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Dunedin’s much-debated main shopping street is a step closer to undergoing significant change after a majority of city councillors supported a design more welcoming to pedestrians.
Dunedin city councillors at the planning and environment committee last night voted 9-5 in favour of pushing ahead with promoting a one-way design, but with the flexibility of converting back to two-way traffic if this did not work out.
The committee withdrew its support for a previous plan that had a strong pedestrian focus, and it also rejected the latest recommendation from council staff — a two-way design with the flexibility to shift to one-way traffic.
The committee approved going ahead with a business case and developing a one-way design, with flexibility.
Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins described it as the best available option to support safety and public amenity, as well as the most likely to attract external funding.
The council should have an ambitious vision for its city centre, he said.
George St should be a destination, not a thoroughfare, he said.
Cr Lee Vandervis said George St could be both a destination and a thoroughfare.
A majority of councillors were favouring the nearest thing to pedestrianisation, but it was still pedestrianisation in disguise, he said.
In cities that had pedestrianised their main streets, such as Norwich and Ipswich, there were strong calls to bring cars back, he said.
Deputy mayor Christine Garey said that her mother was run over in George St and the injuries affected her for the rest of her life.
She urged the council to be bold.
The debate followed passionate contributions in the public forum.
CCS Disability Action co-ordinator Mary O’Brien pushed for a model that was as inclusive as possible and said a narrower lane width would make it easier for people to cross the street.
Generation Zero representative Finn Campbell said people should be the foremost concern in the design of streets.
He wanted a reduction in car usage.
Otago University Students’ Association 2021 president Michaela Waite-Harvey said the association supported a one-way model because it was safer.
She warned councillors against entrenching a car-based environment.
However, Cr Jules Radich said the business community was overwhelmingly in favour of two-way traffic in George St.
Most people who shopped in George St arrived by car, Cr Radich said.
Cr Carmen Houlahan was worried about retailers.
"Businesses already hit by Covid are going to be hit again if we do this," she said.
Cr Chris Staynes said some projects that attracted strong opposition had since gone on to be "loved" — the development of the stadium, for example.
Benefits of the one-way option included improved safety at the five-way intersection with London, Pitt and Frederick Sts.
Cr David Benson-Pope said the status quo was not working and Dunedin deserved a city centre it could be proud of.
"Colleagues, this is public space," he said.
"It doesn’t belong to a few invested loudmouths."
The direction of travel on the proposed one-way street has yet to be determined.