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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.

Roadmaking Under Difficulties

Roadmaking Under Difficulties

The task of providing Gisborne with good streets baffled its civic rulers for over half a century. First-class metal in large deposits was not available in handy positions, and the surface of the business area was composed mostly of sand and silt. A contract for formation work in Gladstone Road was let in May, 1874, by the Highways Board. Papa transported in punts from Kaiti Beach was used for foundations, and shingle from the “island” in the Waimata River for surfacing. During the wet winter of 1875 the papa turned to mud and most of the shingle disappeared. Crossings were then made with flat stones obtained from Tuamotu Island. In Upper Gladstone Road fascines were laid down. During the winter of 1876 a wagon had to be dug out at a spot just above the Royal Hotel.

Trees, chiefly poplars, were planted by the borough authorities along the sides of Gladstone Road in 1878. It was believed that they would assist to lessen the dust nuisance, besides affording shade, in summer, for horses tied to the hitching posts which stood in front of shops. The residents were also encouraged to plant trees, other than willows, in front of their premises. Many visitors regarded the stately rows as an attractive adjunct. Only very reluctantly did the council allow the Post and Telegraph Department in 1886 to trim some of the trees which interfered with its lines. In 1897, as many of the trees were proving a nuisance, a start was made to remove them.

The loan moneys authorised in June, 1878, became available in October, 1880, through the good offices of Sir Julius Vogel, who induced the Bank of New Zealand to advance the amount required upon a pledge that repayment would be made within six years. An extensive programme of road works was embarked upon, but only temporary benefit was derived. More papa was procured for foundations, and anybody who brought up shingle from Waikanae Beach was paid 2/- per cubic yard. For every prisoner the Prisons Department could supply it was paid, 3/- for eight hours' work. The dust nuisance remained so bad that some shopkeepers asked the council to arrange with the fire brigade to play water on the streets every morning. They would, they said, prefer mud to dust!

In the middle 1880's, spawls from Waihirere were obtained for road foundations. Within two years, however, the deposit could no longer be profitably worked. Stone from other localities was tried, but only a small proportion proved of fair quality. A horse-drawn mud-scraper had to be procured in 1902. Only very limited supplies of Patutahi stone could be spared by Cook County, and, for some years, the borough had to rely mainly upon Kaiteratahi gravel.

A quarry at Gentle Annie was opened by the borough in 1911. It was page 392 equipped with a first-class plant, and the stone was transported to town by a steam tramway. The quality grew progressively worse. Used for patching, it turned to slush in wet weather, and had to be scraped off the roads. In 1913 Mr. Mansfield (borough engineer) estimated that it would cost £642,000 to put all the streets in good order. The quarry was closed in June, 1915. Soon afterwards greywacke stone became available from Motuhora. Tar-sealing on extensive lines followed. In 1926 a hot-mix plant was obtained, and a great improvement in the principal streets soon became noticeable.

When W. Douglas Lysnar became the leader of the council in 1908 a new phase of borough politics began. A majority of the members were prepared to support his ambitious plans through thick and thin. The minority formed themselves into an organised opposition. Mr. Lysnar's followers were faithful to a degree. On one occasion, when a division was being taken, one of them was found to have dozed off. He was awakened and asked to indicate how he wished his vote to be recorded. Naively, he replied: “The same way as Mr. Lysnar!” Many of the meetings were very lively, and some of them lasted till daylight.

Loan proposals brought down in December, 1909, totalled £175,000. They included: Sewerage, £60,500; tram system, £25,000; electric power plant, £16,142; and street improvements, £35,000. The ratepayers were permitted to vote only for or against the issues as a whole, and the poll resulted: For, 861 votes; against, 279. Mr. Lysnar went to London and raised the loan at 4 per cent. for 30 years. To cover his expenses he received a much-debated grant of £800. It proved unfortunate that a sinking fund of only ½ per cent. was adopted. When the loan fell due in 1940 only £63,955 had accumulated. What made matters worse was that the exchange rate on London then stood at 25 per cent. A fresh loan of £151,800 was needed, in addition to the sinking fund, to repay the old loan.

By the end of 1946 there were 54.3 miles of formed legal roads and 5.5 miles of unformed legal roads in the borough. The length of bitumen matrix and/or concrete roads was then 9.7 miles. There were also 14 miles of bitumen or tar-sealed roads. Roads that were only metalled or gravelled aggregated 29.5 miles. Footpaths permanently sealed ran into 25.36 miles, and the extent of kerbing and channelling was 11.25 miles. Bridges of 25 feet in length and over numbered 11, with an aggregate length of 2,454 feet.