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by George Clark

South Canterbury mayors are disappointed the region has missed out on much-needed roading funding.

At the end of January, the Government announced a $12billion package of infrastructure projects to “upgrade New Zealand”.

Roads were the biggest winner, making up $5.3billion of the $6.8 billion spend on transport, with $1.1billion spent on rail in the North Island. Hospitals and schools also received a share of the funding.

The top of the North Island receives the biggest share of the transport package, with $3.48billion spent in Auckland, $991million in Waikato and the Bay of Plenty, and $692million spent on a single road in Northland, a 22km four-lane corridor from Marsden Point to Whangarei.

In comparison, the entire South Island received $250million and within that, Canterbury received $159million of projects and Queenstown $90million

The only money allocated within South Canterbury is $3million for new Timaru Hospital boilers.

EDITED TO ADD: The Government’s infrastructure package also includes $4,163,337 to improve facilities at 20 schools in the Timaru district, and a further $639,075 for schools in the Waimate district. $2million has been allocated to refurbishments of child and maternity services in Timaru. Our original story did not include this information.

Waimate Mayor Craig Rowley.

Waimate district mayor Craig Rowley said it was disappointing that South Canterbury did not appear in the allocation of funding.

“South Canterbury is a growing region and we have as many challenging infrastructure projects as other areas,” Mr Rowley said.

“We are aware of the challenges of roading and infrastructure in the district with the increase of traffic and increasing deterioration in our roading.”

Timaru Mayor Nigel Bowen.

Timaru district mayor Nigel Bowen shared similar disappointment around what he perceived as a “South Canterbury skip-over”.

“The funding along political lines is disappointing, as we need good decisions to be made based around a more equitable distribution of resources to better meet our communities’ needs.

“We elect our politicians to have a balanced view and due to it being election year the focus has moved back to Auckland and other voter-rich regions,” Mr Bowen said.

“Locally we still have considerable infrastructure investments that should be a priority.

“The Orari one-lane bridge near Geraldine needs urgent consideration and we would always welcome more funding for our roads.

“NZTA have provided much-needed funding after the Rangitata event, however locally, we still have a bill of around $800,000 which the ratepayer will bear the cost of.”

The single-lane bridge 6km north of Geraldine has been a source of concern for the safety of motorists, cyclists and pedestrians for many years.

According to a report prepared by Timaru District Council land transport manager Andrew Dixon in September 2019, “the Upper Orari bridge two-laning project has been considered a priority by the Geraldine Community Board and council for a number of years”.

The NZTA-commissioned problem statement report confirmed that “there are levels of service deficiencies in regard to road safety and travel-time delays, and there are benefits to the two-laning of this State Highway bridge”.

Projects like this were prioritised on a national basis within government funding allocations, the report said.

“Ultimately, we need to be having the conversation around what a resilient South Island looks like and what the transport and communication strategies are around keeping it open if we are to have similar events moving forward,” Mr Bowen said.

Mackenzie district mayor Graham Smith agreed the Government upgrade did not recognise Mackenzie but would not comment further.

Rangitata MP Andrew Falloon has been selected as the National Party’s candidate for the 2020 General Election.

Rangitata MP Andrew Falloon said the transport package “leaves an enormous South Canterbury-shaped hole”.

“The South Island economy punches well above its weight when it comes to economic activity. The Government’s failure to invest here is one of the reasons Treasury are projecting our economy will slip into deficit for the first time since we recovered from the Global Financial Crisis.”

Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean said, “it was a bit of a slap in the face”.

“The Government’s infrastructure package has proven that it’s only interested in pulling votes from the big cities and that the central South Island is not a priority,” she said.

“When you look through the list of projects, there’s just nothing here for local people. They pay taxes like their North Island counterparts, yet are made to feel like the poor cousin.”

Labour list MP based in Rangitata, Jo Luxton, said the upgrades would prepare Mid and South Canterbury for the future.

“We are modernising our child and maternity service because we’re determined to make New Zealand the best place in the world to be a child.”

“The health facilities across Canterbury need an upgrade, so we are providing one. These new and better facilities will better support patient needs, and will help to meet future demands,” she said.

“The people in this community deserve better healthcare, and our Government is delivering that.”

The $195million Canterbury investment will help put in new boilers at Timaru Hospital.

A large majority of the transport package will be spent in only four years.