Dunedin attempting to fast-track CBD car deterrence

The Dunedin City Council has had plans to make the main street in the CBD (George Street) more pedestrian friendly and less useful for cars. They are trying to fast-track this citing Covid-19 as a justification.

However trying to establish a pedestrian dominated street heading into winter seems risky for the success of the plan and for businesses desperate

They have already trialed a car-free area including and around the Octagon in February. This was controversial and heavily criticised by some businesses who claimed big drops in trade.

And the current plan to rush into a major change is being opposed and delayed.

The council were going to vote on whether to go ahead with the changes yesterday – on Monday the Chamber of Commerce and businesses hadn’t even been consulted, but it appears council plans were already under way.

ODT on Wednesday: DCC response plan lambasted

A plan to support local retail and hospitality businesses through Covid-19 Alert Level 2 has been panned by members of the Dunedin business community.

The Dunedin City Council’s proposal is touted in council documents as an effort to encourage people to return to shopping areas and includes a temporary 10kmh speed limit in George and Princes Sts, the installation of temporary speed bumps, and increasing the frequency of Barnes dance crossings.

The proposal was called ‘‘disgusting’’, ‘‘pedestrianisation jammed down people’s throats’’, and an ideologically driven change that ‘‘could be the straw that broke the camel’s back for many businesses’’ by a series of business representatives yesterday.

The ‘‘Safer CBD Streets – Covid-19 response’’ plan, which will be considered at tomorrow’s planning and environment committee, was mooted by Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins at the May 4 council meeting.

Yesterday he rejected the notion that the plan represented a major change to the area; that there was only one viewpoint representative of the entire business community; and that the proposal was an example of pedestrianisation.

‘‘Yes, it’s about bringing people to the city centre but it’s about making people feel comfortable that they can return to that part of town and be able to maintain safe physical distance from one another,’’ he said.

‘‘This is about trying to support both customers and retailers to operate in an unusual environment for however long — we don’t know.’’

At a time of unprecedented business turmoil it seems unwise to push through an idealist experiment.

He conceded there had been a trade-off between bringing a plan forward in time for the move to Level 2 and a higher level of consultation, but said another survey was sent out last night to seek views of businesses and building owners in the city centre.

Seems like very little consultation. ‘Another survey’ a day before the council was going to vote seems extraordinary.

The Otago Chamber of Commerce had not been consulted on the proposal and chief executive Dougal McGowan said he had not seen the details until Monday night.

The details had surprised members, and concerns the business community had not had the opportunity to be consulted ‘‘in a timely and effective way’’ in order to have changes ready for the first day out of lockdown was a theme in the feedback he received yesterday.

Heart of Dunedin spokeswoman Nina Rivett said the central business district advocacy group opposed reducing traffic flow and called for at least 12 months for businesses to regain resilience and try to attract people back into the city centre.

Radical change now ‘‘could be the straw that broke the camel’s back for many businesses’’.

The vote has been delayed, but just by one day – Traffic changes vote held back

The debate and decision on a contentious 10kmh speed limit through Dunedin’s city centre was delayed yesterday until this morning.

After a one-hour public forum Dunedin city councillors voted 9-6 to delay a decision on the Dunedin City Council’s George St roading plan, “Safer CBD Streets-Covid-19 response”, which includes a raft of health and safety measures, also designed to assist businesses, including temporary wider footpaths, 10kmh speed limits, speed bumps, and increased waits at traffic lights.

The delay would allow George St property owner Cr Jules Radich to seek legal advice over his participation in the debate.

Counsel for the council Michael Garbutt said the office of the auditor-general had confirmed Cr Radich had a pecuniary interest in relation to George St for deliberations in the annual plan.

He believed it also would preclude Cr Radich from participating in yesterday’s planned debate.

That would mean one vote less against the rushed changes.

During the public forum, Generation Zero presenters Jenny Coatham and Lydia Le Gros asked for councillors to consider taking advantage of the NZ Transport Agency’s innovating streets for people pilot fund for both the long-term and the temporary project.

The fear that the proposed temporary changes in the proposal were “the first step” towards pedstrianising the street were voiced by AA Otago district council chairman Malcolm Budd yesterday.

Otago Chamber of Commerce chief executive Dougal McGowan asked whether allowing retailers to expand on to footpaths might add to the congestion on footpaths and what other measures to allow for physical distancing had been considered for footpaths.

Generation Zero and a Green mayor versus the business community.

Council chief executive Sue Bidrose said there were more than 70 speed limit signs ready to put in place from yesterday afternoon, as well as “many, many, many” circles to be painted on the road with the Dunedin logo on them “that would remind people that the road space is ‘cars and cycles and scooters and pedestrians’.”

It looks like the council expected to go ahead regardless of consultation and voting.

The Dunedin CBD could be heading into a winter of discontent.