Tactical urbanism on agenda

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Before a plan to revitalise lower Thames St goes any further, it will have to be discussed at a closed-door councillor workshop, Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher says.

Last month, the Waitaki District Council received $100,000 from the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA), as one of 40 successful applicants to the $13.95million Innovating Streets pilot fund to make streets in New Zealand more people-friendly, using tactical urbanism.

Tactical urbanism is the use of non-permanent features, such as planters, art installations and artificial grass, to create a community space from excess road space.

The council’s application involved making the western side of lower Thames St, now a two-lane, one-way road, into a two-way road. The eastern side would be closed to traffic and become a public pedestrianised space.

The council workshop was yet to be scheduled, but Mr Kircher said it needed to be “dealt with soon”.

“We don’t want it hanging on, but we are also dealing with a lot of fairly major things in the background.”

Some “lines in the sand” would have to be drawn when the plans were discussed, he said.

“That means keeping car parks, keeping good access to the bank, the gallery, Steam cafe, and the information centre.

“We don’t want to do it just for the sake of doing it. We want to end up with something that is better than what we have now.

“I totally acknowledge a lot of people think there is nothing wrong with what we have got now, but if we can make it better .. we have the opportunity to test those things out.”

The major physical work needed was the installation of barrier arms at the railway tracks, which the NZTA funding would cover.

There had been significant interest in the project, and Mr Kircher said the public would be kept informed as it developed.

“A big part of consultation is actually doing the trial and getting a reaction from people and actually seeing it on the ground and experiencing it.”

Calls for change to lower Thames St have become louder in recent years, most notably after Oamaru Business Collective founder Annabel Berry presented ideas for a green space outside the council building at a meeting of local business representatives last year.

A design for a plaza area in front of the former i-Site building had also been presented to the council about 18 months ago by local landscape designer Linda Wilson and Dr Greg Clydesdale, a senior lecturer at Lincoln University, had been lobbying the council for a town square, including making submissions on long-term plans, since 2005.

Council staff had also produced a short video of possible modifications to lower Thames St from the Oamaru Opera House to Itchen St for councillors about 18 months ago.

The designs presented by council staff, Mrs Wilson, Mrs Berry and Dr Clydesdale all had “similar themes”, Mr Kircher said.