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Residents are feeling the isolation, as SH25A remains closed. Photo: ALICE PARMINTER

Survey shows anxiety over road closure

Four-hour bus trips to school, failing businesses, and isolated family members are the new, inescapable reality for many Coromandel residents due to the Kōpū-Hikuai Rd closure, an online survey shows.

Minister of Transport Michael Wood announced Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency’s rebuild plan for the road on May 9, after the main highway was closed earlier this year when cyclones caused a large slip to take out a 130m stretch of the road near the summit. The chosen solution was a bridge, due to be completed in early 2024.

Meanwhile, the majority of the 716 residents taking part in the informal survey said the road closure was having an adverse effect on their lives.

Titled Impact of SH25A & SH25 Road Closures, the survey was conducted by the Pauanui Ratepayers and Residents Association. Initially aimed at Pauanui residents, it quickly attracted responses from across the east coast, Thames and as far afield as Auckland and Hamilton.

“The business we have slaved away at for the past 15 years will need to close down,” one respondent said.

“We have put everything we have into building our successful tourism business. That could all be taken away from us if we don’t have the funds to pay [bills].”

Another simply stated: “our business is failing”.

Several responses talked about losing workers or being forced to work fewer hours due to the longer commute times. Business owners also made comments about how quiet they had been.

“Business sales [are] down 30 per cent,” one said.

“I have had to refund $2000 worth of Airbnb bookings and cancellations and [have] no further business due to the road and cancellation of events,” said another.

Extended travel times were also affecting schooling, and many families were becoming increasingly isolated from family members on the other side of the slip.

“My kids now travel four hours a day to school on a bus, the bus now costs an extra $100 per week. My fuel bill has nearly doubled,” one respondent said.

Another said their parents, who are in their 70s and live in Pauanui, were feeling more vulnerable and isolated. “We miss being able to see them as much – [our] family is separated by the journey in an unexpected way.”

Medical access was a major concern, with many wondering how they would get help in an emergency.

“I’m unable to work from my work base in Thames Hospital as I work in the community and need to service the whole peninsula, which is not realistically possible with the extra distance [and] we have been unable to get to medical and dental appointments,” one healthcare worker said.

“I care for my severely disabled partner who relies on an easy route to Thames hospital for treatments,” another resident said.

Anna van Limpt, the association’s administrator, said the words “stressed”, “anxious”, “isolation” and “trapped” were recurring themes.

“It is about people’s commute, being apart from family and friends, local businesses suffering, school kids with long commutes, extra time to get to healthcare, families being apart during the week, massive extra costs on fuel and accommodation,” she said.

“And now the proposed average 11.4 per cent rates increase could just be the final straw for some, many.”

Anna said the weekends in Pauanui were a lot quieter, with noticeably fewer people visiting. “The campground, motels and shops are suffering and need the weekends to get through winter. For many visitors, it takes a long weekend to make it worth coming over and allow for the extra travel time,” she said.

“Unfortunately with a couple of long weekends ruined due to rain and cyclones, it only adds to the pain. We hope that the local Coromandel businesses will be able to survive, but many are struggling.”

One business owner from the Pauanui Village Shopping Centre, who did not wish to be named, said their business was 30 per cent down over the past three months, and they knew of another business who was down by nearly 70 per cent.

The results of the survey were presented to both local and central governments.

Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency responded, saying although fixing the road was a priority, a temporary option was not possible.

“Unfortunately, the steep topography at the SH25A Taparahi site doesn’t allow us to build a quick or temporary access for regular vehicles,” Waka Kotahi said.

“The access routes that have been formed for the drilling rigs have steep grades and are only viable for machinery with tracks.

“We cannot install temporary staging across the face of the slip, as this will be at risk should the face move further.”

The survey also drew responses from the offices of Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, Opposition Leader Christopher Luxon, local MP Scott Simpson and Thames Coromandel District Council chief executive Aileen Lawrie. All agreed that the road’s fix was a priority and acknowledged the distress and pressure local communities were under.

The association was still awaiting a reply from Thames-Coromandel Mayor Len Salt, Anna said. She noted members of the association were disappointed with his comments during a recent interview on Radio New Zealand to discuss the survey.

“He seems to downplay the issue and not acknowledge how bad people are actually affected and how much it impacts their lives.
“It is not about ‘enjoying the longer drive and stopping for a coffee’,” she said.

Mayor Salt said the council had been bombarded with communications following the storm events in the summer, and wasn’t sure why their missive had been overlooked. He was, however, disappointed with the association’s criticisms.

“We’ve lobbied extremely hard with the government and with all of the agencies involved,” he said.
“There is a huge amount of work going into… ensuring that they understand the urgency and the priority of this, and our council has been working as hard as we possibly can to make sure that a solution is put in place as soon as possible.

“I’ve been really clear with people that we are not going to see SH25A completed by Christmas time unless we get lucky, but I want people to be realistic about the challenges ahead of us and I don’t want to give them false hope.”

The Mayor has scheduled a public meeting at Tairua Town Hall on May 12 at 1pm, to further address the concerns of Tairua and Pauanui residents.

“We are acutely aware of the impact that this has had on the people of Tairua and Pauanui in particular, because they are at the far end of the places that you need to try and reach, and that’s made it much more difficult with 25A being closed.” 

By ALICE PARMINTER, Public Interest Journalism funded by NZ on Air