It was wrong to be all at C

For years, some Cambridge residents have been concerned about the need for a third bridge.

Council understands those concerns and has been working to identify options ratepayers can afford, and that the government will help pay for.  Without a government subsidy, ratepayers right across the district – not just in Cambridge – will pay hundreds and hundreds of dollars more in rates each year.

Waipa mayor Susan O’Regan apologises at the Cambridge Connections drop in meeting. Photo: Mary Anne Gill.

We all know this work can’t happen overnight. It takes years of planning and research to get it right. There’s no quick fix because there are no shortcuts to secure government funding.

A report in 2018 told us the high-level bridge could take traffic for another 20 or so years. In 2022, we consulted on the broader Waipā Transport Strategy.  The Cambridge Connections project came from that, looking specifically at the issues surrounding a fast-growing town. That included looking at options for a new bridge and where that bridge might go.

We engaged experts to undertake specialist research and to help design a high-level strategy that would be best for Cambridge in the future.  A Project Steering Group was set up to test the assumptions and recommendations.  That included councillors, a Cambridge Community Board member, representatives from iwi, the New Zealand Transport Agency, the heavy freight industry and regional transport planning experts.

Waipa mayor Susan O’Regan, left, and deputy mayor Liz Stolwyk, right, at the Cambridge Connections meeting. Photo: Mary Anne Gill.

That group considered all four options on the table and identified a “preferred option” which includes an in-town bridge crossing, because data showed most people from Leamington want to access central Cambridge, not travel to Hamilton. That is why, when we put the options out for preliminary feedback, we only sought feedback on what is known as Option C.

We got that wrong.  We quickly realised the community wanted to have a say on all the options.  That’s what we are now seeking and have extended time for feedback.

I’m hugely disappointed a residents-only information drop-in session for those in the identified blue zone did not go to plan last Thursday.  Residents in the zone were invited to come and chat to us about the options.

Victoria ‘High Level’ Bridge. Photo: Mary Anne Gill

However, without our knowledge, a group distributed flyers advertising a public meeting, rather than giving residents in the blue zone priority, and a chance to find out more.  The session descended into an emotionally driven gathering which served no-one well. Staff and elected members were abused and threatened with violence.

Some of the behaviour at the meeting was frightening and unacceptable.  It is certainly not the Waipā that I know and stood to represent. I thank those who have reached out with messages of support and were also appalled at what they saw.

My biggest regret though is that those invited to the meeting, who needed and deserved information were denied the opportunity that evening. We are developing a plan to reconnect with those residents because we genuinely want them to be informed about the process, ask any questions and have their say before any decisions are made.   I look forward to those genuine conversations.

To find out more visit waipadc.govt.nz/cambridgeconnections.

Fergusson Bridge – Low Level Bridge – Cambridge. Photo: Mary Anne Gill

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