Franklin Road Christmas lights 2021 cancelled: Locals at odds over iconic Auckland display no-show

It's been a tough year for Kiwis across the country, as they battle COVID-19 and the mental toll of lockdowns.

Kiwis are looking for ways to celebrate the silly season - but strolling down Auckland's Franklin Road and gazing at sparkling Christmas light displays is sadly not going to be one of them.

For the second year in a row, Franklin Road residents have made the call to switch off the Christmas lights that send thousands of Aucklanders flocking to their tree-lined Ponsonby street every year. 

Auckland currently sits in the 'red' setting of the COVID-19 Protection Framework, better known as the traffic light system, which was brought in to replace alert levels at the start of December. 

Under red, there are restrictions around how many people can attend events and who can attend them, depending on vaccination status. 

Many residents told Newshub it would be impossible to contact-trace if a COVID-19 case was to visit the area, as there is no way to make sure people scan in like they would when visiting a shop or cafe. 

Unfortunately, Aucklanders will not see anything like this on Franklin Road this year.
Unfortunately, Aucklanders will not see anything like this on Franklin Road this year. Photo credit: Getty Images

But other Ponsonby locals say it makes no sense to can the display for the second year in a row when people are now free to mingle with strangers at bars and restaurants all over the city.

Auckland Council told Newshub the cancellation was made by community organisers, and they had "no involvement" in the decision.

"The community have made the decision to cancel the event again this year due to COVID-19 restrictions and concerns about community transmission. The council and local board were not involved in the community decision to cancel," Auckland Council said in a statement.

What do the Franklin Road residents think?

New homeowner Lucy Edmond moved to Franklin Road in September, and had been planning what her first year on the street would look like.

"We were thinking of going a comedic route, and have Santa peeing off the side of the roof, but we've had to put that on hold," she told Newshub. 

Edmond has a special connection to Franklin Road, and has been part of the community since she was very young as her grandmother also lives on the street. 

"Since I've been three years old, it's definitely been my dream to take part," Edmond said. 

Simon Doud, a resident of Franklin Road since 2002, believes it's safer to not invite thousands of Aucklanders to their street during the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"It's better to not have a huge crowd - the crowds get really big in the third week, it gets quite intense," he told Newshub. 

Doud also shared there have been times where locals admiring the lights have thought he lived in an "open house".

"Sometimes we have parties, where there might be a choir, and then the choir goes out onto the street to sing for people. We've had a few stragglers come in with the choir, because some people think it's just an open house," Doud said. 

In terms of feeling unsafe or having anything bad happen around them during the month of December, Doud said the most they have been threatened was with a "rude note". 

"We had a rude note one year when we put puppets in the window, but they were political puppets. We got a note that said '1/10 - too much politics'."

Sandra Stockwell previously lived on a side street off Franklin Road, but has now been in the thick of it for four years. She says she's made peace with the cancellation. 

"I've accepted it - we've been through two years of this now," she said.  

Stockwell says that although it takes around three weeks to get the lights up, and another day to take them down, it's "part and parcel of living here". 

"We've got a great community and we always support each other. We love the lights, it's a shame - but it gets so crowded, and we didn't know if it would be safe."

One resident, who wishes to stay anonymous, told Newshub they were "glad it was cancelled". 

"It brings a huge amount of foot traffic and vehicle traffic to the street, and makes it impossible to get a park or have friends to visit," they said. 

"Crime in the area always increases when it is on. In December 2019 our neighbours got broken into and someone tried to break into ours. A bunch of cars on our part of the street had nails hammered into their tyres.

The resident noted that following the two cancellations, there had been no crime or break-ins at all that they knew of. 

'It makes no sense'

Newshub also chatted to locals up and down Ponsonby Road, with many sharing the view that the lack of lights this year is "disappointing".

"For me, it doesn't make much sense that you can go to a cafe and sit among strangers, but you can't walk along the street to get some free entertainment," one Ponsony local told Newshub. 

The Franklin Road lights have been switched off since Christmas 2019.
The Franklin Road lights have been switched off since Christmas 2019. Photo credit: Getty Images

"You'd think you would be able to walk down the road and watch some Christmas lights… it makes no sense," said another. 

"It makes no sense at all, and it would be quite a nice social thing to do after COVID," a third local said. 

Another Ponsonby Road dweller said it was "a shame", but was looking on the bright side. 

"I see that the Harbour Bridge is all lit up in a Christmas fashion, so we have to count our blessings," they said. "At the end of the day, it's a loss - but I'm not losing sleep over it." 

However, not all hope is lost. A few Franklin Road residents shared with Newshub that the idea of lighting up to celebrate Matariki was being discussed amongst the community - so watch this space.