By Bruce Morris
Auckland Council is standing firm on the outcome of the village upgrade, insisting it has delivered what was agreed.
But one of the two councillors representing the Albert-Eden ward has called it “underwhelming” and her colleague on the council governing body agrees it is far from perfect.
They may not see it that way, but the upgrade was pretty much a joint project between the council, its Auckland Transport agency and the Albert Eden Local Board.
After a long battle, the board won the funding for the job from the council. City planners and engineers put together the design, which was then discussed and refined in sessions with all the parties and unveiled to the wider community for its feedback.
After that backwards-and-forwards process, involving workshops, public meetings and amendments, the council awarded the contract and AT took responsibility for delivering the upgrade.
AT takes the view it has delivered what was asked for, despite the traffic issues that have resulted (and the flawed and inadequate signs), which are still being worked on more than three months after the upgrade was declared “open”.
That position led Mt Albert Inc to ask the council if it intended to improve the spartan appearance of the pocket park and widened footpaths, with the sort of improvements outlined on this website … bringing this response from Jenny Larking, of the council’s development programme office:
“We worked closely with the local board to revitalise Mt Albert’s town centre, and believe we have achieved the design which was agreed with the local board after wide community consultation.
“The landscaping, trees and pocket park were all considered as part of that process, and we delivered what was proposed. We are now working with the board to make further improvements to the pocket park.”
Between asking the question and getting a response – and as it became clear AT considered it had no responsibility to upgrade the upgrade – the board took the pragmatic decision to dip into its reserves to cover the costs of extra carpark lighting and landscaping.
So that’s the good news. By Christmas, hopefully, the carparks behind ASB Bank and the tennis club will be more welcoming – and safer – and the pocket park and concrete expanse more appealing.
No promises, though, of an advance in the success of the light phases or an overnight solution to the tortuous progress during the heavier traffic flows.
And no sign of a serious commitment by AT to its project promise: “Mount Albert town centre upgrade will revitalise the heart of one of Auckland’s older suburbs, celebrating its unique character while creating a safe, pleasant, lively environment that locals can enjoy and take pride in.”
The local board has made its feelings known, certainly behind closed doors, and AT is very aware of the community’s anger at the long build that was so damaging to business and the traffic build-ups that have resulted.
But what of our two ward councillors with voting rights on the governing body who, with help, could bring political heat to the officers of AT, a council-owned organisation?
Cathy Casey preferred to keep any comments out of the public arena, saying only that she was “on AT’s case” and demanding answers because the upgrade outcome was far from perfect.
Christine Fletcher was more forthcoming.
The result was “underwhelming”, she said, and that was disappointing given the work she and Dr Casey were involved in to secure the funding.
Asked what she had done to stay in touch with the project and promote a superior finish Mt Albert could be proud of, Ms Fletcher said: “I have endeavoured to extract information from the parties responsible for delivery, particularly where I have received so many complaints over the last 10 months.
“The responses received thus far have been inadequate. The parties have not encouraged involvement from the ward councillors as we did not commission the project.”
Asked what she had to say to suffering businesses, she said: “I have the utmost sympathy for the plight of local businesses. The construction was disruptive and took far longer than was fair, in my opinion.
“Too little consideration was given to mitigation around parking and convenience issues for customers at the commencement of the project. What finally emerged was too little too late… we need to ensure that our local businesses and communities are catered for.”
Ms Fletcher said she appreciated safety had been improved for people walking and cycling within the town centre, and that public transport access would improve.
While public transport “is the way of the future”, allowances for parking needed to be made throughout the transition, particularly for the elderly and those with special needs.
Eartier stories in the series: