Road safety funds queried

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Waitaki District Council funding and approval processes for road safety campaigns have been criticised by Cr Jim Hopkins, who believes more “rigorous assessment” is needed when addressing them.

While council’s finance, audit and risk committee moved to retain funding for road safety campaigns in its long-term plan, as proposed in the draft Regional Transport Long Term Plan 2015-2021 (RTLTP), questions were raised by several councillors at a meeting on February 18 about the amount budgeted for road safety initiatives.

The major concern was $450,000 over three years being spent on promotion, to be done mostly through advertising, as the activity was classed as road safety promotion.

At the time, council staff advised councillors the programme was made up of a number of projects, but did not have information on what the actual projects were.

Due to that, council was undecided on whether it should fund the road safety, but did leave the funding option in the RTLTP, on the provision that the committee considered the programme and approved its inclusion in the plan’s budget for consultation with the community.

Information provided by council assets group manager Neil Jorgensen at yesterday’s meeting included a summary of the projects in the RTLTP that make up the total spend, a copy of the presentation made to councillors in 2014 of an overview on road safety and the communities at-risk register, which is a driver of the priorities of programmes.

Of the $150,000 being spent annually, the New Zealand Transport Agency subsidy totals $87,000 and the council will invest $63,000.

“This programme is really aimed at keeping our road users safe on the roads … in our view it’s a critical programme for the community,” Mr Jorgensen said.

Cr Hopkins was particularly concerned about more than $24,000 being spent on radio, newspaper and billboard campaigns, one of which is called “Lord of the Roads”, and focuses on seasonal topics related to speed and driving to the conditions.

The campaign has been developed in conjunction with a senior creative writer at The Radio Network.

“We are spending $450,000. The question I’m trying to get to is that a lot is being spent on media … not one person appears to have acted in accordance with our communications policy in signing it off,” Cr Hopkins said.

“What I’m seeking to establish is by what process are things being signed off … we seem to be spending a disproportionately large amount, compared to other councils.”

The Central Otago District Council has budgeted just over $305,800, the Clutha District Council $198,800 and the Queenstown Lakes District Council $60,000.

Cr Hopkins said “much more rigorous assessment” was needed.

Council public information manager Richard Mabon was not impressed by his comments.

“I think this conversation is going in the direction no-one expected it to,” he said.

While aware of the need to educate drivers about appropriate behaviour on the roads, Cr Hopkins said more practical steps could be taken.

The death of Ruby Marris (5), after a recent head-on crash at Moeraki, south of Oamaru, which involved a Chinese driver, prompted Cr Hopkins to suggest the installation of multi-language road signs and arrows being painted on either side of the road to indicate the direction of travel.

Cr Kathy Dennison agreed with the arrow idea and said it was “absolutely essential” that they be painted around Moeraki.

By Daniel Birchfield