On the 20th April Panuku Development and Auckland Transport rolled out an ‘exciting temporary trial’ on King Street with a focus on making it safer for people to walk around Pukekohe.
The idea? Make King Street one way.
Drivers felt less safe when they were suddenly unable to access King Street from the main Manukau Road roundabout and the general response to the idea was anything but excited. Poor signage and a lack of prior notification saw the trial get off on the wrong foot right from the start.
Part of the plan was widening the footpaths on the sunny side of the street to cater for outdoor dining. To achieve this, two parking bays were surrounded by concrete barriers. Yet the eateries on the shady side of the street miss out on this bonanza. Richard Davison from Panuku isn’t even aware they exist. “All the cafes and restaurants are on one side of the street. We’ll be able to have buskers and flower sellers and coffee outside,” he enthuses on Seven Sharp. On the neglected side of King Street are C3 Factory, Subway, Pukekohe Chinese Takeaway, Pukekohe Bakery, Fresh Sushi and the Goodness Grocer’s café.
But while Richard is busy throwing coins to the buskers, smelling the flowers and sipping a macchiato in the sunshine, some permanent businesses are suffering from a huge loss of income. In the same Seven Sharp piece, one owner reports a 30% reduction in trade, another says their income has halved.
Once it was easy to access that part of the street, now cars can only travel down King Street and leave via the roundabout. Or try to. The absence of traffic turning into the street makes it difficult to safely exit. Locals in the know have started avoiding the area.
Only a few parks have been lost to facilitate the trial, according to Panuku. We are supposed to make better use of the parking in the top floors of the Farmers building, which is frequently empty. If the elevator is working we can then go to the ground floor and walk down to the end of King Street and back again. Yeah, nah.
Inconvenienced shoppers and unhappy retailers are flocking to the local Grapevine page on Facebook where they are encouraged by the Franklin Local Board (FLB) to give feedback on the ‘Have your Say’ page before the 12th June.
Further evidence of public sentiment is a petition to remove the one way on Change.org which has gathered around 2,800 signatures in a couple of weeks.
After avalanche of unfavourable feedback, the local board responded with “Everything being done is driven by what you have told us you want in town.”
So did y’all ask for traffic congestion, tacky painted pavements, concrete blocks and a few less parking spots?
FLB is adamant that the Pukekohe community was consulted between December 2020 and February 2021 in meetings held with a local advisory panel, local businesses and youth.
They say shoppers and residents were among those asked what they would like to see in the area and this helped shape the ideas that were then presented again at another round of meetings. According to them, there was a good level of public interaction.
Unfortunately FLB has not fronted up with any hard data about when and where these meetings took place, the numbers that attended and how many from each of the groups consulted supported these ideas. Requests for this sort of information apparently have to be directed to Panuku.
When a reply came back from Panuku it didn’t support FLB’s version of events. No widespread public consultation was carried out before the trial, they said. Just engagement with businesses, the FLB and key stakeholders. Whomever they might be.
Personally, I find it hard to believe the majority of people turned up and asked for a one way street. Maybe they agreed to outdoor dining and better pedestrian access without realising what they were getting into?
Our councillor Bill Cashmore said the trial needs to keep going so the impact on business can be understood. But is now the best time to use our businesses as guinea pigs for street enhancements? Many are struggling to survive after Covid lockdowns and although the income for council employees may have remained largely unchanged over the last year, many in Pukekohe will be feeling the pinch in the new Covid economy.
One of the stated aims of the project was to make the streets safer for pedestrians. Whoever painted the lines for the carparks didn’t get the memo though. They have allowed parallel parking right up to the edge of the pedestrian crossing near Possum’s statue, which obscures the view of the crossing to oncoming traffic. It also contravenes NZTA’s advice that you must not park “on, or closer than 6 metres to, the approach side of a pedestrian crossing.”
Safer streets also don’t seem to include footpaths, as the slippery pavers hazardous to our elderly residents still remain. But Panuku is here to fix Pukekohe and make it ‘vibrant’. They’re not interested in hearing about our existing problems, that’s the council ‘s job.
Pukekohe is used to determining its own fate. The Franklin County Council came into being in 1912 and the Franklin District council in 1989. But in 2010 when Auckland cast its eyes over our fertile soils and saw space for housing, the axe fell on Pukekohe’s autonomy. The cash from our ratepayers is now funnelled to the Supercity’s coffers.
Even if they have our land and our money, there’s a long way to go before the Supercity has our hearts.
Direct your feedback to: https://akhaveyoursay.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/pukekohe-streets-for-people-2
Anyone unable to set up a login and navigate the Ak Have Your Say page is advised to contact Panuku directly at their website, https://www.panuku.co.nz.
Toni Reid is the author of ‘Our Path Through the Rimu - A History of the Ararimu Community (1867-2017)’. Her family has connections with Pukekohe reaching back to the 1950's.