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Chief says sorry to angry crowd

SWDC chief executive Harry Wilson apologised at Monday’s Innovating Streets meeting. PHOTO/GRACE PRIOR

GRACE PRIOR
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South Wairarapa District Council chief executive Harry Wilson apologised to an angry crowd of Martinborough residents about Innovating Streets on Monday night. But the flame hasn’t been put out yet, all of the more than 100 attendees put their hands up in favour of a separate public meeting to address rates rises.

“We are here to listen and to see how we can do better, and how we can improve.”

Wilson said he was there to hold himself accountable for decisions made with Innovating Streets, including to pull the plug on the project after contractors and council staff were put in a dangerous situation.

Event organiser Stuart Campbell said Wilson had had a “last minute change of heart” to come and listen to the community.

The Innovating Streets trial was part of 72 similar projects across New Zealand. The Martinborough trial saw parking spaces on the square replaced with a road mural.

Designs for the road mural were inspired by the artwork of school children, the community was presented with three options to choose from.

Campbell said that there hadn’t been an option to choose for the road to remain the same.

He said the meeting was about opening a dialogue between the community and the council.

Waka Kotahi [NZTA] funded most of the project, totaling $177,000.

In a speech representing his family, David Hawkins said they had felt “left in the dark, literally.” He said residents had the right to be able to walk the streets of Martinborough without the need for torches.

“We feel betrayed by the mayor and other councilors.”

Hawkins said when the town’s basic needs were met, like fixing cracked footpaths that were hard to use for those with mobility issues or prams, then the council should begin looking at beautification projects.

“[NZTA] funding would have been far better spent in other places in town, the lighting in the square is bad.”

He said it was imperative that council made sure people were safe.

Residents were concerned at the lack of communication they had received from council, an attendee said that they knew of people who had no idea about the Innovating Streets trial until work was under way.

Campbell and many others in the room shared the sentiment that council should apologise for what had happened with the Innovating streets trial, not only to the Martinborough community, but also to the projects team who had been “led to believe that the community were in support of the project”.

He said tourism in Martinborough was growing and the carparks were needed by tourists and locals. “If we don’t learn from this, we will repeat it over and over again.”

May Croft speaking at the Innovating Streets public meeting on Monday.

Anglican archdeacon May Croft said she didn’t think what was going on was how Martinborough residents usually behaved.

She said covid-19 had left people on edge, and the growing issues in the region, including roading, hadn’t helped.

“A whole lot of pinches makes for a great big punch.”

Croft said it was important to take responsibility when things went wrong, “we don’t always get it right”.

When Wilson asked, rhetorically, what council could have done better, the audience responded with “everything”.

He said council could have undertaken the project a “whole lot better” and apologised.

Although Wilson apologised, the audience still had other bones to pick with the council, one attendee demanded water issues be fixed. Many of the audience shared the idea Monday’s meeting should also discuss rates.

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