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THE Gisborne Rail Action Group will hold a public forum on August 19 where election candidates will be invited to state their position on the Gisborne-Napier rail line.
Rail Action Group chairwoman Mary Manuel said the forum, to be held in the Lytton High School hall, was an opportunity for the public to know where Gisborne District Council and mayoralty candidates stood on the reinstatement of rail freight, rail tourism and passenger rail services.
■ Ms Manuel, who announces her candidacy for the city ward of Gisborne District Council today, will step back from her leadership of the Rail Action Group on Thursday when she hands in her nomination.
Local MPs Anne Tolley, the Social Development Minister, and Ikaroa-Rawhiti MP Meka Whaitiri would be invited to attend but would not have speaking rights.
Rail Action Group secretary Ken Crispin said the forum was an opportunity for MPs to listen to the public and council candidates.
A guest speaker, not yet officially named, will also attend the forum, which will be chaired by former Green Party candidate Gavin Maclean.
“We encourage each candidate to participate in the forum,’’ said Ms Manuel.
A set of questions would be sent to candidates who accepted their invitation. They would have three minutes to answer each question.
“We anticipate a short time for questions from the floor will follow.’’
Ms Manuel said she was encouraged by the position of Labour leader Andrew Little, who told Local Government New Zealand that transport planning needed a coherent strategy that covered road, rail, coastal shipping and ports.
Coherence was harder to achieve in New Zealand, partly because road transport planning came under the NZ Transport Agency but rail planning did not, said Mr Little.
Ms Manuel said the Rail Action Group supported any move by Labour to make NZTA responsible for rail planning.
“That is great news for us.’’
She was critical of the funding that was going into the state highway around the Waikato when “very little comes our way’’.
In Gisborne last month Mr Little told The Herald that Labour believed in a broader transport policy framework consisting of road, rail and ports.
Rail was not an isolated issue but there would need to be a level of local support before Labour made a commitment to restoring the Gisborne to Napier rail line.
“I know a lot of people are keen to see the line restored.’’
The Chamber of Commerce was “somewhat indifferent”.
Ms Manuel said Gisborne needed an integrated freight transport plan for connecting this region to the rest of New Zealand.
“It is not rail versus trucks, but a plan that integrates the best of what each has to offer, as well as coastal shipping.”
Rail had much to offer over long distance “connections”, while trucks could collect logs from harvest areas and take them to rail heads.
The forum will start at 5.30pm on Friday, August 19 and is expected to end at 8.30pm. Wairoa mayor Craig Little and Hastings mayoral candidate Guy Wellwood will also be invited to the forum.
This article first appeared on gisborneherald.co.nz
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