The Highwayman ... our road safety campaigner takes a break
Barry Cook had scarcely unpacked the boxes from his move to Plimmerton 20 years ago before he was catapulted into a local political furore.
“ I was still settling into my new home in St Andrews Road when I opened a letter from Transit (the national road body of the day, now titled The Transport Authority) telling me that they wanted my house so they could widen the road to create a coastal highway. I fought it all the way. I joined a group who were opposed to the coastal road widening for many reasons ... rising water levels, access in earthquakes and other disasters and for a raft of environmental reasons. This group, TGAG, (Transmission Gully Action Group) saw Transmission Gully as the most logical route for a highway. The route had been first proposed in the 1870s and the Americans had offered to build it during the war. It made good sense and we lobbied for its acceptance for many years. At the same time the PRA (Plimmerton Residents Association) of the time were actively working to get safer access to Plimmerton. “There were no traffic lights and it was pretty hairy getting in and out over the railway and onto State Highway 1.”
Barry estimates that he and the other group members attended hundreds of meetings locally, with local councils and with government agencies to improve the state of affairs.
Meanwhile Transit representatives were still trying to move Barry out of his house. “They wanted to take my house away or move it closer to the beach and away from where they wanted to put the road. I had bought materials to do the place up but couldn’t obviously do anything. I lived for more than a year with the un-installed shower and toilet, still wrapped up, in the living room!
In the end the impasse was sorted by a group retained by Transit to negotiate with homeowners. They agreed to take a room off the east end of my house to give them more clearance then they helped with the upgrade. There’s about five metres between me and the motorway but there’s a really good buffer in place with an acoustic wall and serious insulation.”
As part of the highway upgrade there was discussion about the footpath around Goat Point. Residents were given a choice of a footpath below the road or, the option they went with, one adjoining the motorway. “There was supposed to be a fence protecting pedestrians but this has never eventuated. It is pretty scarey walking around there when those huge trucks whizz past. And that is the way to school and kindy for many families. It would not be quite so bad if all truckies stuck to the centre lane but currently only about 60 per cent of them are obeying that rule.”
After being embroiled in the struggle to get a safer entrance and safer roads here, Barry joined the campaign started by Helen Chipper and a group of locals to get heavily laden trucks from the local quarry out of the village area as they were destroying our seaside community. “We prepared submissions to the council and other organisations about the safety issues raised by having these huge heavy truck and trailer units munching up the roads and making the place unsafe ... they estimate that one laden truck was driving through the streets every four minutes. The battle was won eventually after it was revealed that the quarry was working without a resource consent.”
Removal of dangerous vehicles from the streets here enabled the locals to start working together to restore some of the earlier seaside village ambience of Plimmerton. “In 2004 Helen Chipper arranged the original street meetings which came up with the ideas for the first village plan for Plimmerton.”
Barry says that his background as a teacher in marketing, industrial relations and related skills at Wellington Polytechnic were useful in the battles to make our roads and streets safer. “We spent months preparing submissions, attending meetings, organising protests, stating our case and dealing with officialdom. All our experience of how these things work was usefully employed,” he recalls.
The battle might be won but Barry warns that the war is not over. There are still people out there agitating for the coastal road despite environmental and climate change concerns. The roading authority still owns the land where houses sit on south beach ... where they originally proposed widening the road and moving the rail further inland. We all need to keep a watching brief and be alert to what is happening. We would like to think things are finally sorted but they may not be.”
“Barry is pleased he chose Plimmerton for his big move 20 years ago. “I was a Miramar lad and Karaka Bay was our beach. Plimmerton seemed to me that it would offer a similar life style. I brought my 25 metre trailer sailor here and enjoyed sailing from here with great access to the sounds. I love this area and the new features like our promenade and seating that enable so many more people to enjoy our special spot.”
“I am very proud that I have helped to make Plimmerton a better place. All that work we did to make a safer entrance, stopping the coastal highway expansion and getting the heavy quarry trucks out of the village have made this a much safer pleasant place for everyone. Those improvements have enabled recent development of great amenities ... like our cafe corner with its wide footpaths for example.
While our local highway man is officially signing off we can be sure that he will continue to scan the news for any snippet of activity that would impact on the safer environment achieved by years of hard work by residents here.
You’ll see Barry out and about on his bike, “which has an engine for uphill work which I try not to use otherwise I’m not getting any exercise.” And you can bet one eye is counting how many trucks are using the centre lane.
Barry, Thank you for your 18 years of service to this community through the Plimmerton Residents' Association and all the other organisations that you have given your time and energy to.
Story by Carolyn Williams, photos by Roger Beckett.