Four years after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern opened the refurbished Mt Albert town centre in her electorate, Auckland Transport has fresh plans to rebuild a cycleway and review kerbside parking.
Ardern and Auckland mayor Phil Goff joined almost 400 people celebrating the $6.5 million makeover of the town centre, where AT agreed to keep some kerbside parking after pleas from businesses.
At the time, AT said the upgrade would create a safe and lively environment that locals could take pride in. The then Albert-Eden Local Board chairman Peter Haynes said radical transformational change was needed and Mt Albert could look forward to a brighter future.
Many shopkeepers, however, felt robbed by the loss of 33 car parks for landscaping, wider footpaths and a cycleway that is rarely used and doubles as space for wheelie bins on rubbish days.
Now Mt Albert's town centre is part of the Symonds St and New North Rd upgrade, the first of many to remove kerbside parking along arterial roads for bus lanes and cycleways.
The 11km upgrade runs through Kingsland, Mt Albert and Avondale town centres and ends at Rosebank Rd.
AT is seeking public feedback on three options for the cycleway through Mt Albert town centre. Options include rerouting the cycleway around the town centre with the loss of kerbside parking on suburban streets, turning the cycle lanes into shared space with the footpath, building a new two-way cycleway on one side of the road and keeping the existing cycle lanes.
AT said each of the options allowed for on-street parking within each town centre.
After engaging with businesses along the 11km corridor and finding a preferred option, AT said it will continue to work with businesses and the community to develop kerbside management plans to allocate road space within town centres.
"This approach is aligned with the proposed 'principles for parking management'," it said.
One of the principles in the draft parking strategy is that kerbside park is the "lowest priority" on arterial roads and will be automatically removed, except under "exceptional circumstances".
Catherine Goodwin, the chief executive of Goodwins Real Estate in Mt Albert, wants a flourishing town centre with new businesses opening and car parking alongside public transport.
She said AT's return to Mt Albert should be an opportunity for positive, incredible changes for the community, but has turned into a "litany of incompetence".
After attending two community workshops on the latest plans, Goodwin said AT is not building anything of what people are wanting.
"It's consultation by ideology," said Goodwin, saying there was a "heavy influence" of people "very, very interested in cycleways" at the workshops.
The previous AT works, she said, removed high volumes of shopping car parks for "desolate cycleways", failed to make Mt Albert an interesting place and failed "astronomically" on a pocket park consisting of concrete blocks "they would call brutalist architecture".
"It did nothing to bring new businesses into the area. In fact, it has caused businesses to close and that goes right through from the obstinate arrogance around cycleways, failure to deliver aesthetically and [AT] wouldn't listen to the community.
"Auckland Transport is refusing to make changes to respond to the concerns of business owners who know the area and what their clients need and are now very concerned they are looking down the barrel of the same thing again," said Goodwin.
Bhaidas Bhula, who has operated the New North Pharmacy since 1981, said the changes in 2018 were meant to make the town centre more vibrant, but wider footpaths had not increased foot traffic and no one used the cycleway.
He said the proposed changes were a bad use of public money, saying the loss of more kerbside parking could spell the end of his business.
"I've had a gutsful of Auckland Transport. We expressed concerns last time and we weren't listened to," he said.
Another shopkeeper, who did not want to be named, said he had struggled through two years of Covid, business was down 40 per cent and his entire savings had gone towards rent and other expenses.
"It is really hard to survive right now. I used to have two staff working for me but now it is just me and my wife," he said.
The shopkeeper said removing kerbside parking outside his shop would be devastating, saying he already has no business between 4pm and 6pm when a clearway was in operation outside his shop.
He said Mt Albert was a small town centre that didn't need wide footpaths, but needed a normal footpath and kerbside parking for customers.
Albert-Eden Local Board chairwoman Lee Carrick said town centres, like Mt Albert, need protection for multiple transport uses, including parking.
"There are several options out for consultation and AT will need to listen to the community.
"It is clear that some people consider that the previous consultation process could have been better," she said.
After consultation, which closes on April 8, AT will select a preferred option by the middle of the year for detailed design work to begin. Construction is expected to start next year and take several years. AT has earmarked $115m for the Symonds St and New North Rd project.