As voting opens, Skara Bohny looks into some of the big issues facing Nelson. Today she looks at moves to revive the central business district.
A vibrant and liveable Nelson city centre will be a priority for the incoming council.
It’s one of the key priorities in the Nelson City Council’s long-term plan and has seen the appointment of Alan Gray, a landscape architect and urban designer whose CV includes 10 years working on Auckland’s waterfront.
Gray has spent the past year in Nelson developing the City Centre Programme Plan, a document recently adopted by the council.
Under the new plan, the city centre development will be focused under six key objectives to attract more events to the city, develop more third spaces – places where people can spend time and connect with each other – and increase the liveability of the city-centre, including improving walkability and increased centre-city housing options.
* Big issues: Nelson’s patchy track record on transport
* Big issues: Nelson’s track record on environment
* Concern and enthusiasm meets permanent closure proposal for Trafalgar St
Early indications of this city centre activation can already be seen, in August’s 4 Lane Festival and the beginning of the Make/Shift Spaces programme.
Craig Taylor, owner of Taylors We Love Shoes, said he was pleased with Gray’s appointment because it showed the council was taking centre-city development seriously, something which he said had been neglected in recent years.
“They’ve recognised that it’s a serious need, I’m quite excited about that.
“I’ve experienced disappointment for some time that the council has neglected the way the city looks. It’s been a long time since they spent any thought or money on how it’s presented: it’s lacking modern street-scape, it’s often dirty, and things like the trees they’ve let get out of control.”
Taylor said the city “needs some beautification” and that it was “urgent”.
“It needs a quick fix because you can’t leave it like that for five years.”
He also was concerned that the closure of upper Trafalgar St be done well, with serious thought given to activating the space during winter.
“For it to be successful, and I hope it will be, they need more activities in winter time.
“In winter time you won’t have people sitting around enjoying the sun as you do in summer, in winter it’s going to be dark and wet; they can’t just close the street and expect it to be a success, you have to do something there.”
Landlord Gaire Thompson echoed that concern, saying he was “disappointed” with the permanent closure because in winter “it’s a different ballgame to summer”.
“It’s winter tourism that they need to work on … I just think generally people is what you need.”
Thompson said retail was increasingly difficult, not just in Nelson but everywhere in New Zealand.
He believed reducing commercial rates would help to retain shops and by extension the vitality of the city.
“The commercial rates in the inner city have been far too high for far too long, though they’ve had some efforts to reduce it recently it’s not enough … being in retail this days isn’t easy and it would be good if they’d realise that.”
Thompson along with hospitality provider Nick Widley, who owns restaurant Cod & Lobster on upper Trafalgar St and bar Kismet on Hardy St, both had concerns about parking in the city.
Thompson said the inner city hour free parking was good and “any thought of reducing car parking needs to be chucked away”.
“Nelson’s a provincial town that relies on its cars. It’s not buses that take you everywhere and the timetables don’t suit everyone. To be realistic, the public transport can’t be expected to cater for a place like Nelson.”
Widley agreed that offering parking was a good move, but the one-hour limit “doesn’t do anyone any good”. He approved of the council’s move to encourage more inner-city living.
“If I have anyone waiting for lunch for even 15 minutes they start worrying about moving their car, and that impacts their experience. You can’t drop in, do a bit of shopping and stop for lunch without worrying about your car.
“With inner-city living you step away from needing a car, you end up relying on public transport more. We’ve just moved into town and we hardly use our car because we’re walking everywhere.”
He said he thought the city was “looking better than it has in years”, and he was interested to see what the permanent Trafalgar St closure would bring.
“The only thing we’ve done is the two temporary closures over summer, and they set a budget for it … the example would be the chairs and tables, they had set a budget of about $14,000 and you could tell with Mitre 10 furniture.
“My biggest concern is that the communal spaces aren’t going to be comfortable and sturdy enough.”
The first permanent closure of Trafalgar St will look very similar to the summer closures, while the council plans a more permanent use of the space.
Widley said the closure of Trafalgar St could be the basis of a more wide-spread activation of the city centre.
“If it’s done well, it doesn’t matter where it is, whether it’s Trafalgar or Hardy St, it will bring people into town which will benefit everyone … We can’t just do it all overnight. If we closed the whole town and it didn’t work, it’s a lot to claw back, so you have to do it in pockets.”