Dunedin city councillors voted 9-4 against approving a $2.63 million "high-level" upgrade to Bath St yesterday, instead voting 10-3 for a moderate $1.5m alternative within the existing budget.
In 2017, the council decided to allocate $60m of new capital in its 10-year plan for above-ground transport and amenity work in the city centre.
Council was presented with the option to proceed with the original upgrades, or revise the approach based on the changes in price.
Cr David Benson-Pope said Bath St was unlike any other street in the city centre and had incredible potential.
He wanted to ensure good vehicle access and protect most if not all of the existing parking in the street, in order to facilitate a social and cultural function in the city.
It would be a "missed opportunity" if council neglected to do a good job on the street, he said.
Dunedin Mayor Jules Radich said Bath St was a peripheral street and its main use was backdoor access to a large number of businesses.
"To think that you’re suddenly going to transform it into a retail street is just absolute nonsense."
Council was under significant budgetary constraint and it was not pragmatic or sensible to upgrade the street for something it would not be used for, he said.
Cr Christine Garey urged council to prioritise the disabled community, who had identified Bath St as "exceptionally problematic".
She labelled comments made by other councillors "offensive".
"It’s not about a fancy high-priced finish, it’s about a finish that will work for all people."
There was a possibility to take the project slower to ease the financial burden over time.
Cr Lee Vandervis said the proposed high-level upgrades increased the existing budget by more than a million dollars.
This neglected the changes in financial circumstances since 2017 and labelled expenditure on the street "nothing short of ludicrous".
"There is no reason why we can’t fix a drain in Bath St ... simply tasking a labourer at virtually minimal cost."
"The whole idea that we have to do up the whole street and spend $2.63m of borrowed money essentially to do it, I think is quite frankly ludicrous."
Cr Steve Walker said Bath St would never be a retail area, but had the potential to be a bohemian and bespoke destination people would flock to.
"I think that is a sad day for the future of this city, that was on what I think was a fantastic trajectory towards being one of the funkiest, best places in this land."
In his closing remarks, Cr Benson-Pope said he lamented the lack of vision displayed by councillors about initiatives that were so important to the city.
"No-one comes to Dunedin, or will ever come to Dunedin, because we have the best water disposal system or the best sewer pipes in the land.
"What I’m suggesting here is that we add another little gem to a street that has got such fantastic potential right in the heart of Dunedin."
How they voted
Option to approve a $2.63 million "high-level" upgrade to Bath St
Cr David Benson-Pope
Cr Christine Garey
Cr Mandy Mayhem
Cr Steve Walker
Cr Bill Acklin
Cr Sophie Barker
Cr Kevin Gilbert
Cr Carmen Houlahan
Deputy Mayor Cherry Lucas
Cr Lee Vandervis
Cr Brent Weatherall
Cr Andrew Whiley
Mayor Jules Radich