An artist’s impression of what part of the new Trafalgar St could have looked like with the hybrid option. Photo: Supplied.

City centre upgrade ‘not halted’

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Almost $1m of Waka Kotahi NZTA funding thought lost through Nelson City Council’s decision to slow down its work transforming Trafalgar St may not be wasted after all.

At a council meeting on Thursday, the majority of councillors voted to not bring forward the City Streets for People project to align with receiving the $900,000 it was awarded through the NZTA Innovative Streets fund.

The timeframes were considered too short and councillors were not willing to put the limited staff members working on the project under the pump.

However, mayor Rachel Reese says the money may now be allocated to other Innovative Streets projects in the city.

“They’re [NZTA] looking for opportunities in Nelson to reallocate that funding and there’s been some very positive discussions. I’m not in a position to say any more than that, but we’re very hopeful we’re going to see that investment still made in our region.”

Council sought feedback on four different options for the city centre through their ‘Streets for People’ survey in June.

They included closing Trafalgar St to vehicles, two footpath widening options with reduced parking on Trafalgar, Hardy and Bridge Sts, or doing nothing.

The results were split.

Forty-three per cent of respondents were in favour of retaining the current configuration of footpaths and car parks and 39 per cent in favour of closing Trafalgar St entirely to vehicles.

“The city development team recommended that it paused because of their workloads and they wanted to get the strategic context,” says Rachel.

But she says they have found a way, by putting in some additional resources, to keep the momentum going and bring the timeframe forward.

This means engagement and design will commence this year and delivery and implementation will begin next year, with work to be completed by the end of 2022.

“So, the project has by no means halted, in fact it’s been advanced.”

Council allocated $3.1 million for this work as part of the 2020/21 Annual Plan and an additional $400,000 of operational funding has been provided to advance the Spatial Plan.

A bolder “hybrid” plan trial for Trafalgar St was also denied by council last week, which contained elements of the original options.

NZTA lead advisor for urban mobility Claire Pascoe attended last week’s meeting via Zoom, and said they would “prefer to see something scaled down implemented, rather than it dying altogether.”

Cr Matt Lawrey was the only one to back the hybrid option and took to social media saying the decision echoed last term’s decision not to progress the revitalisation of Church St.

“Making the Trafalgar St concept a reality this financial year would have required some shuffling of workloads, but it was possible.”

Other councillors backed their decisions on social media, too.

Cr Rohan O’Neill-Stevens stated he voted to delay the work because staff “simply don’t have capacity to deliver this work along with everything else they’re doing”.

“I would be down on the ground helping install it tomorrow if I could. If there was an option that would have allowed that, I’d have voted for it in an instant.”

Cr Kate Fulton also said it was a decision about time and staff well-being.

“Sometimes we just have to give people more time and make sure mental health is an absolute priority.”

An email that was allegedly sent to councillors and staff from a retailer about the hybrid model, threatening legal action against the council, was also discussed on social media.

However, Rachel says this didn’t impact decision-making.

“I certainly didn’t feel there were any legal threats from parties and if people felt that was the case, I don’t believe it had any influence in council’s decision-making,” she stated.