Raglan won’t be getting a town square – or anything remotely like it – after the concept met with stiff opposition at a packed, three hour-long public meeting last week.

A plan developed at a town hall workshop attended by about 20 people in February met its end, ironically, in the supper room next door when a 120-strong turnout of locals made it overwhelmingly clear they wanted the heart of downtown Raglan, the Bow Street-Wainui Road T-junction, left as is.

“You want the town square off [the table]?” chairman Wally Hayes, who heads up Waikato District Council’s infrastructure committee, asked the meeting after it had become increasingly clear efforts to clear up misconceptions about the size and scope of the project were getting nowhere.
“Yes” came the resounding rejoinder.

“Right – done,” he said to strong applause.

Meeting-goers appeared happy, however, with plans outlined by “place making” group member Lisa Thomson for two new areas of seating on Bow Street’s centre islands, so long as that initiative and any others to come out of Australian community spaces guru David Engwicht’s workshop went through the Raglan Community Board.

It was also suggested a council representative should be designated to work with the “place making” group.

Much of the anger at last week’s meeting centred on the lack of communication with the community, and local iwi and new community board chairperson Linda Cole were among the strongest critics. She said she emailed council management asking for consultation soon after learning of the town square project “and I do not know why we had to wait 2½ months for it”.

Earlier, she said that never before had an issue divided the [Raglan] community so much, an observation which Waikato District Council general manager strategy and support Tony Whittaker described as incredibly sad. He said the council – which was always criticised for not delivering to the community – had seen what “place making” had achieved in Paihia and Palmerston North and brought David Engwicht out to Raglan in the hope “it might have legs here”.

Wally Hayes described the purpose of the meeting as putting the facts on the table – which included a presentation by traffic engineering consultant Alasdair Gray showing three spaces, outside The Shack, Blacksand and the hotel, could be created for “place making” without disrupting traffic flows – and then seeing if there was “a mandate for going forward or not”.

But try as he did to ensure people got their concerns about the project addressed, supposed questions from the floor frequently turned more into tirades over lack of process and consultation – SuperValue owner Richard Jacobsen reckoned the only consultation was “an ad in the paper” – and why anything needed to change downtown anyway.

There was a strong feeling at the meeting that the “place making” efforts should have focused instead on the area at the bottom of Bow Street around Orca and the jetty, and that Raglan needed to “get close to and embrace the sea”. Former community board chairman Peter Storey also had a lash at the project’s cost to ratepayers, saying he understood $21,000 had already been spent.

It seemed for a while the meeting might drag on towards midnight, but then “place making” group member and Chamber of Commerce president Dave Currie stood up and graciously declared defeat for the project.

“There doesn’t appear any point [in carrying on], we have to say enough is enough,” he said. “A group of volunteers tried to do some good for the town but now we have to stop, pause, have a cup of tea … we’ve had a crack and cocked it up.” He was sorry the project had caused some grief, but it was not intentional and Raglan people had to put more trust in one another.

Raglan ward councillor Clint Baddeley said he was very concerned that people read into concept drawings that what they saw was actually going to happen. He also pointed out the project was “always about the community doing something for itself”.

By that stage the meeting had already voted to terminate the project and it was only through Lisa Thomson’s plea for two areas of seating to go ahead on the Bow Street median strips that any return on the town’s flirtation with “place making” and David Engwicht looks likely in the immediate future. And any future projects will require thinking outside the square.