A major police operation to clear the occupation at Parliament has given "much-needed oxygen" to Wellington businesses, while allowing council to properly assess any wastewater contamination.
Police moved in on anti-mandate protesters this morning in a planned operation to reclaim Wellington streets, shifting an occupation that had just entered its fourth week.
They are continuing to remove tents and tow illegally parked vehicles this afternoon, said Police Commissioner Andrew Coster in an update.
Wellington Chamber of Commerce Chair Simon Arcus said there had been a city-wide impact on businesses, which experienced a lack of foot traffic due to the occupation, as well as abuse and harassment from protesters themselves.
"Businesses [were] affected in the immediate area – that were either closed, or 70 – 80 per cent down – right up through the places like Cuba St, almost the other side of the CBD, that were also closing early."
Wellington businesses had also been hit twice as hard as other main centres throughout the current Omicron outbreak, with the city being the worst affected area in New Zealand outside the regional tourism hotspots.
"The Eftpos takings week-on-week, for the couple of weeks the protesters were there, were down twice as much as any main centre," Arcus said.
"The other main centres were 25 per cent down on average, while Wellington was 50 per cent down on Eftpos transactions."
Total spending was down 17.7 per cent in Wellington, a decline more than double the national average (-7.4 per cent), and worse than Auckland (-12 per cent), which remains the epicentre of the current Covid outbreak.
Spending on hospitality across Wellington was down 34 per cent compared to pre-pandemic levels (Auckland was at 32 per cent), and down 50 per cent in CBD areas in close proximity to the protests.
However, Arcus suspected businesses affected would see an immediate impact of the protests being removed.
"I was in the city this morning and it was definitely feeling a little fuller, a little more of a positive vibe.
"The general tension in the city was high, and it was palpable, and it's just great to see some movement today.
"We would really encourage people, once we've got the all-clear, to get right back into their daily lives. It's time to move on."
Greater Wellington Regional Council Chair Daran Ponter said the removal of the protest would allow council and Wellington Water staff to go in and properly assess any contamination of human waste into the stormwater system.
They hadn't seen any evidence yet that the sewage pipes had been drained into the harbour, but he said a large reason for that was because the city had not seen any rainfall.
"We'd really like to get trucks in if we need to … so that if there's any muck in the drains it doesn't make its way into the harbour," he said.
The other aspect of their interest as a council was in the operation of public transport, which had been able to flow smoothly with the assistance of police, who had maintained a road corridor in which Metlink buses could operate.
"From a Metlink perspective at least, we can continue to operate in the current environment. But it would be better for everybody if the protest just came to an end."
Ponter said he was very pleased to see the police approach move from "containment to removal".
"While we've all been frustrated that it's taken longer than any of us expected, the police action has been appropriate and they have managed it with a level of dignity."