The business association’s Darlline Leng says village operators are angry AT’s commitment to a stylish upgrade has not been honoured
Turnover at many Mt Albert village shops continues to be down by around 50 per cent as the effects of the upgrade bites, bringing some businesses close to collapse.
Hopes that the 13-month-long build would be worth the commercial pain, lifting the village strip and luring locals back with a smarter layout, are being crushed.
The project-build put serious pressure on most businesses and nothing has improved in the three months since the upgrade was officially “opened”.
An aesthetically-bleak concrete expanse, empty wide footpaths, traffic backlogs and lack of parking – perhaps mixed up in usual tough winter trading – are being blamed for pushing a number of operators to the edge.
A survey by the Mt Albert Business Association (MABA) of all village outlets unearthed a stream of concerns and the strong belief that the upgrade has failed to deliver what was promised.
Businesses feel they have been duped and are angry that AT’s initial commitment to an impressive and stylish upgrade has not been honoured, says Catherine Goodwin, the MABA chair.
The association’s communications co-ordinator, Dalline Leng, spoke in the late afternoon to one business owner who revealed his total takings that day were $10.
Others were also not even covering their rent, calling instead on family to keep their businesses alive in the hope that things will get better.
“There is an intense sense of frustration within the business community,” Ms Leng says. “There are tenants who are barely surviving, as sales have not been meeting the cost of running a business, at even the most basic level of rent, power, and wages.
“Most have resorted to working long hours as they can’t afford extra staff… To observe this sense of despair is deeply upsetting.”
Ms Leng and Ms Goodwin worry that the town centre may now be facing an even more serious, secondary downturn. Their fear is that as more businesses leave, no new ones will pop up in their place.
Business owners did all they could to stay optimistic as they were swamped by the construction phase, and loyal clients were driven away. They hoped customers would return, joined by others who had earlier abandoned the run-down, decaying centre, but that hasn’t happened.
With St Luke’s planned expansion, the upgrade was intended to lift the ageing town centre, giving Mt Albert “one last chance” to re-establish itself as a worthy alternative to mega-mall shopping.
But, says the business association, the upgrade as it stands is a failure.
“There are just so many unresolved issues, and despite sustained efforts to speak constructively with Auckland Transport and/or their project managers, the overwhelming feeling now is one of disappointment and dissension from both the business association and the Mt Albert Residents’ Association (MARA),” says Ms Leng.
“The word ‘consultation’ now feels disingenuous, and those who supported the project with enthusiasm feel cheated.
“What did they get in the end after all of this? Sidewalks much larger than wanted or needed, reduced parallel parking spots that are unsafe and hold up traffic, a ‘pocket park’ which doesn’t resemble a park at all and is rather more like concrete slabs on concrete tile, a build-up of traffic that had cleared when the Waterview Tunnel opened but is back again, bus stops 100m from each other — and a lot of anger.”
Ms Leng says every single business canvassed has expressed dismay at the losses they are suffering.
“They are down 50 per cent or more in most stores and have found it very difficult to stay afloat.
“As they cannot afford any extra staff they have been working nonstop to cover their losses … There is a growing anger as they feel they have been duped by the whole process.
“They were promised great things out of the upgrade and all they got were wider footpaths, which – at the expense of parking – were not worth it.”
Ms Leng says the negativity surrounding the road works while the upgrade was being carried out has had an impact on perceptions of the area, and the light phasing and traffic build-up afterwards hasn’t helped.
People are simply avoiding the town centre, she says, and the “mass flow-on effect” to surrounding streets is causing big problems.
Major issues raised in the survey:
- Number one is the lack of parking. The consensus is that previous customers were fed up with the lack of available spaces and have not returned to the town centre. The need to enforce clearways to ease the flow of peak-hour traffic, and 60- minute zones to stop Mt Albert being used as a park-and-ride zone at the expense of businesses and their customers. The common view: “It’s cheaper to get a $15 parking ticket than pay for parking all day long. We need more parking wardens.” The dedicated right-hand turns through the intersection from Carrington Rd and Mt Albert Rd are barely used, causing backlogs, driver impatience and red-light running. AT is ignoring simple recommendations to at least trial a remedy to the unacceptable traffic delays that, every day, produce long queues.
- Strategically placed 10-minute spots to service bakery, dairy and laundromat-styled businesses. Their customers now say they are shopping elsewhere because there is no quick-stop parking.
- Cycle lanes are not of the design presented during consultation or the submission process and are not used. They are not integrated into a wider network and are not “user-friendly”.
- Clearer and more signs are needed in the clearway zones.
- No effort by Auckland Transport or the council to give struggling businesses financial or rating help.
- The need for lights, increased security and enforcement to prevent “park-and- riders” in the carpark behind the ASB.
- When are the public toilets going to be upgraded?
- There are not enough rubbish bins, and there was no consultation over where seating should be placed.
- Despite invitation, there has been no follow-up to encourage outlets to trial an on- street dining licence and/or confirmation of a free trial period, as was proposed Lack of promised welcome, destination-directional, and, other signs.
- The pocket park: Businesses and the wider community consider it “ugly” and believe something should be done urgently to improve its appearance. Artwork or more greenery would be ideal. There is a concern that Mt Albert has turned into a concrete jungle.
- Why, despite AT’s acknowledgment of poor execution, is there no compensation, or rates rebate being offered to businesses?
Earlier in the upgrade series: It’s time for AT to keep its word
Tomorrow: MARA has its say