Construction started on the eastern side of the Square in mid-January, transforming the popular shopping stretch to be more pedestrian friendly, while future proofing key underground services.
On Saturday 8 August between 10am and 2pm, a street party will be held for residents to check out the new space and join in with the businesses in celebrating the end of the construction period.
The road will however open earlier to traffic, with one lane scheduled to open this weekend, and the other mid-next week.
Our Streets for People project is focused on having a more vibrant city centre, where people want to spend more time, and therefore more money. Significantly wider footpaths, fewer carparks, increased accessibility parking, narrower roads, more trees and plants and moveable furniture help bring this vision to life.
But, the majority of the five-month construction period was focused on infrastructure upgrades. During construction there has been maintenance or upgrades to a number of different services, including major upgrades to the stormwater services.
While the visual changes to the street will also benefit the businesses in this area, the upgrades underground will ensure the road is fit for purpose long term.
Chief Infrastructure Officer, Tom Williams, says the businesses have been great to work with.
“We’ve maintained a close relationship with these businesses, retailers and landlords during construction, and have been able to adapt elements of the programme to minimise disruption as much as possible. They’ve been so patient and understanding with the work and we can’t wait to stand with them next week and celebrate as they get their street back.”
Mayor Grant Smith says along with retailers, residents also deserve a big thank you.
“We know that so many residents intentionally went out of their way, including myself, to shop here to support these businesses during construction, and that makes us extremely proud of our close-knit community. This project is all about people, and we can’t wait to watch this section of our Square become a thriving vibrant place like it was some years ago.”
Chief Executive Heather Shotter says Covid-19 was a huge curveball that impacted this project by forcing construction to stop for four weeks. But, she says, lead contractor, Higgins Contractors, worked extremely hard to adjust the construction programme to minimise the impact on the shops as much as possible, and still get the work done in the same number of weeks specified within the contract.
“This project has always been about supporting local. Our contractor Higgins, although very much now a national organisation, started as a local company, and there were also 10 other local sub-contractors and five local suppliers working on this project. All the contractors stepped up after Covid-19 to get the work done as quickly as possible to minimise the impact on the local shops after the lockdown. Now the positive outcomes we expect from this project will be even more important to these shops, as they begin to rebuild after Covid-19.”
Street party is a celebration of the shopping experience
Next weekend’s street party will see the street broken into different spaces to reflect the shops in that area. This means there’ll be extra dining outside the food retailers, a bonfire and outdoor games outside Bivouac, a DJ and circus performance in the middle, dress ups, face painting and photo opportunities outside the fashion retailers and Bruce Watt Photography, and the Mobile Library and play equipment outside Paper Plus and Hello Banana.
Chief Infrastructure Officer, Tom Williams says anyone who makes a purchase from the retailers on the day will be able to add an item to a time capsule which will be installed on the site the following week.
“As this area of the Square rarely has major construction, it will be many decades before work of this nature will happen again. With these major works, teamed with the unusual events of 2020, we thought it’d be an interesting time to take a snapshot of our city for future decades to look back on.”
Due to the size of the capsule, we’re asking people to bring only paper-based items like recipes, photos, art, letters, postcards etc.
To acknowledge both the retailers' and residents' support, Mayor Grant Smith will also be spot prizing one random shopper at the event with an ‘expenses paid weekend trip to New Plymouth with hotel accommodation and evening restaurant meal package’.
Road to reopen with some changes to travel
After the street party, the road will reopen to traffic – but the road will be different to before.
Motorists will no longer be able to turn right from Church Street by the Plaza entrance into the Square. You’ll still be able to enter the Square from Broadway, Main, and Church Street (Fitzherbert Ave end). This is a trial to see if it improves traffic flow and pedestrian access in this area.
Motorists travelling on this stretch of new road from Main Street looking at the Plaza, will now need to take turns turning left and right onto Church Street.
The traffic lights have been re-programmed to make this change.
Chief Infrastructure Officer, Tom Williams, says these changes have been made to make the area safer for pedestrians and people on bikes, and also to prevent traffic building up.
“Narrow traffic lanes make our roads safer as it causes motorists to slow down. While this may be inconvenient at first, we need to remember that the Square should not be used as a thoroughfare to get across town. The only people driving around the Square should be people visiting the businesses. The ring road along Pitt, Princess, Ferguson and Grey Streets will provide a quicker route for motorists to get around town.”
The next steps for Streets for People
In June, Council voted to get the detailed design for the rest of the project completed before starting the next stage of construction.
Detailed design means the very specific engineering specifications like road heights, location of key services etc, are all identified. This work had previously been proposed to be done in stages, ahead of construction at various locations. Doing all of the design work now means that there is a significant cost saving to ratepayers as there are no surprises, and Council obtains the flexibility to engage with the construction industry on the best options to deliver the works. It also allows for greater engagement with the local retailers and building owners.
That work will be done over the coming nine months, and then the next location for construction will be identified and engagement will begin ahead of construction.