Roadworks have ground the east Auckland suburb of Panmure to a halt – and members of the community want to know when they can expect respite
The bus link between Central and East Auckland has been put off for another two years – and members of one community say construction work on the project has ground the town to a halt without the promise of future benefit.
Panmure Community Action group secretary Keith Sharp has lived most of his life in the area, and said it had been the forgotten community from the beginning.
While the attention of MPs and the media has been on the other side of the Tamaki River at Pakuranga to Botany, Panmure had suffered in silence, according to Sharp.
“The story is all on the other side of the river, but on this side, where our town is being trashed, it’s just silence.”
He said ongoing roadworks had driven businesses from the area, with diverted foot traffic and major gridlocks every evening.
“Our town is literally being crushed under the weight of the construction of a busway project that isn’t even designed for our benefit,” he said.
However, Panmure Business Association town manager Chris Sutton said these businesses left the area due to the effects of Covid, and new local businesses are on the way.
But with Auckland Transport recently announcing the eastern busway will be completed two years later than initially planned, the people of Panmure are losing patience.
One of the more recent changes for Panmure has been replacing the roundabout with an intersection – a move that has raised safety concerns from local residents.
“There are serious ongoing safety problems with the design of the new Panmure intersection that have been ignored by the designers,” said Sharp.
He said the misleading and confusing set-up of the roadway had a blindspot regularly luring drivers into oncoming traffic.
“Drivers coming from the highway often end up coming in through the out door,” he said.
The local business association has logged a range of incidents from nearby CCTV cameras, including police cars, buses and an ambulance all turning into the wrong lane of Queen’s Rd.
Sutton said there were no indications or road markings warning people about which lane to enter, meaning westbound motorists had been frequently finding themselves face to face with another car.
“It happened to me just a few weeks ago,” she said. “Luckily, they saw me so they slowed down and corrected themselves.”
Sharp said Auckland Transport had made fruitless efforts to fix the problem, such as painting a lane. “But unless there’s an accident, they won’t do anything more,” he said.
Questions from the Panmure Community Action group to the council had found no answers, said Sharp.
Members of the group had gone to almost every level of local and central government, but they had gotten “absolutely nowhere”.
“We protested and were met with a wall of silence,” he said. “They more or less said this is the price Panmure is going to pay.”
Sharp believes the amount of prior investment in this project from both sides of the political aisle have made decision-makers unwilling to accept fault.
“The overall political capital invested in this project by both Labour and National is so huge, they can’t admit the problem,” he said. “It’s as though they are so enamoured with this project they’ll brook no criticism.”
The costs for the ongoing busway project have also come under question, with strange variations over the years in the council’s publicly quoted figures.
An Auckland Transport media release from the council last October put the costs at $1.4 billion – a figure Sharp found surprising.
“That should come as news to Auckland Councillors,” he said. “Because just a few years ago, Parliament was told that the cost of [the busway] would be $1.1 billion – while council’s own publicity was still talking about a figure of $1.5 billion.”
Meanwhile, back in 2011, Auckland Transport executive Rick Walden told Auckland Council the full cost of the busway would be between $1.55-$1.95 billion over the lifetime of the project.
Despite efforts by the Panmure Community Action Group to get to the bottom of this, there has been no real explanation as to why the figures being quoted to Aucklanders have varied so widely over the years.
“It seems incredible that it took members of the Panmure Community Action group to spot a $400 million discrepancy in a figure being quoted to Parliament in an Auditor-General’s report and a figure being quoted to the public by Auckland Council,” Sharp said. “No one else spotted it. And now we have yet another figure in an official statement: $1.4 billion.”
He wonders what this means for the true cost of the project once it is finally finished.
“Do Auckland councillors trust the figures that have been quoted by Auckland Transport?” he asked. ”Or do they think that the odd 300 to 400 million dollars isn’t that much of a difference to worry Auckland ratepayers about?”
Auckland Transport had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publishing.
Although Panmure has been hammered by the ongoing work, Sutton remains positive about what the development means for the suburb and wider Auckland.
“You can take the very negative, but you have to look at the broader picture,” she said. “There are definitely fors and againsts – we’re not happy with the new intersection, we’re not happy with the signage they’ve installed.”
The business association recently surveyed local business owners and found while people remain positive about Panmure’s future, they are sick of the ongoing construction affecting their livelihoods.
“The community have said they are not averse to development,” Sutton said. “At this very moment, businesses wonder when the roadwork will be finished – they’d say we’re tired and we still don’t understand how the intersection will benefit us into the future.”
To ease the burden of the roadworks, Auckland Transport provided the Panmure Business Association with funding to embark on a series of projects to enliven the town. These have included helping businesses improve their signage, installing fairy lights, and commissioning art on 12 roller doors.
Panmure is waiting on the work to be done on land that is currently being used as an informal park’n’ride by commuters – a postponed future following Auckland Transport’s announcement that the eastern busway has been delayed by a further two years.
“That’s the negative,” said Sutton. “Finding out the project is now going to be delayed another couple of years – we know the land won’t get released for development until the project is completed.”
While this school holiday period has been especially difficult for the town due to lane closures on Panmure Bridge driving up congestion, Sutton said some things were looking up.
“There are little glimmers of hope,” she said. “The Panmure library had the most children coming in for their holiday school programme in a while – and it’s been a hard while for them.”