaches to negotiating funding for its New Zealand Cycle Trails project draw from this experience - and the very costly outcome.
Bicycle Nelson Bays understands that Tasman has a different level of funding from the New Zealand Transport Authority for cycle facilities to that of Nelson City. This may go some way in explaining the greater development of urban and rural cycle infrastructure in Nelson, and the 26% rise in people biking to work in Nelson (2006-2013 census figures) compared to Tasman’s 12%, and the national increase of 16%.
We have no reason to believe, however, that the demand for the opportunity to use bikes for transport in Tasman is half of that in Nelson. National and international surveys reveal that the lack of adequate, safe cycling infrastructure is suppressing demand for transport cycling and there is no evidence to suggest that Tasman is an exception. We are also aware that the cost-benefit ratios of building cycling infrastructure in NZ is often several times that of other roading and transport projects, so a commitment to adequate cycling infrastructure is fiscally responsible in addition to being responsive to community need.
As the community’s demands for more and safer cycling infrastructure grows within Tasman we believe that Council will come under increasing scrutiny over its allocation of funds to roading projects that do not accommodate cycling needs, and to roading projects and upgrades that have high capital costs and low cost-benefit ratios. This scrutiny is likely to become intense if Council continues to place safe, community-requested cycling facilities as a low priority.
We note that ‘public transport’ does not arise as a topic in the Draft Annual Plan 2014/2015 apart from being listed as an area of responsibility for the Council’s Engineering Services Committee. The level of TDC contribution to public transport services between Nelson and Richmond, which serves the populations of both areas, is at best a puzzle. At worst it is a strong argument for the benefits of amalgamation of the region’s unitary authorities so that such regional issues might be sensibly and equitably addressed. We hope with that in mind TDC will reexamine its commitment to supporting public transport in the near future.
We would be grateful for the opportunity to speak in support of this submission at the public hearings.
Bicycle Nelson Bays