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Now is the time to revitalise Oamaru’s town centre, North Otago Chamber of Commerce chairman Simon Berry says.

The Chamber of Commerce, in conjunction with the Oamaru Business Collective, presented a proposal to the Waitaki District Council on Tuesday, outlining its ideas to regenerate business in the wake of Covid-19.

It included a relief package to help businesses increase their cash flow, and a push for the proposed changes to the town centre, such as increased green spaces and an architectural revamp of the town’s historic buildings.

“There is a sense of urgency there. We have central government allocating funds and assessing projects,” Mr Berry said.

“This hand has been forced on us.

“We can’t sit on our laurels and think it’s going to go away – we have to adapt to the new normal.”

The council had already made steps to help businesses in the short term, but it was important to make long-term changes, Mr Berry said.

As tourist numbers would be down to the lowest in recent history, it was an opportunity to work towards the changes proposed by the Oamaru Business Collective last year, he said.

Most notably, the proposal included plans to reduce an area of Thames St from four lanes to two and create a town centre with green spaces, seating and areas for relaxation and events.

“We want to make the town centre a place where you come in and spend some time and socialise,” Mr Berry said,

“We saw it as a necessity last year and now is the perfect time to get in and get some funding.

“There is a lot of work to be done in terms of planning and design – we have to get on with it.

“It’s going to involve looking at our assets and how we best adapt them for the future,

Oamaru would be competing with other regional centres in New Zealand for funding, but was in a good position to get its share, he said.

And an increase in economic activity in the town would spill over to other communities in the district, he said.

While a revitalised town centre would help the local tourism industry, it would also make Oamaru a more attractive place to live and work, Mr Berry said.

“We are going to see population relocations with the downturn in tourism- we want to thrive out of this as a community,” he said.

“If we had an injection of 500 to 1000 people to our community, what that would do in terms of economic activity would be very powerful.

“We have a very cost-effective business operating landscape here; we have affordable rents, affordable housing, great education – a lot of attributes which do make us an attractive place to move to.

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, we just have to build on it and make sure people know about it.”