Waka Kotahi urged to delay closure of SH1 over the Brynderwyns

Works on the Brynderwyns section of SH1, a month after Cyclone Gabrielle. Huge efforts by hundreds of kaimahi (workers) was needed to repair the road.
Works on the Brynderwyns section of SH1, a month after Cyclone Gabrielle. Huge efforts by hundreds of kaimahi (workers) was needed to repair the road. Photo credit: Waka Kotahi NZTA / Supplied

By Peter de Graaf of RNZ

Bay of Islands businesses are urging Waka Kotahi to delay its plans for a seven-week closure of State Highway 1 over the Brynderwyns for urgent slip repairs.

The roading agency had been due to make a public announcement on Friday about the closure, which is expected to start after Waitangi Day and last until Easter.

The announcement has, however, been delayed until next week, most likely Monday.

At a meeting in Kerikeri on Friday afternoon, Business Paihia chairman Charles Parker said he'd had half a dozen emotional pleas from business owners saying another closure would ruin them.

They had already lost two summers due to the Covid pandemic and another due to bad weather, and could not take a fourth.

Parker said he realised weather was usually worse post-Easter, potentially hindering slip repairs, but forecasters were now talking about the dry El Niño weather pattern extending into autumn.

Anika Whapshott, of the Kerikeri District Business Association, said if the closure could not be pushed out until after Easter, it should at least be delayed by a few weeks.

February and March were the peak months for tourism in the Bay of Islands, when international visitors and retired holidaymakers headed north to make the most of stable weather and the absence of school holiday crowds.

The meeting was called by Kerikeri District Business Association chairwoman Sarah Curtis amid concerns that Northlanders were being left out of major decisions affecting the region.

Those taking part included representatives of all four Northland councils, business and regional development groups such as NorthChamber and Northland Inc, incoming Northland MP Grant McCallum, business associations from towns across the region, the trucking industry, the Automobile Association, and others.

Waka Kotahi was represented by regional relationships manager Steve Mutton.

Mutton said the agency was mindful of the effects the closure would have on road users and Northland businesses.

The timeframe had been chosen because if the work was delayed until after Easter, the number of expected rain days would double - and that significantly would prolong the closure.

Some areas were so steep even a few millimetres of rain could make work dangerous.

Mutton said the emergency repairs carried out after last summer's storms had been enough to get the road open again but some retaining walls were so unstable they were likely to fail again next winter, leading to unpredictable, and potentially longer, closures.

The equipment needed to carry out the repairs was so large the entire road had to be closed.

After the seven-week closure traffic could return, but work on the slips would continue for another eight to ten months.

Northland MP Grant McCallum, who toured the south side of the Brynderwyns earlier in the day, said the road was "a mess".

He was left in no doubt repairs were urgently needed, but was frustrated the highway had been allowed to deteriorate instead of being fixed decades ago.

"We can't just hold our breath every time it rains, because that's what it comes down to," McCallum said.

Far North District Council chief engineer Andy Finch suggested waiving motorway tolls during the closure, to make up for the longer drive to reach Northland; while Far North Mayor Moko Tepania asked if Air New Zealand could be persuaded to bump up the number of flights it offered each day.

Many of those taking part in the meeting said a strong publicity campaign, pushing the message that Northland was still accessible and open for business, was vital.

Such a message could focus on the scenic appeal of the detour routes, via Waipu's Cove Road on the eastern side of the Brynderwyns and Paparoa-Oakleigh Road on the west.

Mike Shaw, of Kaikohe Business Association, said the closure was a great opportunity to promote the west coast route via Dargaville, Waipoua Forest and the Hokianga Harbour.

It was not the answer to getting freight to Northland but was an ideal tourist route.

"It's actually an opportunity to market something we've been trying to market for ages," he said.

Others at the meeting, including Regional Land Transport Committee chairman Joe Carr, expressed frustration that planning of alternative routes over the Brynderwyns had started in the past but had been shelved.

A spokeswoman for Waka Kotahi said the announcement about the closure had been delayed while the agency spoke with leadership groups in Northland, and other stakeholders, about their concerns and how they could be mitigated.

That included ensuring the incoming government was aware of the proposed work and closures, she said.