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Te Mata Bay resident Gill Saunders is calling on residents to speak up over road safety concerns on the Thames Coast Road. Photo: ALICE PARMINTER

‘Speedway’ concerns raised

Thames Coast residents concerned about excessive speeds and dangerous drivers along State Highway 25 will be able to have their say at a public meeting on February 27.

Thames-Coromandel Mayor Len Salt called for the meeting, scheduled for 6pm at the Te Puru Hall, in response to a petition and complaints from Thames Coast Road residents.

It will be attended by representatives from Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, Thames-Coromandel District Council, and NZ Police. The aim of the meeting is to allow residents from Whakatete, Ngarimu Bay, Thornton Bay, Te Puru, Waiomu, Tapu and Te Mata to discuss their concerns about safety and speed limits within the coastal communities.

Residents Gill Saunders and Ruth Donnelly raised the issue with Mayor Salt in December, after realising the extent to which residents were “fed up” with drivers speeding along the highway, performing dangerous passing manoeuvres, and treating the relatively straight 50km per hour residential zones as “speedways”.

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Gill’s Te Mata home is perched on the corner of the bay, overhanging a sharp bend between Te Mata and Te Puru. Despite the clearly visible 50km road signs outside her window, she said she constantly witnesses unsafe driving, at all hours of the day.

“Cars come around that bend… You can’t see past that curve [but] they actually overtake doing about 120[km per hour], they’ll pass cars, boats, trucks, the works,” she said.

“In October, November, it got so bad after a wet year – the traffic and the speed and the overtaking and the recklessness.

“How there aren’t more accidents is beyond me.”

It’s a similar story in Ngarimu Bay, where the driving is so bad Ruth has removed the garden in front of her property.

“I took that out because it was too dangerous maintaining it; it’s really dodgy being outside your property boundary and it scares me,” Ruth said.

“It impacts all the residents – they encounter it as soon as they try to access the main road or turn off the main road. It seems that people think that nobody’s about so they just take off out here.”

Among the numerous official signs along the coast imploring drivers to slow down, Waiomu residents have come up with their own take on the issue. Photo: ALICE PARMINTER

Crash statistics from Waka Kotahi showed two fatal crashes and eight serious crashes on the Thames Coast Rd between Tararu and Wilson Bay in the last five years. Among them were a fatal crash on January 1, 2024, at Kereta; and a serious injury crash between a car and a motorcycle on November 10, 2023, at Te Mata.

While local residents are particularly affected by speeding cars, Gill and Ruth said pedestrians, cyclists and tourists also face dangers.

In Thornton Bay beachgoers need to cross the highway to reach the public toilets, and in some residential areas there are sections of road with no footpath.

“Part of my petition is the bridge to Tapu… You’re taking your life in your hands to even cross it,” Gill said.

“You’ve got a State Highway bridge that doesn’t have [pedestrian] access to the other part of the town, and people walk from there to the reserve.”

In November, Gill drafted a petition and left copies at the Te Puru campground and shop, where it garnered 127 signatures.
In it she asked that steps be taken to improve the safety of the public, and suggested measures such as a speed camera and yellow non-passing road markings.

She also asked for the installation of a pedestrian bridge alongside the road bridge linking Tapu and Te Mata Bay.

A lack of pedestrian access on the bridge between Tapu and Te Mata is one of Gill Saunders’ main safety concerns, along with reckless and speeding drivers. Photo: ALICE PARMINTER

The petition was put to Mayor Salt, and Ruth said she was pleased to find him taking their concerns seriously.

“I said I believe there needs to be a wider community meeting, because it’s not just myself and Gill; it’s a whole lot of other people,” Ruth said.

“So I was really thrilled that he’s put this together, he’s heard our concerns.”

Mayor Salt said the meeting was an opportunity for residents to meet representatives from the agencies involved in the issue – council, Waka Kotahi, and the police – and learn about the processes involved in setting and policing speed limits.

The flip-side to that, he said, was allowing the agencies to see first-hand the impact the issue was having on the community.

“They’re the local people who live there, they know better than anyone else [what they’re experiencing],” Len said.

“It’s really just getting all this stuff out on the table with all the stakeholders, so that we can hopefully get some good solutions.”

A Waka Kotahi spokesperson said its representative will be at the meeting to “provide the Te Puru community the opportunity to share their concerns, listen to what they have to say and report back so we can consider potential next steps”.

Signage at Tapu School shows the concern over driving is widespread among the community. Photo: ALICE PARMINTER

Ruth and Gill urged as many Thames Coast residents as possible to attend the meeting.

“We’ve only got one shot at this, and this is this meeting, to make some changes and to get some action to improve our safety for residents in the bay,” Ruth said.

“It’s only about the [residential] areas, it’s not going to be a discussion about speed limits anywhere else [so] it’s really important that as many coastal residents as possible can attend this meeting to voice their concerns.”

Gill agreed, asking people to put aside any apathy around the issue.

“I hope people, especially those who have signed the petition, will come to the meeting and be proactive about their concerns.

“We’re all cautious here because of the speed… If they want change, come to the meeting.”

DETAILS: Public meeting, February 27, 6pm at Te Puru Hall. All residents welcome.