Living in limbo

Geoff Fletcher still doesn’t know if he will have to move off the land his family has owned since 1920, as there is still no final decision on the proposed new stretch of expressway between Cambridge and Piarere.

An email sent recently to Karapiro resident Geoff Fletcher and his wife Serena confirmed the news they didn’t want to hear, with no final decision on the new expressway between Cambridge and Piarere forthcoming in the roading announcement by the Government on August 31.

That means more uncertainty for the Fletcher family, which has been living on the same property since 1920. The New Zealand Transport Agency’s (NZTA) Central North Island Relationships Director, Parekawhia McLean, said the Cambridge to Piarere project is being reviewed “to evaluate whether it aligns with the new vision for our transport network”.

This evaluation was not complete by the time of the announcement of the National Land Transport Plan (NLTP) on August 31, so decisions on the entire corridor were not covered in the announcement, she explained. “This work will take up to four months to complete as our teams are not just looking at tweaks but are going back to first principles to establish what the right way forward is for these corridors,” Parekawhia said.

That’s another four months of waiting for landowners in the path of the proposed expressway.

To say that the Fletchers are embedded in the Karapiro community would be something of an understatement. Geoff has been president of the Karapiro Hall for the past 20 years, following in his father’s footsteps – his father, John, even helping install the trusses when the hall was built. Geoff has lived in the same place for his whole life, and still has no idea whether or not he will have to face the daunting prospect of both moving house and relocating his shed business.

“Moving is mind-blowing for someone who has never moved in their entire life,” Geoff said, adding that it’s just lucky he’s not a hoarder. It’s been quite a process for the couple to come to terms with the situation over the past couple of years since the new road was mooted, with all scenarios for the route involving them losing their home.

“We had just started to get our heads around it, then all of a sudden the new government came in and the rules changed.” Feeling something like a political football, Geoff is left wondering what will happen in the event of a change of government in the 2020 election.

“They’re (politicians) just going to turn us on and off like a tap,” Geoff said. It’s the delay he has a beef with, not the project company managing the possible new road, Opus, who he said have been excellent to deal with. They have even agreed the family can use wood from the trees planted by Geoff’s grandfather, Charles Fletcher, to make furniture if they have to leave. It’s not much, but it will preserve some connection with the land for the family, and Geoff is grateful for that.

Local MP Louise Upston has also voiced her criticism of the delay in a final decision, saying that the level of risk facing motorists along the stretch of road between Cambridge and Piarere will only grow as the road inevitably gets busier, which she said is “unacceptable”. And Louise also doubts that proposed safety improvements will be enough in the long-run, either. “The Government is completely not listening to the region on this,” she said.

The Fletchers know all about the risk of that stretch of road, with Geoff describing his driveway as “the most dangerous driveway in New Zealand”. With cars turning right into the café over the road and vehicles passing on the inside, pulling out of the driveway is a perilous endeavour.

And who knows how much longer they will have to do it, as the Fletchers remain in limbo.

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