When the public gallery’s near full at a Raglan Community Board meeting it’s a sure-fire sign something people feel passionate about’s up for debate.
Oddly enough, while the David Engwicht workshop which came up with the idea of a town square was on the agenda at Tuesday’s March meeting, board chair Linda Cole pointed out to bemused residents it was not there “as a discussion item”.
That despite reference to the apparent existence of a chief executive’s report and a staff recommendation the elusive report should be received.
But that was no matter – as it turned out – because the town square project got a thorough and lively airing anyway in the public forum preceding the meeting, with those in enthusiastic support of the so-called community-led initiative appearing to hold sway over the critics.
Praise for the project flowed thick and fast at first. The Chamber of Commerce’s Dave Currie said businesses thought the plan was fantastic – also marvelling at the 2000 hits it had received on Facebook – and businesswoman Lisa Thomson labelled the project awesome and “a great opportunity for our town”. Board member Jon Taylor said emergency services were “fine” with the traffic restrictions and that people liked the idea of trying something new downtown.
And so it went until retired board member Barry Ashby mentioned concern that restricting traffic access would create “huge difficulties”.
And then current member Matt Holl chimed in with his belief that any town square needed to be part of a bigger picture that also looked at issues such as whether Cliff Street should become one-way, whether the CBD zone should be expanded and how to deal with parking shortages downtown.
Former board chair Peter Storey agreed any town square “needs to be part of the bigger plan”, and warned that momentum in completing a series of “place making” projects about town would be lost if the very first project was one likely to alienate locals.
He was also concerned the town square plan had not been put out to full consultation.
Colin Hodkinson – husband of the Community House’s Chrissy Hodkinson but speaking as a concerned resident – had the final say, warning that “if the naysayers are always taking precautions nothing will ever happen”.
“Those of us trying to get things going are not all morons … to suggest we don’t do anything until we have a major plan is dumb.”
With the public forum having run about five minutes over time, Linda Cole – who’s known to have raised with council management a raft of concerns over aspects of the project but also to insist she isn’t opposed to a town square – declared the formal meeting open and much of the gallery emptied out.
Meantime David Engwicht is understood to be due back in town in a few weeks to check on progress, which may well depend on how quickly – or if at all – a district council “roading team” is able to sign off the project from an engineering perspective.
Image: View from the upper verandah of the Harbour View Hotel.