A commuter is hoping more people will take up riding the bus. Photo: Matt Brown.

Bus service trial sours as passengers not on board

Council is sinking tens of thousands of dollars into a commuter bus service that is barely being used.

Two trial bus circuits designed to take commuters to work were launched near the end of February.

But the service is falling flat with an average journey costing around $70 per passenger.

One worried commuter says she’s always travelling solo and hopes more people will jump on board.

Retail assistant Cheryl Abrahams, from Blenheim, says she wanted to reduce her carbon footprint but fears she is making it worse.

“I’m wanting to make my carbon footprint smaller but, am I, as the only one on the bus?”

The bus services, two commuter lines and a bus from Renwick, are part of an 18-month trial service.

Cheryl Abrahams wants to reduce her carbon footprint but is often the only passenger on the bus. Photo: Supplied.
Cheryl Abrahams wants to reduce her carbon footprint but is often the only passenger on the bus. Photo: Supplied.

The east and west commuter lines each do two circuits in the morning and two in the evening – eight circuits each day.

Figures from council, show passengers have taken 248 trips on the commuter bus and 342 rides on the Renwick line since the beginning of the trial to 30 June.

“All of council’s bus services were heavily impacted by the COVID pandemic,” a council spokesman says.

The commuter component of the Renwick service and both the Blenheim services were stopped from 26 March to 1 June – with full services reinstated on 2 June 2020.

Over the 30-or-so days the trial has been taking passengers, and spread out over the eight loops each day, that works out to about one passenger per trip.

The $135,442 programme, now nearly a third of the way through, is costing roughly $70 per passenger.

Cheryl, who lives in Witherlea, says it’s a no-brainer to take the bus, and thinks if more people knew about it, they would use it.

But she says bus stops don’t have the timetable for the early commuter bus posted and she’s never seen any advertising for it.

“Council has done a poor job of advertising,” she says.

“Reducing traffic by even just 5 per cent would make a huge difference. To your wallet and traffic.”

She says she was the only one to catch the east bus line into town last week and says the bus driver told her she was only the third person he had picked up since February.

Cheryl usually bikes to work, but when the weather is poor takes her car.

“Where I work there’s no all-day parking,” she says.

“To get parking, I have to walk the same distance as to the bus stop.”

It costs about $4 a day to park in a long-term carpark in town – the same amount as a return bus fare.

“I’m thrilled that it does exist,” says Cheryl.

Deputy mayor Nadine Taylor, left, will lead the new council team. Photo: Matt Brown.

New council team to tackle Covid-19

A new council super group has been formed to help Marlborough get back on its feet after lockdown ends.

Led by Deputy Mayor Nadine Taylor, The Economic Action Marlborough (TEAM) group will draft an economic recovery plan over the next month.

In a bid to help the region recover from the impacts of the Covid-19 crisis, council bosses are first looking at how big the economic impact is.

A four-stage plan is helping staff decide the best way forward.

“Council is designated as the regional lead during emergencies and COVID-19 is the biggest challenge Marlborough has faced in our lifetimes,” Nadine says.

“We’ve already announced council itself will spend over $60 million of capital expenditure in 2020-21 and similar spending over each of the next three years.”

The TEAM group looked at four phases for recovery. From the current ‘Respond’ phase dealing with the immediate lockdown issues to moving to a ‘Resilience’ phase. This will see the focus shift to maintaining cashflow and jobs.

The ‘Return’ phase will see a bid to expand services again and a final ‘Reimagination’ phase where a new normal was developed.

Nadine says council’s role is extended to support a wider recovery, working with key sectors and agencies to mitigate COVID-19’s effect on Marlborough businesses.

“Staff worked over the Easter break to bring together the TEAM group and provide the background papers.

“We’ve got a very strong group now underway on helping steer our region through the economic impacts the virus is creating.”

“We are taking particular note as we start our work on the impact of COVID-19 on our tourism and hospitality sectors,” she says.

Ongoing information on how local businesses are faring will continue to be provided by the Marlborough Chamber of Commerce and Business Trust Marlborough.

Councillor Mark Peters told the group he was bringing together a meeting of some Marlborough accountants and lawyers prepared to provide advice and insight on business responses to COVID-19 across the region.

“The information from all these sources which now includes that welcome input from accountants and lawyers will help build a quality picture very quickly of what we are dealing with and allow us to accurately target our recovery efforts,” Nadine says.

Yesterday’s first TEAM group meeting included an update from Ministry of Social Development regional commissioner Craig Churchill who says further Government support programmes would likely focus on projects that are ready to go and creating jobs while navigating through the likely impacts of COVID-19.

This could include projects that expanded social housing.

Nadine says while the TEAM group represents a good cross section, it cannot include all sectors and will be supported in its work by an Industry Advisory COVID-19 group, to be chaired by councillor Gerald Hope.

Representatives from the wine, aquaculture, forestry, tourism and farming sectors, as well as a mandated iwi representative, Port Marlborough, Marlborough Chamber of Commerce and Ministry of Social Development have joined council in the group.

Mayor John Leggett, who sat in on yesterday’s first TEAM group meeting, says it is encouraging to see such a good group has been pulled together to face the major challenges ahead.

“We’ve all got to get behind this initiative to keep Marlborough moving,” he says.

Marlborough Roads manager Steve Murrin says the company will build the roundabout, then seek costs through development contributions. Photo: Chloe Ranford/LDR.

Ever increasing circles as new roundabout gets approval

Blenheim is to get another roundabout to help pacify council ahead of a possible 367-house development.

Thirty hectares of mostly vineyard land on the west side of Battys Rd has been rezoned residential.

But Marlborough Roads manager Steve Murrin says a roundabout must be installed at the intersection before any subdivision can take place.

Marlborough Roads are set to pay for the addition, with costs being recouped from developers.

Environment plan panel member and councillor David Oddie says commissioners proposed developers would cover the costs of installing the Battys Rd and New Renwick Rd intersection roundabout.

“I’m not quite sure how that works, but that was what the proposal said.”

But Steve says he understood Marlborough Roads would build the roundabout, and then seek costs from development contributions.

The roundabout would cater for increased traffic movements from any new housing development, and “some existing pressures”.

Design work on the roundabout has already begun, which could see land purchased to allow it to go ahead.

New subdivisions could be developed by Burleigh Estate Ltd, which owned 14.8ha of the rezoned 30ha, or by their neighbours, the Marris Family Trust, which owned the remaining 16.8ha.

The Marris Family Trust are yet to decide to go ahead with any development.

Speaking on behalf of the Trust, Donna Marris says the trust was aware there would need to be “traffic considerations, including potentially a roundabout solution”, before developments took place.

Burleigh Estate Ltd spokesman Norman Clifford says a roundabout has been needed for “some time”.

“It’s the main road used to get from the south to north of town. It was a very wise decision from the plan’s panel,” he says.

The deadline for appeals on the Proposed Marlborough Environment Plan had been pushed out to April 16, after delays in getting the full and finalised version of the plan out last week.

Marlborough Civil Defence emergency management officer Gary Spence. Photo: Paula Hulburt.

Mayor tipped over the edge

Marlborough’s Emergency Response Team tipped the region’s mayor over the edge last week – but all for a good cause.

Strapped into a stretcher, mayor Leggett was lowered from a height of 4.1metres as he was rescued from the fire station training tower in Blenheim.

Playing the part of a casualty, mayor Leggett joked he had checked his will.

“I did think about checking whether it was up to date,” he says

Members of Marlborough Emergency Response Team train regularly to prepare for possible disaster.

Mayor John Leggett was in safe hands as he was lowered to the ground. Photo: Paula Hulburt.
Mayor John Leggett was in safe hands as he was lowered to the ground. Photo: Paula Hulburt.

Part of their training includes ground-based rescue, structural search, flood response and casualty recovery.

Marlborough Civil Defence emergency management officer Gary Spence was on hand to talk the audience through the stages of a rescue.

Fire, ambulance and police personnel watched on in interest.

“It’s about keeping the team safe and getting the casualty out of there, he says.

Mayor Leggett agreed to play the part of a casualty with possible neck or spinal injuries.

Crews carefully transferred him into the stretcher by sliding it underneath while he was moved in a blanket.

“I felt very safe, very secure,” he says.

The Marlborough team make up part of 750 emergency personnel throughout the country.

Gary says the 24-strong team are unique in that they don’t just undertake rescues but help support Fire and Emergency New Zealand setting up mobile civil defence centres.

“Other responsibilities include performing evacuations; they are qualified to do cordons and roadblocks so it’s a team that can really fit lots of different areas and different roles.

“The reason that we’re interested in showcasing what we’re doing tonight is that rescue is one of half a dozen things that we do, so that some of the other emergency services can see that this perhaps can be a resource they can look into.”

Residents are concerned the potential increase in trucks will create more noise, dust and safety risks. Photo: Chloe Ranford.

Rocky road ahead for council over quarry objections

Marlborough District council bosses face a logistical nightmare as plans to dig rock from a rural quarry come under fire from residents.

Simcox Quarry Limited is seeking permission to dig up to 90,000 tonnes of rock a year from the Barracks Road quarry in the Omaka Valley.

But 113 submissions to the resource consent application opposed the plan and just three in support.

A report presented to council’s environment committee last week says officials could “easily require a week” of hearings to listen to the 82 submitters that asked to speak on the consent in person.

“This presented a logistical challenge in terms of planning the hearing, providing a venue that could accommodate such a large number of submitters … and managing the volume of material required for the hearings,” it reads.

The hearings were cut down to two days, with a third set aside “if required”, after the council asked Omaka Valley residents to be represented by one member.

Residents are concerned the works would be a safety risk, generate “unbearable” noise, and “severely deteriorate” lifestyles.

Simcox Construction had mined the quarry since 1998, but management was passed to Simcox Quarry Limited in 2018.

Simcox Quarry asked last June to run the quarry for an “unlimited” time period, estimating it would last for “more than 100 years”.

Brookby Rd residents Mary and Rickard Potez say the plans could see an end to “peace in the valley”.

“It [is] inconceivable and deplorable to grant a legacy to future generations of 100 years of destroyed peace in the valley,” they say.

Simcox say the quarry is crucial for Marlborough’s flood control, has “significant” positive effects, and that dust, noise, and hazards would be well managed.

But fellow Brookby Rd resident and Wairau Hospital orthopedic surgeon Rick Wilson says the possible increase in truck traffic was “abhorrent” and would “inevitably result in accidents”.

“Without being unduly melodramatic, the mix of locals, visitors and heavy vehicles is ‘a tragedy waiting to occur’,” he says.

Fairhall School principal Stephen Crockett says an increase in traffic would heighten the risks for students who lived on or travelled along the trucking routes.

LDR - Local Democracy Reporting

Council cover their base

Work has begun on replacing part of the aging roof at Marlborough District Council as a $750,000 makeover begins.

The 46-year-old roof was proving too expensive to keep patching up.

In 2018 investigators discovered it had started to sag, causing water damage to walls, ceilings, carpet and lighting.

Council economic, community and support services manager Dean Heiford says council chambers would be “a bit noisy” during the roof repairs but could still be used.

He says one of the council’s resource consent hearings would be held off site, likely at Scenic Hotel Marlborough, in Blenheim.

Council have opted to build a new timber and steel roof structure and membrane over the current timber-framed roof, using the old structure to support the new one.

Water-damaged walls on the ground floor of the building will also be repaired.

Asbestos discovered in wall claddings would be removed and disposed of.

Council will also upgrade windows and cladding at the top level, and improve the fire escape.

Last August, the roof replacement was estimated to cost about $400,000 but the figure doubled thanks to window replacements, asbestos removal and the “complexity of [the] job”.

Dean says work would run from February to “take advantage of the weather”, and to fit in with contractors and suppliers.

The council announced a tender last August, requesting information and pricing on replacing the roof, after it was issued a building consent to undertake repairs last May. It received three responses.

LDR - Local Democracy Reporting

Assets and services manager Richard Coningham. Photo: Supplied.

Council to get picky over Potholes

Paula Hulburt and Chloe Ranford/LDR

Problematic potholes across the region could be getting fixed faster.

Marlborough District Council has awarded a seven-year road maintenance and renewal contract worth $160 million jointly to Fulton Hogan and HEB.

And service staff have pledged to put “greater emphasis” on ridding the region of potholes.

Assets and services manager Richard Coningham says there will also be more road inspections.

“There will also be increased CBD street cleaning and unsealed road and motorcycle route maintenance.

“Greater emphasis will also be placed on maintaining Marlborough Sounds’ roads,” he says.

Council invests over $12 million each year in roading maintenance and renewal projects around the Marlborough region.

As the owner of the local roading network, council is responsible for maintaining 242km of footpaths, 917km of sealed roads, 630km of unsealed roads and 367 bridges.

“We’ve worked with Marlborough Roads to ensure we are getting good value from this contract – we’ve kept any cost increases to a minimum,” Richard says.

New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) top of the south system manager Andrew James presented his report on the roading contract to the council’s assets and services committee meeting on Thursday.

He says he expects to see a lift in performance.

Under the new contract, footpaths in Picton and Blenheim’s town centres would be cleaned “at least once a week” by a scrubbing machine.

Picton Business Group chairman Graham Gosling floated the idea during last year’s annual plan.

​Councillor Gerald Hope says Blenheim’s town centre was looking a bit dowdy.

“Look at the amphitheatre … The synthetic grass is filthy, and the birds don’t help. As good as the contract is going to be, we have to lift the standard in the CBD,” he says.

The contract starts on 1 April 2020.

Mark Smith Reserve in Blenheim is one of four parks set to benefit from an upgrade. Photo: Paula Hulburt.

Cash boost child’s play for council

A Picton playground will get a $60,000 revamp in a bid to make it accessible to all children.

Victoria Domain play area off Hampden Street is set for an upgrade which will include a new basket swing.

The swing makes it easier for children of all abilities to play together.

The old black matting will also be replaced with bark to make it safer and improve appearance.

Marlborough District Council’s Assets and Services Committee has agreed to fund improvements to the tune of $241,000 across four parks.

Deputy Mayor Nadine Taylor says funding for the upgrades was allocated at the Land Subdivision Account meeting in August last year.

“These upgrades are really great news for families and children across Marlborough and follow the opening of new playground facilities at Pollard Park, Renwick Domain and Mark Smith Reserve last year.”

Westwood Reserve, Ballinger Park and Mark Smith Reserve in Blenheim will all benefit from the funding boost.

The new park Westwood Reserve has been in the pipeline since the subdivision was developed in 2016.

Council staff have been working with community representatives on a suitable playground design.

The new playground will feature a landslide platform, climbing wall, fireman’s pole and a timber-framed swing.

A new flying fox will go up in Ballinger Park off of Budge Street and a new pathway at Mark Smith Reserve will be built to connect to the Taylor River tracks.

The committee decision is subject to Council approval on 27 February.

Marlborough District Council solid waste manager Alex McNeil at Blenheim’s recycling centre. Photo: Matt Brown.

Bigger bunker a boom for festive season

A giant new bunker used for recycled glass is open for empties – just in time for the busy festive season.

The Blenheim Resource Recovery Centre has nearly doubled its glass recycling capabilities thanks to a funds boost.

A $15,000 grant from the Glass Packaging Forum (GPF) plus $50,000 from Marlborough District Council paid for the new bunker.

Council solid waste manager Alec McNeil says that at this time of year the old bunkers would quickly full up.

However, by increasing the bunker size by 80 per cent, this should no longer be an issue, he says.

“The additional storage capacity for glass will ensure that the quality of cullet (recycled glass) being returned to O-I New Zealand (in Auckland) for processing is not compromised,” he says.

O-I New Zealand is the country’s only container glass manufacturer and uses recycled glass to make new bottles.

Glass must be sorted into clear, green and brown before it can be used to make new glass bottles.

Glass Packaging Forum Scheme Manager Dominic Salmon says the centre plays an important role in getting cullet from the South Island to Auckland.

“Funding projects like this, which result in improving the quality and quantity of glass available for recycling is a main objective of the GPF,” he says.

The GPF has help fund other projects in Marlborough, including rural recycling containers in Seddon, Okiwi Bay, Awatere Valley and Oyster Bay, as well as the new recycling hub at Havelock Marina.

It’s hoped more staff on the ground will also help put an end to any anti-social behaviour. Photo: Supplied.

Ranger number boost in region

Extra council staff will be out over summer, doubling the region’s rangers.

Marlborough District Council got a funding boost of $183,610 to appoint two more rangers over the busy summer period, taking the total to four.

Rangers will visit camp sites and other spots to ensure things are running smoothly.

And it’s hoped more staff on the ground will also help put an end to any anti-social behaviour as they encourage people to be responsible campers.

Council’s reserves and amenities manager Jane Tito says there has been a big increase in the number of visitors camping at Marlborough’s responsible camping sites – up from 7,000 in 2016 to 12,000 in 2018.

“On top of the funding for additional rangers, council was also successful in getting funds of $25,000 from central Government’s Tourism Infrastructure Fund for a feasibility study on a long-term, sustainable approach to the management of responsible camping sites in Marlborough,” Jane says.

The study will also include consultation with iwi, the camping and motorhome associations and other interested groups.

Council’s Freedom Camping Bylaw 2012 was last reviewed in 2016 and the new review is scheduled to commence in July 2020, following the results of the study.