Henderson residents fuming after 'shambolic' safety trial sees $192k of taxpayer money spent on painting intersection blue

West Auckland residents are fuming after taxpayer money to the tune of $192,000 was spent painting a local intersection bright blue as part of an under-fire pedestrian safety trial.

Auckland Council's contentious Henderson Streets for People trial has sparked outrage in the West Auckland community after the supposed revamp of the suburb's town centre increased drive times, disrupted foot traffic, and impacted local businesses. 

Documents supplied to the New Zealand Herald under the Official Information Act show the trialled changes - many of which will soon be removed - cost taxpayers and Auckland ratepayers a stinging total of $851,069.

The paint job alone came with a price tag of $192,666, as well as $500,000 in construction costs, not counting any materials.

More than $18,000 was shelled out on wooden pot plant holders, with concrete pipe planters costing an additional $51,557. Bollards cost $17,000, and a decking area was priced at $31,610.

Sunil Kaushal says the pedestrian safety trial has been "shambolic".
Sunil Kaushal says the pedestrian safety trial has been "shambolic". Photo credit: The AM Show

In May, the trial began by rerouting traffic around Henderson's main shopping strip on Great North Rd/Twin Coast Discovery Highway. Bus-only lanes and shared paths for bikes and scooters were introduced, and the intersection of Great North Rd, Railside Ave, and Ratanui St was painted with an art piece in shades of blue. Roadway artworks were also added on two other streets.. 

A month later, hundreds of Henderson residents took to Great North Rd in protest of the pedestrian safety trail, with an online petition opposing the changes amassing more than 5000 signatures.

Speaking to The AM Show on Monday morning, local Sunil Kaushal said he understands the proposed revisions - including the colourful new crossing - were made to improve safety, but the council went ahead with the revamp without sufficient consultation. 

"There was no consultation," he said. "The local board said they weren't consulted, NZTA [the New Zealand Transport Agency] said they were… there's no accountability."

He says his usual drive to drop off his children took around three minutes before the trial - now, it takes anywhere from 15 to 20. 

"Carbon emissions are increasing, [more] petrol is [being used], and it's just creating chaos. But they're not willing to listen."

Henderson-Massey local board chairwoman Vanessa Neeson agrees, telling the New Zealand Herald there was little to no consultation from the NZTA or Auckland Council about the proposals.

"It has been extremely disruptive. I've never seen the community so angry," Neeson told the Herald. "It's been a disaster unfortunately and it's hurt a lot of people. A lot of businesses have felt it significantly."

Kaushal said a local cafe he frequented has closed down since the changes were implemented, noting that small businesses - first battered by the economic downturn of COVID-19 - are struggling to get back on their feet. 

"Businesses have shut down. We were already hit by COVID, now this is happening. They're bulldozing their way through," he told The AM Show.

"They were trying to achieve being safe by… going down to one lane [through] Henderson's town centre and making people go all around in a new route. They've spent about $192,000 on blue paint, and some of the paint has been [used to] fill the potholes around the town. It's just shambolic. The businesses are hurting, but also the residents."

Kaushal says Panuku, a council-controlled land management organisation that oversaw the trial, is largely to blame for the disruption. He claims the community's concerns have fallen on deaf ears, the CCO seemingly uninterested in listening to local feedback.

"The problem lies with Panuku. We gave them three opportunities to come out and meet the public," Kaushal said. "They use ratepayers' money willy-nilly."

In an update last week, Panuku said the project trialled a series of temporary changes in Henderson to "make it easier and safer for locals to move around the town centre".

"The trial tested a number of different ways to make Henderson’s streets better for people walking and cycling, to add colour and vibrancy, and to make the town centre less dominated by traffic, while collecting real-time feedback and traffic data," it said.

"Eke Panuku tested quick, temporary changes to see how well they worked, which could be adapted based on feedback collected from the community’s experiences, before assessing their long-term future."

It acknowledged that "some businesses felt financially impacted" by the changes, and the tactical implementation of the developments "resulted in frustration with the resulting congestion".

The majority of the $851,069 project - 90 percent - was funded by taxpayers via the NZTA. About 10 percent was covered by Auckland ratepayers.

In its update on Thursday, Panuku announced the Henderson Streets for People trial has now been completed, with most elements scheduled for removal over the next eight weeks. However, some developments - including the blue intersection - will be "retained or adapted".

The only elements of the trial to remain are the roadway artworks on Trading Pl and Waitākere Ln, and the shared path on Ratanui St.

In addition to the contentious blue intersection, the right turn restrictions into and out of WestCity Mall on Railside Ave will be adapted - the former to ensure low vehicle speeds, and the latter to include "more suitable" planter boxes.

Nearly all changes to the traffic flow will be reinstated to their original configuration, with the bus lanes and shared paths - aside from the one Ratanui St - set to be removed.

Kaushal says the $850,000 bill could have been spent on permanent changes that would have made the area more attractive to Aucklanders outside of the suburb. 

"It would go to at least lifting up the Henderson area, where no one wants to go… some sort of park or beautification, at least, so people would want to come."

The adaptations and the removal of the trialled changes will begin in late August, and may take up to eight weeks to be completed.