Street fight: roading rage in a simmering South

Gore District Council roading manager Peter Standring rescues plants that were buried in soil...
Gore District Council roading manager Peter Standring rescues plants that were buried in soil when a planter pot was overturned on the corner of Ardwick and Preston Sts last month in one of the many acts of vandalism targeted at the council’s Streets Alive project.PHOTO: SANDY EGGLESTON
Six weeks.

That is how long Gore District Council has left to make peace with residents upset over a roading project in their small Southland town.

Discontent has bubbled over following the rollout of a Streets Alive project two months ago. Street-calming planter boxes have been repeatedly vandalised, more than 1000 people had signed a petition and a council meeting this week burst at the seams with vocal locals.

The $1million roading project aims to make Gore’s streets both safer and more accessible.

But locals have been loud about perceived flaws, arguing it’s done anything but.

At a council meeting on Tuesday, Christopher Scoles presented a 1000-strong petition calling for changes to a number of the installations.

Roading asset manager Peter Standring said he was not surprised by the backlash.

“It’s a relatively conservative agricultural serviced town, so change is always difficult. But change is difficult anywhere.

“I just hoped people would try grasp a really good understanding of what we’re trying to do before making comment.”

The goal; a project that encapsulates six themes agreed on following community workshops in 2020.

Those include creative street spaces, easing congestion, and enhancing safety.

Mr Standring believed the council had ticked “pretty much all of the boxes”, but said people only piped up when installations directly affected them.

His team had put a lot of effort into communicating what to expect and NZ Transport Agency (NZTA; the main project funder) were “bowled over” by the lengths they had gone to, he said.

One of the dissenting voices, petition presenter Christopher Scoles, described some of the decisions made as “ridiculous”.

Mr Scoles had lived in Gore his whole life and said closing off some of the streets had negatively impacted on business.

That included his own — a dairy on the corner of Anzac St and Robertson St.

“Eccles St and Brown St are the two main arteries for our town. Shutting them off was absolutely ridiculous,” he said.

“I’m in the know with what's going on around the town.”

Along with Rosemary Heath, he had rallied a strong contingent of residents who did not agree with the majority of changes.

Petition organiser Mrs Heath was pleased with how feedback was received at Tuesday’s council meeting, even though she claims petition documents containing over 200 signatures were stolen from two Gore shops.

“There were a few councillors that got behind us. I normally keep my nose out of stuff like this, but people were getting stressed out and it was affecting people’s health. The council needs to wake up,” she said.

She was happy with some aspects of the rollout such as murals and “some of the roundabouts”, but scathing overall.

“We’re a rural farming town and they’re trying to citify us. Gore’s too small for all this s... .”

Mrs Heath did not condone the vandalism of planter boxes (400 had appeared at strategic places to slow traffic down), but said people were “getting frustrated”.

If Tuesday’s council meeting was anything to go by, she was not wrong.

The large crowd was not afraid to cheer and mutter over councillor comments throughout the course of the evening.

Mayor Tracy Hicks thanked the petitioners for their effort and said the council took seriously what they had to say.

“What it’s shown me is the community is proud of how this town is presented. It’s definitely not going to stay the same as it is. Thank you for the petition.”

Cr Cliff Bolger was not afraid to stir the pot, saying he “generally wasn’t a big fan of petitions”.

He also wanted to remind those present that council had a responsibility to engage with NZTA on the trial because they were a major funding partner to the rest of the roading network.

“I've had a lot of people accost me and say they’re not happy with this. It is a trial, it’s not cast in stone. You’re not going to wake up and find everything is permanent.”

Cr Doug Grant said he had a lot of people come into his shop to talk about the petition and felt the council could have communicated better about the installation and changes.

Deputy mayor Bronwyn Reid did not support that view.

“We spent a lot of time communicating, but it’s the same old story; people only get involved when it affects them.”

She said it was disappointing to see the work of council staff abused, referring to the colourful planter boxes which had been vandalised and tipped over.

McElrea Consulting director Rebecca McElrea presented the results of an independent survey she conducted between April 7-16.

McElrea said there had been 742 responses and one of the main concerns was the size of new roundabouts and lack of signage.

The $1million project received 90% of its funding from NZTA.

NZTA manager of urban mobility Kathryn King said she was aware of the mixed feedback on the Streets Alive pilot.

“The Innovating Streets programme is all about trialling and testing new ways of doing things while working with communities to help create safer places to live and enjoy,” she said.

“As with any change project, views are mixed.”

- By Matthew Rosenburg, Local Democracy Reporter

Comments

Peter Standring came from Dunedin so he is aware that there was a backlash in Mosgiel and that Jules Radich is the champion for dissatisfaction with Dunedin Roading plans.
Rural NZ has had massive change forced on it since 1984 so this is nothing new.
The plans were formulated by a mostly anonymous team after consultation with a microscopic number of selected residents at community workshops.
People have commented after having a good understanding of what was trying to be achieved,through looking at it and deciding they didn't like it.
Of course people are only going to pipe up when it affects them.
Why should they comment if it doesn't affect them.
Chris Coles represents the ordinary person who was not on the mystery consultation committee.
He & his wife own a small business & he manages a local tavern for the MLT.
Conservatives have never liked protests & demonstrations,but contrary to comments from council,if the people had not stood up,it all would have been permanant.
Council did not need to apply to be part of the trial.
They could have adopted the correct view that it was not required for a small country town like Gore.

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