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After a 9-4 vote yesterday, the council’s planning and environment committee approved temporary measures designed to slow traffic in the city centre.
They include lowering the speed limit in George St to 10kmh to promote physical distancing under Covid-19 Alert Level 2 - the idea being pedestrians could step on to the road if they needed to avoid others - and to encourage people to come back to the city centre to support businesses emerging from lockdown.
The "Safer CBD Streets - Covid-19 response" plan had divided opinions, but the transport-driven public health response allowed for a decision between two different "worst-case scenarios", Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins said.
"There are far greater forces at play in terms of what makes a business viable in an environment than what we are doing here," he said after the meeting.
"If you have to choose between people dying and people being made redundant, that doesn’t seem like a difficult choice for me."
While the council’s plan includes the temporary 10kmh speed limit in George and Princes Sts, the installation of temporary speed bumps, and increasing the frequency of Barnes dance crossings, one of the contentious aspects of the plan among opponents was called "pedestrianisation by stealth".
Cr Lee Vandervis said the council had done nothing for the past two months to help businesses - but now, with an opportunity to continue with the type of planning that led to the George St one-way proposal and the recent Octagon trial closure, the council "very suddenly" decided to do something.
It was ultimately "window dressing" and a $40,000 experiment where the councillors’ vote amounted to "retrospective rubber stamping" of a plan already in progress, he said.
"As far as pedestrianisation by stealth - we have a long history of it already," he said.
"There’s a lot of ‘governance’ happening that’s not inclusive of councillors and you’re starting to see some councillors finally actually buck up about that, despite the enormous pressures against them, despite the ringing around that has been absolutely intense on this issue to try and get councillors to make sure that this thing went through.
"It’s not democratic, either - ringing people repeatedly to make sure they vote a certain way on an issue like this is hardly in the interests of democracy, is it?"
Jeweller Brent Weatherall, who presented a petition with 6000-plus signatures on Thursday against a previously proposed one-way traffic flow change in George St, said yesterday he watched pedestrian in the street acting "very compliantly" with respect to social distancing without any added measures.
He said he did not have faith in the claim the measures were a public health response.
"All it is is just disgraceful - it’s just a strategic stealth action by the council to implement their desire of fully pedestrianising the centre of Dunedin," he said.
"I’m not buying it one bit."
AA Otago District Council chairman Malcolm Budd called the decision "unbelievable".
"There’s been no modelling done on it, there’s been no consultation," he said.
Otago Chamber of Commerce chief executive Dougal McGowan said it was important for the council to get alongside businesses and ensure it knew what the plan meant for them.
"There needs to be a really strong engagement," Mr McGowan said.
"Nobody else has the full details ... They need to be out there making sure those people aren’t worried because there’s enough stress and anxiety at this time already."
Before the vote, Mr Hawkins urged other councillors to recognise "criticism is inevitable" about whatever action the council took.
"This work that we’re doing ... is entirely a public health response, that allows people to return to the city centre confident that they can do that safely," he said later.
"What we eventually do with George St is a separate discussion. But insofar as council is committed to making our central city more people-friendly, there will quite possibly be overlaps between the kinds of things that you see coming out of the George St work and the kind of things we are seeing as a response to the Covid-19 situation.
"Because council has committed to a set of principles and how we manage urban design in our city centre, it seems likely that the eventual outcome of the George St work or any of the central city plan work will support a more people-friendly street."
Cr Jules Radich, as a property owner in George St, tried for a second straight day to delay the decision as he awaited advice from the auditor-general on participating in the vote.
After the vote, he said the original proposal in the agenda had been "diluted thanks to those councillors that pushed back". Car parking would be retained and fewer speed bumps would be installed.
"I don’t want to bag that main street because my fear - just as all the retailers fear - is that people will then stay away ... There has been nothing done to attract people to the main street other than to say that we’re going to make it better for pedestrians."