Trial roads closure a step closer

Lee Vandervis
Lee Vandervis
The Dunedin City Council has taken another step towards a trial closure of the lower Octagon to vehicles, despite councillors being divided over whether the move will be the end - or the saviour - of some city retailers.

Councillors at yesterday's planning and regulatory committee meeting voted 11-4 to approve the process and timeframe for the development of options for a trial, which was expected to begin early next year.

That could mean the lower Octagon and lower Stuart St, to Moray Pl, closed to cars for an as-yet unknown period, although other options - including limited hours, a different approach or a different location - would also be considered.

Most councillors expressed support for the concept yesterday, but the debate grew tense as Crs John Bezett and Lee Vandervis, arguing against the move, clashed with chairman Cr David Benson-Pope.

Cr Bezett said the ''quite aggressive'' recommendation already implied the trial was going to happen, regardless of the views of businesses yet to be consulted.

Businesses had opposed a similar proposal in 2010, which was later abandoned, and could be ''quite dramatically'' affected - or even go out of business - if any trial proceeded this time, he argued.

''We are dealing with peoples' lives here . . . some businesses may not even survive a trial,'' he said.

Cr Benson-Pope rejected the ''factually incorrect'' claim and accused Cr Bezett of ''misleading people'', as the council had not yet decided to proceed with a trial.

Instead, council staff had outlined the process - including public consultation - that would end with a decision next January on whether to launch the trial, Cr Benson-Pope said.

Cr Lee Vandervis also questioned whether the Octagon was a problem that needed fixing, prompting another ticking-off from Cr Benson-Pope, who labelled the question ''inappropriate''.

Instead, deputy mayor Chris Staynes supported the work, arguing the council needed to ensure the central city was ''a place people wanted to go''.

Retailers would be among those who would benefit from an enhanced, people-friendly space, as they were already facing lost revenue from internet shopping, he argued.

''In fact, this may be their saviour,'' he said.

''This whole idea of making our central city a people place ... I think is a piece of work we have to do.''

Other councillors supported the move, including Cr Benson-Pope, who said the plan was ''conservative and cautious'', but ''fundamental'' to enhancing the city's urban core.

The results would benefit visitors and also - more importantly - residents, ''and they are not just retailers'', he said.

''This is about the public of the city and important open public spaces.''

Cr Neville Peat agreed it would improve the central city's ''social vibrancy'', while Cr Aaron Hawkins supported the economic arguments for pedestrianisation of the area.

However, he also acknowledged a public conversation was needed before any change to the lower Octagon and lower Stuart St.

''It belongs to everybody and everybody collectively has to be involved in that decision.''

Cr Jinty MacTavish urged council staff to investigate external funding options for any trial, saying money was the ''missing'' element in the debate.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said the approach was a ''very good one'' that could enhance a public space for everyone who used it, but exactly what form the trial would take was yet to be determined.

Cr Richard Thomson also supported continuing the work, but warned a proper trial would need funding, and any closure should not by done ''half-arsed'' with a few orange road cones and planter boxes.

Councillors voted to 11-4 to proceed, with Crs Bezett, Vandervis, Andrew Whiley and Doug Hall opposed.

The decision meant council staff would report back to the council with a list of options on October 28, with public consultation to follow, before a final decision on whether to proceed was taken in January next year.

However, staff also indicated the timetable could be revised, with elements brought forward, if required.

- chris.morris@odt.co.nz

Parking

Anderson: There are several underutilised parking buildings in the area - one with access to The Octagon, others on top of or behind main street malls, and others within a block or two that as a visitor you may not have been aware of. However, it is worth noting Dunedin drivers complain of a lack of parking as well despite reports showing these parking building basically operate at about 50-75% capacity (that's from memory so may be wrong on the exact figures).  I also note that it is a very rare occasion I couldn't find a park in one of these. Only conclusion is drivers don't want to walk the little extra distance to get a park.

However, more could be done to signpost these carparking building for visitors and to encourage locals to use them. 

As for your other points, however, I completely agree.

Road closure

What the heck? Is this a case of have council, have councillors, have meeting, better do something - anything?

As a recent overseas visitor to Dunedin for 4 weeks, the second biggest issue we had was parking, the paucity of it within a reasonable walking distance of the city centre. The biggest issue was the number of bumble-bee parking police buzzing around, here there, everywhere.

Strewth, youd think the streets were paved with gold.

BTW. Traffic around the Octagon was hardly an issue, especially if you had ever had exerienced massive trafic delays on the Auckland Motorway system or Melbourne westgate bridge, or City Link tunnels after an accident. What problem you are trying to solve?

Firmly opposed

Thanks to city councillors John Bezett, Andrew Whiley, Doug Hall and Lee Vandervis for their opposing votes. Let momentum build, to oppose Dunedin City Council interference that once again compromises certainty for private business in the central city. In an ideal world... council staff and elected representatives pushing this scheme (empire building) would surrender their positions on sentence to hard labour - digging council drains and replacing hundred-year-old water mains. A worthy public end to the science of their individual politics.

Chicken or the egg

It is interesting that speedfreak43 lists five very large retail outlets that, with the exclusion of The Warehouse Sth. Dunedin, are all a considerable distance from residential areas and not particularly well served by public transport.

District plans required then to have substantial carparking. They all built 'mega stores' on disused land relatively far removed from residential areas so the only options to access them are a very long walk or driving.

I hardly think their success is directly related to 'easy access'. Probably more related to the nature of their business and the 'mega store' concept.

The Octagon has always been problematic when it comes to the conflict, real or perceived, between it being used as a purely pedestrian space and traffic and retailing. A quick search through the DCC and ODT archives shows this ongoing conflict yet some retailers that opposed one development or other closed their doors even when no change occurred.

And let us not turn the Octagon into that hideous monstrosity that was once Christchurch's Square.

How will retailers benefit?

Current trends re spending are shifting more and more to online purchasing. Making it more dificult for locals to get to the retailers will in no way help them out. Just why do places like The Warehouse, Mitre 10 Mega, Rebel Sport, Briscoes, Bunnings etc do so well? Obviously, three-quarters of the council haven't been able to figure that out yet, but for their benefit, the answer is easy access and car parking.

In reality, I couldn't care less which way this goes as I have already stopped all my visiting/spending in the inner city and only go there as a last resort. 

Why oppose it?

I must remember who opposed this when it proves to be sucessful. It must be a plus for businesses, a plus for for customers, a plus for visitors and for locals. (Not necessarily in that order!).

Imagine how the ship cruise masses will like walking safely from the station, market and Toitu to the Octagon without all the noise and hassle of traffic. Tables, chairs, plants can extend further out too.

Wonder how one gets to see the plan put forward by those students?

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