Matt Lawrey says he’d like to see upper Trafalgar St closed off for a month. Photo: Brittany Spencer.
Matt Lawrey ahead of this year's local elections. Photo: Brittany Spencer.

Support mixed for ‘summer square’

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An idea to close off traffic to Nelson’s upper Trafalgar St has resurfaced, but this time the proposal is for just one month in the height of summer.

Councillor Matt Lawrey raised the issue at a ‘meet the candidate’ event hosted by the Tahunanui Community Centre last Tuesday.

He says he’d like to see upper Trafalgar St, from Selwyn Pl to Hardy St, closed to vehicles to create a town square for a month over summer. He says bands and other entertainment could set up there to encourage people to relax in the square.

The idea isn’t new but has been opposed by businesses in the past. But Matt says by just doing it for a month may be the comprise that gets it over the line.

“I suspect that having vehicles travelling through the area does benefit businesses, particularly in the middle of winter, but it may actually be a hindrance at the height of the tourist season when the smarter move may be allowing people to take over the space instead.”

Nelson Weekly spoke with most of the business owners on upper Trafalgar St and the response was mixed. The Vic Brew Bar general manager Phil Williams was extremely keen.

“Definitely support it, especially for that time of year. I think it would be fantastic.”

New Zealand Sotheby’s International Realty sales and talent manager Debbie Cooper was also supportive. “I think it is quite a nice idea, it depends on what else goes out there, but certainly we’ve got enough restaurants around to give it a nice buzz.”

Others were mixed, including Cob & Lobster Brasserie director Kymberly Widley, and Harrys owner Harry Morris.

“We’d love to be part of a trial period,” says Kymberly. “We can’t really say whether it’s going to be a positive or a negative thing until we’ve seen it in action. Everyone is quite polarised down here, but without actually seeing it in action we can’t really have an opinion, but we’d support a trial.”

While Harry says he wouldn’t be against the move, he thinks 1903 Square could be used better during the summer and he would oppose the street being blocked permanently.

Other businesses were dead against the idea. Bayleys director Graeme Vining says it could become “too much of a skateboard park” if it was closed off.

“I don’t think it needs to be closed off, we like it the way it is where it is closed off from time to time for events, but being closed off all the time would, like Cuba Mall in Wellington, make it a bit too stagnant at times.”

Fibre Spectrum’s Wilhemina Draijen says when the road is closed off for events people do not come to see them.

“When you visually close something off it becomes just an area for entertaining, it’s great for the cafes but we’ve been here for almost 30 years and by closing it off they are going to squeeze us dry.”

Fords owner Kerry Ford was also against the plan. “Every time the road closes it’s detrimental to our business and we have to send staff home early, it’s a really quiet day when people can’t drive past and see the buzz outside.”

Matt says the mixed reaction from businesses is a step in the right direction.

“I’m encouraged by what you’re telling me because I think ten years ago you’d have the majority of businesses saying it wasn’t a good idea. So I think it’s great that people are open to the idea. If this was something that the council was going to pursue then it would be incumbent on the council to really explain to those businesses what we would be doing in that area to ensure people would be attracted to it.”

He says he’d like to see attractions like a ferris wheel, some outdoor furniture and other entertainment.

“If we were to do it, it would be very important for everyone to understand that it would be a trial and afterwards we would see what worked and what didn’t and see if it was worth trying it again.”

 

Story by Andrew Board & Brittany Spencer