Ill-feeling is simmering in Katikati, and there has even been talk of ‘civil disobedience’.
The proposed Katikati bypass has been put on the back-burner and, reportedly, won’t be happening anytime soon.
In response, irate Katikati townsfolk are talking of a protest - a blockade of traffic on State Highway 2 which passes though the centre of the mural town.
If that happens during Christmas and New Year, it could cause major disruption for holiday makers. Even without the protest, holiday traffic can back-up for kilometres on either side of the town.
“If you spend decades trying to be heard, and you don’t ever appear to be heard, then you just may need to protest,” says chairperson of Katikati Community Board, Jenny Hobbs.
“It’s been decades of real commitment to try and get this change for Katikati, to save the town centre from ruin and to claim back a space that is people friendly.”
But civil disobedience? Is that a responsible voice from a community leader? “I think so,” says Jenny. “Protesting on the road and holding up traffic may be the only option open to the community to make an impression and be heard.” She cites the ‘Fix the Bloody Road’ action group which blockaded the Wairoa River Bridge for half-an-hour recently, in protest at the number of deaths along SH2. “That got people’s attention,” says the community leader.
A protest or blockade of SH2 is not Jenny’s idea, but it’s what people in the community are talking about. “It would be a last resort, to be heard. We are a small community, and it’s the big cities and large population areas that are often the focal point of decision making.”
The biggest disappointment for Jenny was her ‘understanding’ that the business plan for the three-km bypass wasn’t even put in front of the New Zealand Transport Agency for consideration. Safety and access are the key criteria of the government’s transport policy statement.
“And it’s my understanding that NZTA staff have selected and put forward the priority business cases that would most likely succeed against the GPS criteria,” says Jenny.
She is “very disappointed” that NZTA staff didn’t give the bypass an opportunity because it wasn’t even presented. Jenny emphasises that this is “her understanding”.
The Weekend Sun has put some questions to NZTA regarding this issue, but at the time of going to print had received no response.
The traffic volumes through the town continue to grow. “And I don’t see how some new traffic lights and an intersection upgrade is going to create any improvement for the people of Katikati,” says Jenny. It is a town divided – simply because the traffic volumes prevent people from crossing SH2 from one part of Katikati to another.
Congestion in Katikati used to be confined to a Friday afternoon, with weekenders and commuters travelling between Auckland and Tauranga. Now it is happening earlier in the week and is at its most challenging during the holiday period.
“The centre of town is not a place you would want to go and spend time. You can’t move about freely, it’s noisy, you can’t have a conversation and there’s pollution from the trucks, diesel fallout and a lot of black soot everywhere.”
Jenny lives five kilometres from the town centre, and it would normally take her five or six minutes to drive to town. “But during the Christmas break, it’s not unusual for it to take an hour to get to the supermarket.”
Business people in the town have been asking for township upgrades, to beautify and make the central business area a nicer place to be. “They have always been told that when we get the bypass, we will be able to do that. So as a result, nothing happens and we’re stagnating.”
Jenny says the Katikati bypass was “ready to go” under previous transport minister, Simon Bridges. ”It’s been designated for a long time,” she says.
Now the drive for a new bypass has impacted the health and lives of people trying to make it happen. “You just feel absolutely powerless.”