An artist’s impression of what Bank Lane and Montgomery Square could be. Photo: Heart of Nelson.

Heart of Nelson stops beating?

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In 2009 the then Nelson Mayor Kerry Marshall launched a bold vision for the city. He said that we should not take the CBD for granted.

“We could, and can, make it better,” he said. “Or, by a few thoughtless actions or by neglect, we could make it worse.”

There were examples, he went on, of once thriving city centres that have been allowed to decline.

“That is not going to happen in Nelson.”

Nine years on and many of the same conversations that were happening then are still going on now. Many of the same headaches, concerns and aspirations are also swirling.

Kerry was launching the Heart of Nelson strategy, which was a framework for developing the City Centre and its surrounds over the coming decades.

It cost $150,000 and included 104 initiatives to improve the central city. More than 170 people submitted on the plan. It was to be a community project that everyone had a stake in.

While the council has executed several of the projects identified, particularly around developing networks between the city to the sea. But in the CBD there are plenty more to go.

One of the major priorities cited was developing the eastern edge of Montgomery Sq and Bank Lane into a user-friendly multi-purpose inner-city pocket park.

This was designed specifically for families and young children.

Despite being a “high priority”, the vision went nowhere after commercial property owners Gaire Thompson and John Fitchett won a High Court battle against the project, saying council had not adequately consulted on the project.

An upgrade to Church St was initially suggested under this plan but that was shelved last month after costs escalated. More trees were destined for Trafalgar St, but these were halted after being challenged by business owners who didn’t want car parks being taken away.

There were also aspirations to create a playground close to the CBD. The idea was to create a space where people wanted to be and reflected Nelson’s identity. One was supposed to be put in place at Rutherford Park but that has not happened. This was part of an aim to create at least four attractions, in the Nelson Central City that will actively engage different age groups for at least one and half hours.

Motel owner Paul Rosanowski, who was invited to join the steering group which put initially put together the plan, says even now, nine years later, the Heart of Nelson is still worthy of being followed.

“The strategy was an attempt to have the community and the council to have ownership on how the Heart of Nelson would develop and this has happened in several areas of the city.”

He says it’s important to encourage people to come into the city because they find it interesting, safe, beautiful, a wide assortment of shopping and there are areas to relax and socialise.

He wants council to: “Continue with actions that will enliven the central city.”

But at every turn, even when there is some traction, progress seems to stall.

Paul says an exception is the closing of Trafalgar St was reasonably successful last year for the hospitality businesses in the immediate area.

However, one local bar owner was disappointed that concerns over the Trafalgar St closure were ignored after a meeting at the end of the trial period revealed just how much other businesses were affected by it.

“After summer there was a meeting with council for all business owners not situated at the top of Trafalgar. We all said it hurt us majorly, and the next thing I hear is not only are they doing it again, but for longer.”

He is happy for the businesses that did well during the closure but worries if it stays the same, they will be the only ones left. At the meeting suggestions were made, such as more closing more streets to allow more happening zones in town, but nothing was done.

Spotlight on the CBD is a Nelson Weekly series looking at the central city. Next we look at parking in the city.