Tani Newton

A near-continuous chorus of toots, cheers and waves greeted a gathering in central Gisborne last Wednesday. About 70 people met in Grey Street, holding signs, shouting messages and chalking on footpaths, to protest the controversial ‘upgrade’ of two blocks in the busy CBD.

The project is being carried out by a non-profit group, Tairawhiti Adventure Trust, in partnership with the Gisborne District Council. It was originally expected to cost $300,000 and was to be fully funded by Waka Kotahi through their Streets for People programme. However, the budget has blown out to $900,000 with more work still to be done and 10 per cent of the cost now falling on the GDC. 

Local business owners are saying that they were not consulted and that the added congestion is impacting their businesses, with parking spaces reduced and trucks barely able to manoeuvre through the morass of cones, speed humps and other obstructions. The alterations to the road layout are of a temporary nature and are intended to be a trial, with the mayor and council urging residents to “give it a go”. 

But, if Wednesday’s event is anything to go by, the community is reluctant to co-operate. Many expressed anger at funds being used for extravagant street art projects when rural roads are barely useable. Others stressed that the street had been fine the way it was and that they just wanted it put back. While the project is supposed to make the area around the popular skate park safer for pedestrians and cyclists, one man in the crowd said that he had lived in Gisborne for 45 years and had never heard of a traffic accident in Grey Street. Locals expostulate that the new street layout is ‘an accident waiting to happen’, but if the street is returned to the way it was, the entire cost of that will be borne by the GDC.

The Tairawhiti Adventure Trust have proven their ability in the past, having planned and secured funding for Gisborne’s high-quality skate park and pump track, and continue to promote action sports and outdoor activities in the district. Their Grey Street ‘upgrade’ is likely to win them considerably less approbation from the community. Touted by Mayor Rehette Stoltz as a project to make the area more “people-friendly” and “vibrant” – terms identical to those used on the Waka Kotahi website – with a year-long trial period, it is meeting stiff opposition from a population already exasperated by deteriorating road surfaces, inadequate drainage, poor river management and the heavy impact of forestry and logging on the local environment. 

At a recent council meeting, one councillor recounted being verbally abused over the project, while another expressed disdain for residents’ complaints and argued that the project is “a very small step” towards achieving “bigger picture goals…particularly around our carbon footprint”. 

Given that the trust’s priority goals include “decarbonising our economy” and Streets for People’s aim to “support better travel choices” to “speed up our response to the climate emergency”, there may well be more to worry about than a few annoying speed humps.

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