Brynderwyns State Highway 1 closure announcement again delayed

An aerial view of temporary repairs to underslips at Waterfall Corner, on the south side of the Brynderwyns, which Waka Kotahi says urgently need a permanent fix.

An aerial view of temporary repairs to underslips at Waterfall Corner, on the south side of the Brynderwyns, which Waka Kotahi says urgently need a permanent fix.
Photo: Supplied / Waka Kotahi

National transport agency Waka Kotahi has deferred a decision about when to close State Highway 1 over the Brynderwyns for urgent repairs.

The agency had been expected to announce last Friday that the vital transport link between Auckland and Northland would close for seven weeks between Waitangi Day and Easter.

The announcement was delayed amid an outcry from Northland business groups, and a statement released on Friday by Waka Kotahi does not give a date for the work.

What it does say is that $61 million has been approved to make sure the route can withstand future weather events and disruptions next winter.

Waka Kotahi regional relationships director Steve Mutton said closing State Highway 1 was “a big deal” so the agency would take more time to talk to people who would be most affected while it worked on its plans.

Originally, Waka Kotahi said the work to carry out permanent repairs to a series of massive slips triggered by Cyclone Gabrielle could not be delayed beyond Easter because more frequent rain at that time of year would mean more delays and hence a significantly longer closure.

Mutton said work so far had focused on the short-term emergency response including temporary walls and retaining systems.

However, additional repairs were urgently needed to return the road to pre-Gabrielle conditions.

Mutton said conversations were underway with people who lived in the area as well as businesses that relied on that section of State Highway 1.

That feedback would be considered to help inform the agency’s next steps.

“Planning work is ongoing as Waka Kotahi and the community consider the best timing for critical recovery and enabling works. This will involve balancing the need to complete these works during the drier, warmer months while meeting the needs of businesses, people and the local community,” he said.

Mutton welcomed the formation of a new working group, led by regional development agency Northland Inc and supported by NorthChamber, which was advocating on behalf of tourism operators, freight companies and other businesses.

“As we work through these decisions, front of mind for us is giving people ample notice so they can plan ahead. We are also very mindful of the condition of the rest of the network given recent weather events and the overall challenges Northland faces with soft soils that are hard to stabilise.”

Mutton said Waka Kotahi was also assessing the work needed to upgrade detour routes while State Highway 1 was closed over the Brynderwyns.

The key detours are Paparoa-Oakleigh Road, to the west of the Brynderwyns, and Cove Road via Waipū on the east.

Concerns about the timing and communication of the planned closure prompted Sarah Curtis, chairwoman of the Kerikeri District Business Association, to call an urgent meeting last Friday.

Those attending included representatives of all four Northland councils, many of the region’s business associations, the Automobile Association, Far North mayor Moko Tepania, and others.

Mutton took part via Zoom.

Curtis said she was “really, really stoked” to pull the meeting together at short notice and with so many key players in the room.

She welcomed Waka Kotahi’s decision to defer setting a date for the closure until after further talks with affected groups.

“Obviously Waka Kotahi has realised they need to have discussions with us before making key decisions about the region.”

The prospect of a seven-week closure at the height of Northland’s tourism season had sparked serious concerns, Curtis said.

“We’d already seen the impact of Covid, we had the impact of Cyclone Gabrielle, and of course we had the Brynderwyns shutting down already, so we know really clearly what the impact is,” she said.

“A lot of our businesses have told us they need this summer, they need the time for tourists to be coming back. And it’s not just tourism that this affects. It’s getting goods to the region, it’s people having to travel for hospital appointments. It has a big impact on our people in Kerikeri and the whole Far North.”

Waka Kotahi’s announcement about the highway closure was originally scheduled for last Friday.

It was then expected to be released on Monday this week, but was delayed again and finally released on Friday – albeit without a date – just after arrangements for the new coalition government had been announced at the Beehive.

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