Southland service shines

    McKnight & Brown owner Bernie Brown (left) and Shoe Clinic owner Ben Fokkens are getting creative to address the challenges of the Invercargill City Council's streetscape roadworks in the city centre.

    BUSINESSES in Invercargill’s CBD are working hard to mitigate the effects of roadworks and construction in the city centre.

    And the redevelopment is not as bad as they initially thought it would be.

    In August, concerns were raised when the Invercargill City Council (ICC) started its streetscape work, causing disruptions in the main retail area of Don and Esk Sts.

    Two months later, Neighbouring Retailing Group chairman and Shoe Clinic owner Ben Fokkens said they had noticed a significant drop in foot traffic but businesses were getting together and being creative to face the challenges.

    “We definitely noticed a downturn in foot traffic and we also noticed that it had been a little bit harder for the elderly and disabled to get into town with car parks being further away.

    “But we are working around those factors and letting those customers use our back door or even offering a home-fitting service.”

    It was still too early to say how much of an impact it would have on their businesses, but when pipes were upgraded in Tay St in the past, trade was down by 30% during the three months of work, he previously said.

    McKnight & Brown owner Bernie Brown shared the same feelings.

    “We are working hard to mitigate the obstacles that we are in and people are very good in accepting that there are alternative parking spaces.”

    ICC was offering the city library’s car park and H&J Smith was giving one-hour free vouchers for people who were shopping at Esk St stores.

    “I think the community is getting behind us and we definitely appreciate their support to get through this time,” Mr Fokkens said.

    “We are here for the long haul. We know that we will have a wonderful prize with a brand-new CBD when everything is completed and we are really looking forward [to it],” Mr Brown said.

    While businesses were getting used to the “new normal” around the CBD, people with disabilities were still facing challenges.

    Blind Association chairman Vic West had decided to avoid the area.

    “I decided to give this area a wide berth. Usually, if I need to go to town, I walk through Kelvin St on the east side and stay off to the other side because it is really hard to walk over there, unless I have someone sighted to walk with me.”

    A telephone service provided by the ICC for the disabled community, which gives updates where road and construction works are happening, did not cover the CBD streetscape work, he said.

    Southland Association of Blind Citizens secretary Carolyn Weston agreed.

    “It is hard because when we learn where things are, they change. I think the concerns are that things are different and you don’t always know what to expect when you are going into town.”

    CCS Disability Action representative Val Dearman said it had been involved in the consultation part of the project.

    The consultations identified several areas of potential concern, mostly around mobility.

    “There are some areas of difficulty in accessing the CBD, but this is to be expected in the middle of the development phase. However, it is the end result that will be of benefit to people.”

    Signage, parking, ease of access for people in wheelchairs, including larger electric ones, had been referred to ICC and ongoing consultation was needed, she said.

    “Addressing those small things makes life easier.”

    ICC roading manager Russell Pearson said he was continuing to work with retailers, the contractor, community liason and Great South’s city centre co-ordinator to ensure businesses and the public were kept informed about the work’s progress.

    Work was proceeding well and, while Covid-19 had delayed the start of the project, ICC was still looking to complete the works as expected, he said.

    Regarding Mr Vic’s comments about the telephone service, Mr Pearson said the ICC team usually sent a summary of works to the Low Vision Society to be included, which should include the City Centre.

    “We are following this up and will make sure the information has been included.

    “We are continuing to look for ways to minimise any issues we encounter and fine-tune our programmes. There are always a few surprises but they have been managed well.”