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23 August 2018

Comment – by Lyn Patterson, Mayor of Masterton

Earlier this month Masterton District Council adopted its first-ever Town Centre Strategy.

It’s a much-needed development that gives direction and shape to planned investments in our town centre for the next 20 years and beyond.

But it’s not just about making things look nice. We do talk about bringing more vibrancy into town – the mistake is thinking that’s solely referring to visual vibrancy.

Council receives a lot of questions (and criticisms) about the number of empty shops on Queen Street and how unaffordable rents are forcing people out of business.

Some people may think Masterton District Council owns many of the buildings on Queen Street. Aside from our public buildings, the Council doesn’t own any.

Most businesses rent space from private owners from which to operate their businesses. How much they are charged in rent is dictated by landlords, just like a private home.

The Council does charge rates on commercial properties. Rates have either stayed the same or decreased for many commercial building owners this year.

In saying all of that, Council does have a role to play in bringing more businesses into town – that’s where the Town Centre Strategy plays a role. We’re going to start by exploring the possibilities with initiatives called parklets – these are small green or seating spaces that are temporarily set up in parking spaces. Some can be a bit quirky and offer new ways for people to interact with assets in the town centre.

Beyond that we’re going to get started on some more permanent projects, such as making Park Street more engaging and user-friendly.

We’re keen to get community feedback, but possibilities include permanent outdoor furniture, art installations or even elements such as props suitable for skateboarding for our youth to enjoy.

We’re also going to be bringing in more greenery – planting drought-tolerant trees and gardens – and developing better links between our existing community assets.

They are exciting and engaging projects, but some may be asking ‘what’s the point?’. The end game comes back to our shops. People are using town centres in different ways, they are shopping online and expecting town centres to offer them opportunities in addition to retail – such as the ability to simply bump into friends because they happen to be in the same place.

This presents an opportunity for retail businesses; if Masterton has a town centre that is engaging, visually appealing and interactive we expect people to be drawn to it. When that happens, it’s more attractive for retailers.

While our work in the town centre may appear to be making things look more vibrant on the surface, it’s about much more than that. Vibrancy includes having more people in town and ensuring a healthy and sustainable retail sector. I’m looking forward to seeing it come to fruition.