The prime minister’s announcement this week of the new nationwide $50 million cycleway to be completed in time for the 2011 Rugby World Cup has been met with widespread approval, notably from people in the historic Wellington suburbs of Karori and Khandallah which will be most affected by the six-lane route running from North Cape to somewhere called “Bluff“.
A significant part of the plan -- which will be pushed though Parliament early next week under urgency -- means that 360 homes, many of them heritage buildings, will be demolished in Khandallah and Karori to make way for the cycle lane.
The ambitious project, says the prime minister, will be a boost to tourism and employ 847 people over the next two years. Or not, he added.
Although some of the homes in the Wellington suburbs are considered heritage buildings -- one of them the house in which Katherine Mansfield wrote The Bay, another where Barry Crump has his first taste of alcohol -- the move to demolish the buildings has been widely hailed by local community groups.
“Progress is important if New Zealand is going to move forward into the future,” said Peter Van Velden-Kimiora, secretary of the Karori Citizens Association last night, “Our people believe we need to put aside archaic ideas of people’s houses being their homes and look at how the country as a whole can benefit from this far-sighted proposal.”
Margaret Benway whose Khandallah home is to be demolished agrees.
“My mother and father built this house in the late Forties, but I think we have to say that although we are all sentimentally attached to it, especially my four children who grew up here, we need to look at what the prime minister and his minion Rodney Hide are saying here.
“The issue is clear, that if New Zealand is going to be a world-class country then it needs a coherent infrastructure and good transport routes, and if that means our home has to go for a cycle-path then I think we should embrace that.”
Ranjit Pradesh who has owned the Khandallah Corner Dairy and Liquor Store for the past 15 years said he was also happy his premises would be bulldozed and the suburb cut in half for the sake of the cycleway.
“If you look at it reasonably, there is a lot of sentimental nonsense spoken about suburbs and how people feel about living in particular place. Okay, it is nice to know your neighbours and live in a good home that may have been in your family for generations. But at the end of the day it is only bricks and mortar or whatever, and if the country needs a cycleway then that’s what the country should have.”
The Minister of Social Development, Transport and Urban Demolition Steven Joyce yesterday noted that when the cycleway was first proposed only those directly affected had protested and they numbered fewer than a couple of thousand homeowners, many of them “probably Greens“.
“When you consider that this country is home to more than four million people, many of whom couldn’t give a shit about what happens in another part of the country or some suburb they will never visit, then that is a very small number of people objecting.
“And really, it’s just yet another area in another big city and what do the hardworking long-suffering taxpayers in the provinces care about a bunch of people in a city? City people are always going to be objecting to something or other, aren’t they? If it’s not losing their homes they’ll find something else to whine about.”
The sole dissenting voices since the announcement have come from the Upper Hutt and Wainuiomata.
President of the Wainuiomata Motor Cycle Club, David Ngata, said last night his organisation was very concerned that the new cycleway would allow access to his suburbs by “property-developing cyclists who would come in and ride roughshod over local people as they bought up cheap properties.”
“Right now those Karori and Khandallah places are pretty far from here but if this cycleway goes through these bastards could be on our doorsteps in no time. We don’t want those criminal types from South Wellington up here.”
His concerns were echoed by the new Labour member for Wellington Central, Ms Sue Kim Park, MA, BSc and TV (Hons) who said that the new cycleway would allow far easier access to Upper Hutt for the bankers, insurance brokers, trust fund managers and lawyers currently in Khandallah and Karori.
“People need to be protected from the low-life criminal types,” she said. “But if anyone is offended by that description then I’m sorry if they take offence. I’m not sorry that I said it because that’s what I believe, or think I believe. But I am sorry they might be offended, the shits.”
Early this morning the first bulldozers moved in to Khandallah and Karori to loud applause from neighbours and there was a party atmosphere in some streets as the suburbs were being divided by the proposed cycleway which will take out an estimated 575 homes, around two hundred more than was initially estimated last week.
But few celebrating with chardonnay and streamers seemed to care.
“We live in a time of constant noise,” said elderly resident Gwen Humphrey-Wilson who has lived in Karori all her life. “So if we can’t stand a few bulldozers, concrete cutters, diggers, trucks, dust and inconvenience here over the next couple of years we might as well pack up sticks and move to somewhere quiet and rather dull, like one of those dormitory suburbs in Auckland where nothing much ever happens.
“Like Mt Albert or some place.”