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Options on Undergrounding Telephone Lines

Options on Undergrounding Telephone Lines

Whether to raise rates to pay for power and telephone lines to be put underground is a question the community is being asked in North Shore City Council's draft 2004-2014 City Plan.

The draft plan, which is currently out for consultation, offers three options for overhead lines, which can pose a road safety risk and are considered by some to be obtrusive and unsightly.

The price of a better view is an estimated $280 million.

Mayor George Wood says the decision on undergrounding will have an effect on how the city looks in future.

"It may make our city more attractive, but we want to know whether people want to pay for that through higher rates," he says.

"Traditionally, the undergrounding of services in North Shore City has been staged to complement roadworks, beautification and other upgrading work undertaken around the city. The undergrounding programme has been funded by dividends from UnitedNetworks Ltd."

When the former Waitemata Electric Power Board was split up in 1994, North Shore City Council and neighbours Rodney District and Waitakere City were given a beneficial interest in shares in the new lines company, UnitedNetworks (now owned by Vector Ltd). Until the shares in the utility company were sold in late 2002, the councils' combined 10.7 per cent stake was held by the Waitemata Electricity Trust, which is administered by the UnitedNetworks Shareholders' Society as the trustee.

"With a premium price offered this council considered it wise to sell our stake for $67m and put the proceeds towards repaying debt and funding capital works such as transport projects, wastewater upgrades and parkland acquisition," George Wood says.

"With the shares sold, there are no dividends to put towards the undergrounding programme. This is why we're asking the community whether they want us to continue the work and, if so, to what extent."

Option one in the draft City Plan would see no further undergrounding done - other than when a road is widened - and no additional rates increase.

Option two would see $1m a year spent on undergrounding in places where there are road safety benefits, and mean an increase of 0.9 per cent on the average residential rate. Option three - undergrounding all power and phone lines over the next 70 years - would cost $4m a year and result in an annual 3.5 per cent rate increase.

The focus in recent years has been on undergrounding power and telephone lines in commercial areas, on beachfronts and along major roads when they are being upgraded.

Undergrounding has also occurred in some residential areas of Devonport, Birkenhead, Albany, Milford, Takapuna and Glenfield.

Consultation on the draft City Plan ends on April 22. The full plan is available on the council's website www.northshorecity.govt.nz, or can be viewed at council offices and libraries.

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