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Hurstmere Rd works delay dubbed ‘catastrophic’

Flagstaff Team

Mixed views… Leaf & Loaf’s Stuart Wright (left) can’t understand why the council isn’t pushing ahead; Scott Donovan, who owns Life for Men, believes taking a break during the America’s Cup makes sense

Further delays to the disruptive upgrade of Hurstmere Rd have been lashed by the Takapuna Beach Business Association and prospective North Shore MP Simon Watts.

Retailers were left reeling when Auckland Council decided to put the Covid-19 interrupted project on hold again.

“That’s idiotic, it’s catastrophic,” Watts told a public election candidates meeting in Milford last week.

Terence Harpur, chief executive of the business association, said while the upgrade would eventually be absolutely fantastic, it was “very disappointing that Auckland Council is not continuing with its original timeline and [is] taking a very long break from construction from December 2020 to May 2021.”

He is seeking to pursue the matter further with senior council officials.

“We are concerned for the financial wellbeing of our members and presentation of Takapuna,” said Harpur.

Watts said retailers along Takapuna’s main shopping street were being strangled. “These delays are unacceptable.”

North Shore councillor Richard Hills – who fought to keep the project alive when Covid-19 forced council budget cuts of $500 million – said the latest decision was “the best of a bad situation”.

He was disappointed by the delay, but by setting back some of the work, $6 million of the around $14 million cost had been pushed into the next financial year. This move meant the project could be completed a few months later, by late 2021, when others across the city were being cancelled, he said.

Shops have faced months of noisy road works, impeded access to their stores and loss of customers since work began five weeks later than planned in April. The road was made a one- way route with fewer parking spaces, to allow for more pedestrian-friendly spaces.

A number of store owners and managers told the Observer that just as they were seeing the light at the end of the tunnel in a very tough year it had been snuffed out. Some fear that with the council’s budget constraints, there is no guarantee that the work will restart next year.

Hills said: “We’ve got the whole budget saved, definitely.”

One store owner said his response to the delay was unprintable. Another said she might shut up shop in favour of trading online.

Others wanted to hang on, having gone through so much already this year and believing the upgrade would eventually produce a better environment.

Improved paving and pedestrian and seating areas at the Lake Rd and Anzac St ends of the Hurstmere Rd shopping strip were recently completed.

By December, the middle section – improving the connection between the beach across to the planned new Takapuna Square – is meant to be finished. That leaves the bits in between to landscape and pave, with some additional stormwater installation when the project resumes mid next year.

In the meantime, Takapuna will have a Christmas season with disjointed sections along its main shopping strip that will still remain in February-March when it plays host to America’s Cup crowds.

While eateries hope the Cup will bring in welcome extra casual business, other retailers say they rely on regulars, some of whom have already switched to shopping elsewhere.

With lease signs already proliferating along Hurstmere Rd, retailers say hopes of attracting new permanent tenants will be dashed by news that the works will long be a work in progress.

Leaf & Loaf owner Stuart Wright said he understood contractors would fix up the road as best they could before signing off for the year, but there would be gaps. “We’re still going to see orange bollards.”

Hills said he had asked for the whole stretch of road to be made to be completely walkable and as attractive as possible.

Wright, who has owned his eatery with wife Jacqui for 11 years, said he would hang in, but he predicted more empty shops.

Scott Donovan who has run Life for Men on the street for 18 years is more positive than most. He has noticed a strong pickup in his sales since the second lockdown. People were walking the street again, which was no longer manic with cars, he said. “People are very chilled, enjoying the experience.”

Donovan believes that Takapuna will benefit from an “amazing” upgrade. Work had been progressing well, especially considering its scope, he said. (This includes rainwater gardens and stormwater replacement to improve water quality flowing to the beaches.)

“I certainly understand why the delay is there and why they [the council] want to push it out with that budget.” Taking a break while the Cup was on also made sense, he said.

But Wright says he cannot understand why the council isn’t getting on with the job. “To me it’s a little bit of pain now for the gain later – when it’s finished it’s going to be fantastic.” He was not alone in telling the Observer that January would be a good time to be pushing on with the work when trading was quieter.

Wright is also bemused why the council has allowed a Sunday food truck market to set up further along Hurstmere Rd. “Why?” Sunday had been his busiest trading day, but not over the last few weekends, he said. Local businesses needed support now, not outside competition.

Thai Takapuna manager Luis Respall says his lunchtime trade is now “rubbish”. Diners were deterred from visiting the long-established restaurant by heavy equipment operating just outside the front door in the middle of the day. As to the works delay, he says: “I try not to think about it much, otherwise I get very, very upset.”

It was clear from the decision-making, said Respall, that “the council doesn’t trade on the street.”

The head chef at Tucks and Bao, Elliott Carran said takeaway and delivery services had been hit. Drivers didn’t want to venture into central Takapuna for pick-ups. But long-term the upgrade would be good for attracting tourists up from the beach, he added.

Franca Logan, who owns Florienne, said customers had told her they were avoiding coming to Takapuna until parking was sorted. Luckily, she had many who continued to order flowers, but even preparing deliveries was tricky as her store had no back access and out front was a mess. Dust, noise and wind from trees having been removed were all daily problems. She was seriously considering her future.

“I find it absolutely ridiculous. They were getting on with it, but with stopping it adds another year.

“We’re the ones that stuck around and now this,” said Logan.

This article originally appeared in the 30 October 2020 edition of the Rangitoto Observer.

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