Manawatū Gorge replacement road hearing to go straight to Environment Court

WARWICK SMITH/STUFF A slip-stricken highway is returning to nature and trampers are making the most of it. Stuff reporter Jono Galuszka takes a look.

Fears the construction date for the Manawatu Gorge replacement highway may be pushed out for a year has those building it wanting to take their plans straight to the Environment Court.

That move will skip the usual consent hearing run by Horizons Regional Council, but still give people the ability to make submissions.

The revelation was made to Horizons' environment committee on Wednesday during a presentation by the alliance in charge of building the road.

State Highway 3 through the gorge has been shut since April 2017 after large landslips blocked the road.

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Missing a summer of construction work on the replacement for State Highway 3 through the Manawatu Gorge is as good as missing a year, officials say. (File photo)

GRANT MATTHEW/STUFF

Missing a summer of construction work on the replacement for State Highway 3 through the Manawatu Gorge is as good as missing a year, officials say. (File photo)

It was later discovered a large part of the hillside was moving dangerously towards the road.

There were hearings in 2019 about the notice of requirement - the rough route the road would take - but NZ Transport Agency still has to apply for resource consent to build the road.

Alliance planning manager Damian McGahan said the consent application was going to be lodged in the next three weeks.

While the intention was to take the traditional consent route - having a hearing in front of commissioners - any conditions given could then be appealed to the Environment Court, he said.

"The agency said that, to get a better level of project certainty and to avoid a two-step process... we go straight to the Environment Court."

That two-step process is going on with the notice of requirement, with multiple appeals lodged against it after the commissioners gave it the green light.

The Manawatu Gorge has been closed since April 2017 due to large landslips, including this one, falling onto the road.

NZ TRANSPORT AGENCY The Manawatu Gorge has been closed since April 2017 due to large landslips, including this one, falling onto the road.

An agency spokesman said the original appeals against the notice had all been resolved, but private landowners had since joined in the appeal process.

Those new appeals were yet to be resolved, and need to be before any construction could start, so delays to the appeals could delay construction, he said.

McGahan said the alliance and transport agency were keen to make sure the collaborative nature of the project was not destroyed by going straight to the Environment Court.

The agency has been using the highway project as a trial for how it liaises with iwi, involving them in decisions about who would get contracts and how roads would be designed, he said.

But people can still make submissions if the fast-tracked process went ahead, and the groups who were big submitters during the notice of requirement process would be liaised with.

NZ Transport Agency An animated video of the indicative route of the Te Ahu a Turanga: the Manawatu-Hawke's Bay highway, the Manawatu Gorge replacement road.

Agency owner interface manager Lonnie Dalzell said they always got two main questions.

"When are you starting?

Why is it taking so long?

"Any delay in consenting is a delay in the project. If you miss a construction summer, you effectively miss a year."

Stuff

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