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Dunedin has currently got one of the best main streets in the country. However, everyone needs to appreciate that services underneath it require upgrading; ageing infrastructure more than 100 years old.
But the question that everyone is asking is "What is George St going to look like?" Most importantly "What do WE want George St to be and how will it function?"
Between February and April 2019, the design principles were shared with various groups and organisations.
Principles presented included: 1, Putting People First 2, Creating an Otepoti Dunedin Sense of Place 3, Greening the City and 4, Streets as Places.
Artist’s impressions, photos of New Zealand streetscapes were shown, and feedback sought.
The Chamber of Commerce consultation session I attended was well received with lots of comments made. My recollection was that most attendees were keen to see what the detailed plans would look like. Key comments were around traffic flow and parking. Everyone at the session was told there’d be future opportunity for engagement.
The report to council’s planning and environment committee (P&E) on April 16 2019, detailed the 1198 submissions: 554 engaged online via an interactive mapping tool, 293 used the DCC Council survey and 351 responded at workshops.
On May 14, 2020, Brent Weatherall and the Central Dunedin Business Group presented the 6000-plus signature petition to "Keep Two-way Traffic on George Street, Dunedin".
Councillors were asked on June 11, 2019, to endorse the preliminary concepts for the George Street-Central City Plan project. If that was endorsed, staff would progress the design, including further traffic modelling, baseline data collection and an Activity Plan. The project would continue as an integrated and collaborative initiative across council and [consultant to councils] Aukaha.
The report included basic mapping, traffic flow indications and some sketches "George Street Typologies". I noted the report had limited mention of how traffic flow in streets around the CBD would be influenced and about parking.
The report was deemed a "concept design". Like many, I anticipated this would lead to more developed design(s) including technical details, to be presented to councillors and stakeholders. The Activity Plan would be used to engage the community on how the space would work. Feedback would be sought, received, and then reviewed.
At council May 25, 2020 under "Next Steps", it was stated that using the preliminary design work and baseline studies completed since the June 2019 P&E meeting, staff will continue with stakeholder and community engagement. Feedback from engagement would be used to inform the Detailed Design and Detailed Business Case. The "Proposed Design" had graphics showing businesses and the street flow. It stated "Staff will continue with investigations, Detailed Design and traffic modelling work". Meanwhile, this was the first time many could see how George St ‘might’ look.
A council motion proposed: a) Notes the reports and other documents on this matter. b) Endorses the continuation of the George Street Retail Quarter section of the Central City Plan and c) Reconstitutes a Central City Advisory Group to provide feedback throughout the detailed design and business case stages of these proposals. d) Request staff report to the June 8 2020 Council meeting as to the suggested composition of the Central City Advisory Group and the Terms of Reference. I, along with three other councillors voted against this motion. My reasoning: I believed there needed to be greater engagement with those affected in George St.
On June 8, a council motion was tabled for the Central City Advisory Group and Terms of Reference (TOR). The council paper stated its TOR was to provide stakeholder feedback on the George St part of the Central City Plan. For this to happen, it’s vital to have all the right stakeholders at the table.
I don’t believe the membership of the Central City Advisory Group, as it was detailed in the council paper, truly reflects the appropriate mix of stakeholders. Both OUSA and Otago Polytechnic Student bodies were not included and surprisingly, the DCC’s own Youth Council was not asked to participate, yet [youth-led climate organisation] Generation Zero was included. No retailers were listed; only The Retail Subcommittee Chair of the Chamber of Commerce and a member of "Heart of Dunedin". None of the property owners in George St were included and the Automobile Association (AA) was there supposedly to represent ALL transport operators (including taxis, trucking and courier companies). I noted that Emergency Services was excluded as was DCC’s own chair of Economic Development.
Council presenters included former councillor and experienced retailer, Richard Thomson; representatives from Generation Zero; Dougal McGowan, CEO Chamber of Commerce; Malcolm Budd (AA representative) all wanting to be engaged. Susie Staley and Tony Clear provided clear messaging "if you are affected by the change you should be consulted". Include people in the process and be transparent and inclusive. Everyone wants a successful business, retail and hospitality area.
Design expert, Skye Duncan, director of the Global Designing Cities Initiative, commented that it was important to "get the details right and refine design". Chris Wilkinson, managing director of First Retail Group, stated the importance of bringing all the stakeholders together, referencing Wellington’s "Our CBD" project; include everyone and hear their views.
We may not agree at council on how we believe George St should function and look.
But we all agree that the work needs to be done, and for me, community engagement is key. However, most importantly we want an outcome which maintains George St as the best "main street" in the country. Let’s ensure this is our result.