build the cycleways and they will come?

Mayor Dave Cull published an article in the ODT on 3rd June outlining his plan for attracting more people, businesses and investment to Dunedin. He makes the assessment that the people we need to attract are those in the creative and research intensive areas like IT, design, the biomedical arena and the arts. Probably a case of post-rationalisation based on the hi-tech successes of Ian Taylor and Michael Macknight. I think I would feel more comfortable if these men said themselves that they have committed to Dunedin as a result of the support and decisions of the Dunedin City Council.

And some would propose that the reason we so desperately need to seek new businesses is because the Council has failed to support and retain the considerable number of businesses that have disappeared, along with their employees, over the decades. Anyone in business knows it is far more economical to retain clients than it is to attract new ones after you have lost old ones, and the same applies to a City Council and the businesses that it relies to on for much of its income.

But given that we have lost a lot of industry and we do need to attract new businesses to Dunedin, Mayor Cull then makes the jump that the four cornerstone criteria for such people in making their decision on where on the planet to live are:

  1. great educational facilities for their kids
  2. thriving arts scene
  3. access to recreation and outdoors pursuits
  4. cycleways.

Interestingly three of his four strategic cornerstones have nothing to do with Council.

1. Our educational facilities are stand-alone institutions operating under staff and boards of trustees into which the Council has no input. 

2. An artistic culture is an outcome of artistic people doing their own thing in their own time and in an unstructured creative environment; creativity is not an outcome of bureaucratic meetings and strategic plans. 

3. Access to outdoor pursuits quite simply means the national roads into the Otago hinterland; most recreation is provided by the self-organised Clubs of residents.

And that leaves the elephant in Mr Cull’s article, cycleways, his pet project. And there is simply no rational support for him placing cycleways ahead of all other Council activities as the primary Council-controlled project to appeal to potential residents.

I asked one reasonably recent arrival from Europe to Dunedin, who works in a professional role, what were the attractions of Dunedin? They were:

  1. Low cost of living
  2. Accessibility to world-class ski fields
  3. Slower pace of life
  4. Architecture, culture, history.

Yes, a survey of one, but that is one more than Mayor Cull provided in his article and it does throw a whole new perspective of priorities that seem to make more sense than Mayor Cull’s list. Of equal interest is the main annoyance of that person from having lived here for a few years which is:

  • No Council focus on the Council basics of efficient public transport, keeping the city clean etc, but a lot of focus on personal agendas of individuals.

Again a survey of one, but an opinion that I, as a long-term resident, cannot argue with.

And the other issue I have heard regularly expressed and noted many times reported in the ODT  is the bureaucratic roadblock that the Dunedin City Council puts in the way of people wanting to set up or expand businesses in Dunedin. Time and money are the enemies of business development. Bureaucracy that is designed to fill the time that bureaucrats have to deal with the issue presents the bureaucrats as adversaries to submitters.

But we cannot turn that clock back so we are now faced with the stark reality that we need to attract new residents and new businesses to Dunedin; so if Mayor Cull can hypothesise about what they want in a city let me also hypothesise in this ‘Diary of a potential resident.”

Diary: With two children fast approaching school age and realising that in Auckland I was spending most of my day either at work or commuting to and from work with my wife working nights and weekends to help pay the mortgage, our family time and quality of life was far from the ideal kiwi dream. But I had design and manufacturing skills in a high-tech industry and client contacts that would enable me to start my own business; if we sold our home we could use the capital gain as our startup funding and market my products internationally. Hopefully in a less expensive real estate market we would still be able to put a deposit down on a home. We started to plan; with the skills and contacts I had built up over the years from 3 person startup I could realistically build up a business of 10+ staff within 3-5 years. Dunedin was one city on our shortlist. We had already researched the real estate sites and homes seemed very affordable; we researched education facilities for the children and Dunedin rated strongly at primary, secondary and tertiary level. Dunedin was the gigatown so was well set up for internet access  and they were very closely located to Central Otago, we would love to start having time to go skiing again, this time with the children. So I flew down to have a closer look.

First thing I noticed was how clean and well-maintained the streets and footpaths were. A good start. I bought a bus day pass and was impressed with the flexibility and convenience of the mini-bus service that gave me a chance to see more of the city. On the way I downloaded a timetable app that I saw promoted on the bus. I got off the bus at St Clair and walked along the beachfront where I  was impressed with the  promenade and restaurants and also the hot salt water pool. I saw on my mobile that a bus was arriving in four minutes so I returned back to town for a general walk around. In less than two hours I actually saw an awful lot. 

I liked the balance of old and new architecture in the city. The main street was also well stocked with shops and cafés. That night as I walked back from a café to the hotel, the streets were well-lit, I noted plenty of security cameras and I even passed two security staff walking around. 

Next morning I visited a real estate firm and realised that I could easily afford to live within 5-10 minutes of the CBD. I could even live out on the rural Taieri Plains where I was assured the temperature was 3 degrees warmer, and still only be 20 minutes from the CBD. This was starting to look good. I took a look around the university and the schools we had researched and was very happy with the presentation of those schools and, more particularly, their pupils. 

Then I called into the city council offices. The staff member at reception was pleasant when I asked if I could speak with someone about the prospect of setting up a small, hi-tech products manufacturing business in the city. Within 20 minutes I had an appointment with a liaison officer. From the outset this liaison officer clearly was demonstrating that he was on my side and his role was to help me through the process of getting all required consents. First he listened to me as I explained what was needed for my business to start-up. Then he gave me an outline and explanation of the issues as regards by-laws and the set-up process. Then between us we started to talk through options to minimise the time and cost to get the business underway. This was a most productive and satisfying meeting, we exchanged business cards and he advised that he was now my contact point at the Council and he would do further research for me and be ready for my decision. I left that meeting and picked up a rental to drive to Queenstown from where I would fly home. I was really looking forward to seeing Central Otago again but as I drove out of Dunedin I thought ‘what a great little city; clean, well maintained heritage buildings and streets, no traffic congestion and minimal commuting time; an innovative and user-friendly public transport system, plenty of good cafés and shops, two interesting museums and art gallery, a safe feeling and a really helpful Council liaison officer. Who could ask for more?’

We have enough confusing lines painted and over-painted on our streets already, enough traffic lights, concrete street islands and yellow posts along our streets. More than enough cycleways for the few people who ever use them. I make a point of observing each day the number of users of the cycleways. I passed two the other evening along the one way street north, well it was peak hour traffic. They were all helmets and hi-viz, hunched protectively over their bikes as an 18 wheeler truck and trailers passed within a metre or so. You can understand their discomfort; a painted white line is minimal protection. Then a short distance past that I saw a young guy casually riding along the footpath on his bike, baseball cap and casual clothes; he comfortably passed two pedestrians walking side by side without any effort on the part of any of them. To a casual observer they hardly noticed each other. Seemed the more logical place for cycling to me.

When it comes to streets, the Council should just concentrate on fixing the potholes and making sure the drains can cope with sudden torrential downpours. Then they need to stop procrastinating on the public transport system. Herds of huge buses rolling nose to tail along our main street with hardly a dozen passengers between them must be sending some message? I note in today’s ODT, the ‘new solution’ to the bus problem is that from 1 July there will be an extra 230 bus services using the same large buses. How on earth does that help the problem of a procession of buses rolling through the city with hardly anyone on them? Add more to the procession? Unbelievable.

A Mayor who withdraws City investment in the fossil fuels industry as a climate-change protest should not be turning a blind eye to this publicly-funded gross waste of fossil fuels and unneccessary emission of fumes through our streets. It is time for a public transport system designed for Dunedin in the 21st century, not a hangover from the mid 20th century.

But maybe like so many greens, it is more about protest than practice.

So we are left with the cornerstone of our Mayor’s growth strategy being to build cycleways and they will come. How scatterbrained can someone be?

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