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The Press -News column Feb 3

CERA sees some sense on Victoria Square

It’s been the summer of discontent for Victoria Square’s proposed makeover. Ever since November, the storm of dismay at the sweeping revamp to this cherished public space has rampaged through the Christmas rush, holiday recess and all of  January, with unwavering vigour.  Spilling rivers of ink in the letters page to The Press, the outcry has been a five-star gusher.  Congratulations to those letter writers for unleashing their pride, passion and defence of a much loved square, largely unmolested by destructive natural forces. The sustained public alarm has finally forced a major change of heart , with the Central City Development Unit’s CEO, Warwick Issacs, revealing to me on Friday that CERA will now indeed consult the wider public about Victoria Square, after months of resistance. At no stage has CERA bothered to seek a specific public mandate for carving up and recasting Victoria Square, beyond some tokenistic engagement with feel-good groups like the Otautahi Youth Council – despite Joe Blow being lumbered with the $7-8 million bill.  But Warwick Issacs assures me the public feedback campaign, to be launched in March, will help determine the scope and shape of the final design plan.  Like other anchor projects, the timeframe concerning Victoria Square has now been delayed. Reconstruction work was scheduled to start before March and finished by year’s end. That’s now toast, with the completion of any redesign work shelved until 2016.  Some aspects to CERA’s “refresh” of the square make perfect sense, notably, a new punting landing and the restoration of the Bowker Fountain. But where CERA has badly strayed is in proposing the wholesale destruction of Victoria Square’s curvaceous paths and expansive velvety lawns, in favour of square paddocks, utilitarian straight lines and sterile grey pavers. Similarly, uprooting the Captain Cook statue from his central positon and shunting him off to a pokey corner, reeks of churlish post-colonial cringe. 32 months ago,  when the central city blueprint was unveiled, CERA trumpted that the square would extend to the Durham-Kilmore corner, with Ngai Tahu’s Te Puna Ahurea Cultural Centre, “forming a symbolic entranceway to the new city.”  However, the “interactive and dynamic” cultural centre remains missing in action, as does the design plan north of the Sir Hamish Hay bridge. No one will speak about it publicly. Nagi Tahu advises me there is nothing to report on Te Puna Ahurea, as the iwi is preoccupied planning for the Treaty’s 175th anniversary. Similarly, while the city council persists with the  elephantine folly of reinstating the Town Hall, Victoria Square’s northern flank remains marooned in murk.

Mike’s weekly current affairs column, as published in The Press. February 3.

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