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City Council loses injunction to halt Newtown cycleway works

Update: Wellington Council has lost Newtown cycleway injunction case, meaning all current work must be halted until September.

Newtown Grocer operator Urmila Bhana speaks to us about the lack of consultation from the City Council regarding the new Riddiford Street cycle lane.

A brand new cycleway running from Newtown to Oriental Bay was proposed by Council as part of Lets Get Wellington Moving in late February of this year. Fast forwarding to mid-April, Riddiford Street businesses saw construction begin and over 150 car parks removed, although with zero consultation, engagement, and communication in the interim.

Image: Monique Ford

The predominant issue, it seems, lies with the consultancy process. Here we introduce Consultant A – the main man behind letting the businesses along Riddiford Street know about the upcoming construction and engage with them over any concerns. Consultant A claims that 150 businesses were communicated with and made aware of the soon-to-be cycle lane, but Urmila Bhana of Newtown Grocers argues that this was simply not the case – “We only found out that these roadworks were going to occur when we saw gentlemen standing outside our shop.” After a few moments of confusion and a fury of phone calls later, Urmila realised that she and her business were not alone. “I’ve got 45 signed survey sheets stating quite clearly that they were not consulted.”

For a project with the capacity to have such significant consequences on the businesses involved, it is not surprising to see outrage ensue. Businesses rely heavily on car parks to bring in ‘on the go’ customers, which make up a large percentage of their overall customers. Urmila, along with other Riddiford Street businesses, is looking grimly to the future, “Let’s face it, these businesses didn’t go down in a pandemic, but what’s ironic is City Council is going to shut them down.”

Former Green Party chief of staff and mayoral candidate Tory Whanau had no excuse – “In regards to the businesses who have been impacted by this, it would seem that they weren’t consulted properly, so I do have some concerns around that.” So how did the city council manage to fail these businesses so extravagantly? It is clear to see that there have been some issues around both transparency and thoroughness. 

In response to the situation, Bhana, along with other Riddiford Street businesses began a petition to halt construction until a sufficient consultancy process had been undergone. Reaching 1200 signatures, councillors Diana Calvert and Simon Woolfe then presented this to a city council meeting but were ultimately shut down and voted against 10 to 4, with the reasoning being that pausing construction would not change the fact that the cycleway would be going ahead as planned anyway.

 

The entire situation has become a shining example of the distance between the city council and the people of Wellington, with some businesses describing it as a lack of democracy. When asked if she felt listened to, Urmila Bhana responded with a simple but firm “Absolutely not.” As of now, there have been no compromises made or solutions put in place to heal the wound that businesses are currently suffering from. In regards to alternative parking, Whanau responded “We’re certainly looking at that, as part of our wider campaign policy platform, we’re very much going to be looking at that area as well, and I’ll be making that public on June the 30th.” As of now, however, businesses have received nothing, and are certainly paying the price.

“Everyone in our community deserves safe streets. Cycle Wellington does not endorse boycotts of any business,” said CW spokesperson Patrick Morgan. “Everyone is entitled to express their view. Our preference is to engage constructively with the community.