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A council staff proposal to reform the advisory group for the project to turn Dunedin’s downtown thoroughfare into a more pedestrian-focused destination was rejected after councillors voted 10-5 against the mayor and his deputy.
The decision will delay debate on the group’s membership and its terms of reference.
“I think this whole discussion speaks to the way things get done here,” Cr Jules Radich said at Monday’s council meeting.
“Many, many submitters at our annual plan submissions commented on the need for co-design, or co-creation — or participation — in our democracy.
‘‘I’d like to see democracy that is seen to be done.
‘‘Having the councillors have some say, or some discussion of the terms of reference of this group and the membership of this group, I think, is vitally important if our citizens are to see democracy in action. And many, many of them have raised concerns about the situation that we find ourselves in now.
‘‘As you know, social media is rife with dissent about the way things have gone and similarly letters to the newspaper are very regularly not in favour of what has gone on.
“I think it’s important that we approach this a lot more seriously, because this is a critically important matter on which we are spending an awful lot of money. It is very important that everyone in the community comes with us. And it’s a relatively straightforward process to achieve that.”
As part of a planned $60million upgrade of the central city, the car-oriented thoroughfare is to be reformed to provide for 75% pedestrians and public space and 25% vehicles.
The proposal has prompted a retailer-led petition attracting more than 6000 signatures opposing the council’s plans.
At a council meeting on May 25, when considering an update on the George St upgrade, councillors decided 10-4 to reconstitute a “Central City Advisory Group” to have input into the design work.
But on Monday, councillors rejected the staff proposal for the group, as many said they wanted more input themselves into the group’s makeup and the scope of its influence into the process.
“I think when we talk about participatory democracy, we’ve got to be careful about how we make these groups up,” Cr Jim O’Malley said.
Cr Chris Staynes said he believed the terms of reference for the group as proposed by council staff were ‘‘only going to produce greater anger amongst the retailers”.
“If you look at the list of people represented, retailers’ representation is by far the minority and I accept that we want to get a cross-section of our community, but I think the initial reaction if we were to go ahead with this at this stage would be a very negative one again — and I think we need to think this out a little bit more,” he said.
Mayor Aaron Hawkins said he found it “remarkable” that councillors wanted to defer a public debate this week on the terms of reference and membership of the group.
He also questioned the “calibre of debate” that would follow a non-public workshop his colleagues called for to ensure staff had got the basics of the group’s membership and terms of reference right.
The work to progress plans for George St would not stop while the group was formed, he said.
“It’s not going to filibuster the George St work.”
Mr Hawkins and Crs David Benson-Pope, Christine Garey, Marie Laufiso, and Steve Walker voted against the delay.
The council will revisit the issue of the formation of the group on June 30.