How has the Octagon been transformed?

Picket fences, plants, and road cones mark the Octagon central carriageway’s closure.
Picket fences, plants, and road cones mark the Octagon central carriageway’s closure.
The Dunedin City Council’s first full trial of the closed Octagon will end tomorrow. From Monday, different sections will be closed at different times and the central carriageway will reopen from March 10. What can we conclude from the "Octagon Experience" so far? Jacob McSweeny spoke with three key players: the shops, the council and the visitors.

For Sue Todd the "Octagon Experience" has been a failure, summed up by a lost old man who could not find a taxi.

"He was about 92. He came in the door and I asked him if he was OK because he looked very bewildered and he said he was looking for a taxi," the Sue Todd Antiques owner said.

The store sits in Stuart St, next to where the full Octagon closure begins.

The road is littered with orange signs declaring that only pedestrians and certain vehicles may come through.

"I rang a taxi for him and the taxi driver rang and he said ‘I can’t get outside your shop’ so he parked way around back of Countdown," Mrs Todd said.

Sue Todd said the Octagon Experience was "diabolical".
Sue Todd said the Octagon Experience was "diabolical".
"I walked the man around because he was quite wobbly."

There had also been a case in which a person passed out in Potpourri Vegetarian Cafe — just outside the cordon — and the ambulance was delayed getting to them, Mrs Todd said.

"It’s just been diabolical, really.

"I’ve been here for 10 years in this particular place ... and I would have thought places like myself or Gallery De Novo, we would have been asked our opinion. We weren’t.

"The little pizza shop [Pizzeria Da Francesca] across the road, they were consulted [and] they have been here six months. They don’t have any idea of what closures mean.

"We’ve all been here for many closures and they always drop our totals, 25% to 50%."

Her conclusion?

"I want it to go back the way it was and I want them to reinstate parking.

"Parking’s been eliminated in this town like you would not believe."

The difficulty of navigating the closed Octagon and its surrounding roads — whether for bus drivers, couriers or delivery people, tourists on foot or those looking for taxis — has been a common complaint among all of the surrounding businesses.

Colin Lim owns I Love Merino in the Octagon and Kiwi Nest in Stuart Street.

He was furious at the way the closure had been carried out and largely blamed moving the carriageway — where tourists were dropped — from the middle of the Octagon for costing his business up to 50% of its usual revenue on some days.

Australians Ann and Ken London said their bus driver did not know where to take them when they...
Australians Ann and Ken London said their bus driver did not know where to take them when they arrived in the city centre. PHOTO: CRAIG BAXTER
Seriously Twisted owner Linzi Irving said where the tourist buses landed was crucial for her and Mr Lim’s businesses.

"I just wish they would put the cruise ship buses back in to give us our business back.

"If they just put the buses back in the Octagon ... that’s the reason we’re there. Our businesses have evolved, right down towards the railway station because of tourism, and if we don’t have tourists having those same foot flows as before, half of us are in the wrong place."

The "Octagon Experience" was a totally unfair trial, Ms Irving said.

"If this was a [fair] trial they would do a week and they would do one thing at a time, not three.

"In this case they closed the Octagon, they shifted the cruise ship buses and they paid for events to happen in the Octagon.

"Doing those three things at once completely obscures the effect of pedestrianisation. If they wanted to trial pedestrianisation they would also trial it when they weren’t paying an event, when they weren’t shifting the cruise ship buses and in the middle of winter when there was nothing on when the weather was foul, which it is.

"They loaded these three things together, so they can’t measure one of them."

Ms Irving was not convinced the council was carrying out a good cost-benefit analysis of the trial — something she said did not happen when there was a three-day closure of George St for the Glow event in July last year.

"It’s the feel-good factor that they’re measuring.

"They did the same with Glow ... they said that was good proof that pedestrianisation would work because 55,000 people attended it and they never asked the retailers what was the effect of being closed for a week."

Her conclusion?

"It’s the retailer that gets left with the empty space on a windy day without even a taxi being allowed to drop a person off to your shop.

"The Octagon looks like a sandpit where the children have left their toys hanging around in it."

Craft Bar & Kitchen owner John MacDonald said his restaurant usually did well from lunch services on cruise ship days, but that had been reduced significantly by the closure.

The two concerts had not brought much relief because it rained incessantly on the day Elton John played and Mr MacDonald said he suspected many people did not feel like going out after the Queen concert because it was a Monday night.

Mark Fraser said the Mac’s Brew Bar had done well during the Masters Games but he was sympathetic...
Mark Fraser said the Mac’s Brew Bar had done well during the Masters Games but he was sympathetic to the businesses that were struggling with the closure.
Other businesses have been less impacted by the full closure.

Mark Fraser is one of the owners of Mac’s Brew Bar in Stuart St, Nova Cafe in the upper Octagon and Jizo Japanese Cafe & Bar in Princes St.

He said he was happy with the Octagon closure for the Masters Games, which ran in the city centre from February 1 to February 9.

Mac’s Brew Bar was often very busy during that time and it had been able to extend its outside seating.

However, Mr Fraser said he was aware of the difficulty some of the other businesses were having and was sympathetic to them.

That feeling was the same from The Perc Cafe owner Sarah Hussey, who added that the retail businesses served an important purpose in the Octagon area.

She was concerned the area was approaching its "saturation point" when it came to restaurants, bars and cafes.

There were also now no carparks in front of The Perc Cafe, which dented the amount of business the cafe was getting between 7am and 9am, Mrs Hussey said.

Albar manager Grant Benson said the Octagon closure had worked well for the business.

"Here at Albar it’s gone really well.

"Great to have the extra space for all the extra people for the Masters Games and the concerts."

The one down side he noted was the traffic that came through without permission.

"Unfortunately, the traffic wasn’t policed properly and so here on lower Stuart Street we’ve had lots of vehicles parking and coming in that aren’t authorised.

"They sit out here and park all day. Sometimes it hasn’t felt very pedestrian."

The owner of the Craic Irish Tavern and the Thistle Cafe and Bar, Claire Grenfell, said she would rather wait until all of the different trials of the Octagon had been carried out before she gave any opinion on it.

A NUMBER of amenities have been set out for visitors in the Octagon, including table tennis tables, extra seating and tables with the odd umbrella, as well as plants and small trees.

A stage had been set up for entertainment and to cater for the 5000 competitors who took part in the Masters Games, which were declared a resounding success by the organiser.

On Thursday, Australians Ann and Ken London were loving their time in Dunedin, despite the relentless rain.

The pair were enjoying the shelter of the London plane trees and the bus stop covers.

"It’s lovely to look around and take it all in," Mrs London said.

"This morning was great and there were people playing table tennis down there, which was lovely.

"We’ve been walking since about 9.30, we’ve seen the train station and bought some souvenirs.’’

By then Mr London was desperate for some fish and chips and they were on their way to Best Cafe, in lower Stuart St.

The couple had been left confused when they arrived in the city and their bus driver did not know where to drop them off.

"This morning the bus driver wasn’t aware of the closure and so he had to take another street and ended up dropping us down three streets away.

"He was totally confused about what was going on. He said ‘I’m sorry I don’t know why I’m not supposed to drop you here, I’ll have to drop you’.

"So we just found our way up here."

British tourists John and Annette Richardson drove into the central city and parked their car there.

They were confused by all the signage and the closure.

"A lot of roadworks ... for whatever reason, I don’t know why they’ve got the roadworks," Mr Richardson said.

"The roadworks coming through messed me up a bit, driving in and my satnav didn’t recognise it so I had to revert."

However, the Richardsons were supportive of the closure.

"If you’re going to go touristy, it’s a great thing to do.

"Most European cities where there are very touristy bits they ban cars and it works and it makes it more accessible.’’

John and Annette Richardson said closing the Octagon was the right thing to do if the council...
John and Annette Richardson said closing the Octagon was the right thing to do if the council wanted it to be ‘‘touristy’’ like a lot of European cities’ tourist areas were.
ENTERPRISE Dunedin director John Christie is part of the council’s executive leadership team and is a spokesman for the "Octagon Experience".

"To be honest it’s still early days,’’ he said.

"We are in the process of gathering a lot of data as you would with a trial and I just have to emphasise the fact the whole purpose of the trial is for us to be able to analyse the positive effects and the negative effects, if there are any, on any kind of treatment for the Octagon."

He said the trials came about from the council’s consideration of the Octagon’s long-term future.

"It wasn’t done with the intent to ... disadvantage any business.

"We don’t come to work each day trying to find out ways we can make people’s lives more difficult. We’re there to try to make these a positive experience for all concerned, including the retailers."

Mr Christie said discussions at a working group including Dunedin Host, the Otago Chamber of Commerce and others had led to a change in a plan to have cruise ship buses land at the railway station.

"As a result of that we put those cruise bus shuttles into Princes St.

"As I’m sure you can appreciate ... it’s not far from where they’re being dropped on Princes St to the central carriageway.

"In terms of getting close to those retailers ... we couldn’t have got any closer without compromising the closure that was the trial for that three week period."

Paramount to any plan was the safety of pedestrians "which meant the central carriageway was just not an option ... we couldn’t get them any closer to those retailers."

Mr Christie said the council was taking in Paymark data and "other research, which will give us the facts around what has actually been sold in and around the Octagon and Moray Pl during this trial.

"So that we have an evidence base that isn’t just the comments we’re getting from one or two retailers that believe it [the central carriageway] should be closer to their particular business."

He was aware some businesses had lost confidence in the council.

"We’ve had numerous discussions with many businesses and a lot of them have been very favourable.

"We do have some that we know have been in regular contact with us with concerns. We’ve done our best to try to mitigate things by putting options up for how we can improve that as best we can for those retailers.

"To be quite honest, unless we went back to what was originally there with central carriageway dropoff we weren’t going to satisfy them unless we got that."

He said they did still manage to drop a "significant amount" of people in the middle of the Octagon.

Mr Christie admitted the appearance of the Octagon was not helped by large orange signs that made it look like a construction site.

"This is a trial so any treatment’s going to be of a temporary nature.

"Criticism around orange cones, picket fences, whatever, they’re probably valid.

"If we had a budget that would allow for greater enhancement of that experiment, we would have. In an ideal world you wouldn’t have orange cones and you would have much better signage but I’m sure we’d have been criticised for the spend on that."

Mr Christie added the weather had not been helpful for promoting the pedestrian area.



  • January 27 to February 16: Octagon closed completely for Masters Games, Elton John and Queen concerts and a Highlanders rugby game. The first part of the trial will end with the Thieves’ Alley Market Day today  and a performance by the Royal NZ Pipe Bands Association’s annual competition tomorrow .
  • February 17 until March 23: The Dunedin City Council will trial ‘‘different levels of activation’’ with parts of the Octagon closing while other parts open.
  • March 10: The central carriageway reopens to buses and vehicles.



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Quoting: ‘ March 10th. The central carriageway will open to buses...’
Not much use to residents using public transport when no buses stop near the Octagon. The DCC City Library has become an inaccessible island for many. Since I now have to walk to and from the Octagon, often carrying or hauling heavy shopping, I avoid the area, apart from the library. Free lockers at the bus hub ( and library book return) would be a big help. And no charge at the Town Hall lockers. DCC doesn’t seem to realise that shoppers, especially public transport users, have to carry stuff as well as walk. DCC promoters of this reduction in accessibility should just try shopping in town and carrying all their stuff to the bus hub or distant parking themselves. It is no pleasant stroll in the park even in fine weather. And a real problem for older and/or disabled residents. It will harm central city retail and further promote internet shopping. A single frequent bus route stopping in The Octagon would at least make a transfer to the bus hub possible. All the Octagon will be good for is selling booze and coffee. The ‘trial’ itself just makes the area look like a confusing construction site.

I feel sorry for all but the eateries. The other retailers were never consulted and their businesses have suffered. I had business with tthe DCC, very brief, and had to park a couple of streets away and was lucky to get that. While the concept may be great, the outcome for those with long leases and no say need to be involved in dececiso making. And the site looks like road works are going on--far from it. Actual access to some of these is hindered or involves pedestrians walking in gutters--heaven help the disabled or parents with prams, etc.

Mr Christie is a really sad apologist for this mess. He can't quite believe that there could be any negative effects of the experiment. So we can be sure that if DCC does report on how well it has all gone the business owners with a negative won't be featured.
Also his comment that if only there were a bigger budget then events could be held more often and for longer. Well thats just a great big DUH moment isn't it. Everyone would love every day to be a party, but strangely enough ratepayers aren't a bottomless pit of money. And even then the middle of winter will ensure the parties wouldn't be attended. But businesses will still be there scratching for a living now DCC has ruined the summer for them.

And the next few weeks will be worse with DCC randomly opening and closing various pieces as they try out different formats. Does Dunedin actually have town planners or just a bunch of people on an anti car crusade.

We need an independent report on the outcome of this trial. Not something concocted by the planning department or anyone at DCC.

Get over It! It was a great idea to free up the footpaths for pedestrians, having a car park outside your business doesnot guarantee that a customer will come in. Most people will park in the meridian/golden center car park and walk. Yes change is going to inconvenience some people but they will adapt.

Sadly the attitudes displayed by some of the retailers here will ensure Dunedin never develops into a pedestrian and business friendly place like other cities and towns the world over where pedestrianisation has been beneficial for all.

Fewer cars can only mean less Dunedin residents visiting these shops! Dunedin retailers are already fighting online shopping and yet this council tries to make life even harder for them by increasing parking fees, reducing number of available parks and now blocking off entire streets.

The Meridan/ Golden Centre car parks you mention are often full, and at peaks times, traffic to enter them is backed up. Your comment that cars will migrate there, suggests that extra car spaces will magically appear....But with this council, the opposite is true.

The Councils short sighted action of closing off important retail streets will indirectly benefit the city mall developers who are always scouting the country for opportunities to build large shopping malls in the suburbs. They typically all have ample accessible free parking and are generally under cover in the cooler or wetter climates. Their customer base in Dunedin can only be derived from the CBD. Tauranga city which has a similar population to Dunedin has about a dozen major suburban shopping centers and most days you could shoot a gun down the main streets without hitting anyone. Poor Council planning has virtually obliterated the Tauranga CBD. Hamilton is in very similar strife for the very same reasons.
The answer is never let the Dunedin City Council remove accessible parking without increasing the parking stock in another convenient location and never let them restrict the traffic flow at any time of the year. It appears that the Council bureaucrats all go to the same conferences and return with the same unrealistic ideals and to keep their jobs will go to any length and cost to prove they know better than those retailers that live, work, eat and sleep in the CBD.

Why am I left with a nagging feeling that main reason we endure these issues with DCC staff constantly playing God over roading, parking, cycle-ways, octagon vehicle closures, speed bumps, pedestrian islands, etc, to justify their positions in the council?!

We have been inundated with multiple harebrained ideas for some time now, and it's become apparent that certain DCC employees like to think they know best, that they don't have to listen to the ratepayers of this city, and that they must constantly be coming up with solutions to non-existent problems.

"We are in the process of gathering a lot of data as you would with a trial and I just have to emphasise the fact the whole purpose of the trial is for us to be able to analyse the positive effects and the negative effects, if there are any, on any kind of treatment for the Octagon."

"if there are any", there you go folks, that right there you can be sure is a forgone conclusion that the Octagon will be closed, that right there means this council isn't listening to it's ratepayers.

What an awesome experience! I wish the DCC would just close all of Dunedin and make it one big walking street! Even better, why not trollies pulled by unicorns and and driven by faries? All the exteriors of the buildings can be coated in gingerbread and we can hang gumdrops and fairyfloss from all the trees. Jokes aside, DCC has lost the plot! All the issues and problems the city faces and the octagon is the big problem our counselors are focusing on? How about infastructure? Housing? Economy? Crime? Employment? Just to name a few other more pressing issues Dunedin faces. But the cast of clowns elected by the students who voted them in is focused on this? How many days until the next election? We need to send the entire cast back to wherever they came from and vote professional business people into office who will fix the problems plaguing Duendin! We have the same cast of people doing nothing for us the people. Vote them all out of office and start from scratch! I'm sick and tired of paying my rates and getting unaccountable clowns representing us. Take your unicorns and go back to the circus! Vote them all out Dunedin!

I've come to the conclusion that its a waste of time to complain about the DCC, the mayor and their actions. They are unaccountable to anyone. Somebody explain this to me: PM Ardern gets $470K to run the country. Bidrose gets $440K to run Dunedin. Hawkins gets $160K as mayor which is about as much as each Parliamentary Under-Secretary earns. The CEO at Dunedin airport makes about the same as the Deputy prime minister. I could go on and on about the gross pay disparity that DCC pays its underqualifed, undertrained and overvalued executives bit it doesnt change a thing. Dunedin needs professional leadership. It needs to do away with this rag tag band of misfits. Wake up folks! The city is dying right in front of your eyes because we have an unaccountable, unresponsive group wrecking the city.

The City is dying? Really? That would account for the 20% increase in property values last year then. I wouldn't want to be living in a thriving City then, I couldn't afford it.

Yes really! On life support! Supply and demand is the concept at play here. People from other parts of NZ need a place to live and have the money to buy. You think with and average annual Dunedin salary of $50K you can afford a $700k house? Think again mate. The dramatic rise in the price in housing is a very bad economic sign. Its artificial and asmtimatic of bigger economic problems. Try buying groceries or paying rates with the equity in your home...its different than cash in hand. It's a sad commentary given all the empty shops around town anybody could think Dunedin was thriving.

There are a lot of factors that can be used to assess the economic health of Dunedin. Unfortunately, the worth of you home isn't one of them. That said, don't confuse the value of your home with its worth. The worth of you home has increased by 20% because people looking for homes put a greater value on homes because they are in short supply. I moved here 10 years ago and purchased a home for $300K. The shortage of homes has increased its value making it more desirable. Its now worth $1.1Mil. Is it really worth that much? Ahh, no. The shortage of homes for sale means prices will increase to a point where the market dictates what it is worth. Low interest rates, investors purchasing rental property for the hospital build and overseas investors are driving what you home is worth. That doesn't mean Dunedin's economy is good. Congestion, failing schools, unaffordable housing, and stifling regulations are signs of a failing city. These characterize Dunedin. The population growth is falling, the number and types of real jobs are in decline, no job growth, no wage growth, decreased worker productivity, no innovation, significant inequality, low household income...all signs of a dying city

If the businesses in the Octagon and Moray Place say it is a poor outcome, listen to them. If people want to be ambulant in the Octagon which is a pretty small space in the centre of town then let them do that, but there is nothing wrong with a few vehicle crossings. If people really want the exercise of walking then the Octagon is not a very useful place to do it because it is such a small area to exercise in. Why is it so important for that particular area of town to be a "pedestrian friendly" place? It was never designed for that! There is no need for present use to change and hardly anyone is calling for it.

It'd only be fair to run another trial closure, in the middle of winter, and take those results into consideration too. January- February is when Dunedin weather is at its warmest.... I'd expect the downturn in retail traffic to be much more pronounced during the winter when it's cold and/or wet and/or windy.

Locals don't seem to be important here -just businesses and tourists. No mention of them. A proper trial should be asking the locals what they think. Central City holds the largest population of Dunedin and they pay the rates. Who knows -they might like to wander around a safe and peaceful Octagon without all the road signs etc- just no noise or pollution from vehicles. Shops and bars come and go. Ignore locals at your peril.

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