What will happen to Dominion Rd?

SHABNAM DASTGHEIB
Last updated 05:00 08/06/2014
Sunday Star Times

A look at Auckland's Dominion Road.

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A bustling, noisy, crowded arterial route to Auckland City, Dominion Rd has become iconic for its ethnic eateries, grid-locked traffic, run-down charm, vibrancy - and that song by the Muttonbirds.

But things are likely to change as Auckland Transport has earmarked the roughly 6-kilometre stretch for an overhaul. From Ian McKinnon Drive past the somewhat neglected Mt Roskill village and down to Keith Hay Park, the coming upgrade to one of the city's main transport routes will affect many small businesses.

Dominion Rd's humming pockets of cheap and cheerful Asian and Indian restaurants attract a bustling customer base every night of the week lured by authentic dumplings, bubble tea, fragrant samosas and Middle Eastern groceries.

Once Auckland Transport implements changes to the structure of traffic and the three main villages, the road's profile may change dramatically - which is causing much uncertainty.

Professor Laurence Murphy, at the University of Auckland, said it was very hard to look at the plans and say definitively how it would affect the villages but the one thing certain was that change was coming.

Dominion Rd in its present form was a very "different type of experience".

With the road soon to offer a rapid way to get to the city, houses in the area would most likely increase in price, meaning a new type of clientele would flock to the area.

"If in the medium to long term people see Dominion Rd as improving that area's access to the city, and if it attracts those kinds of people who are into ‘lifestyle things', it may be that those people are potentially gentrifiers."

What generally tended to happen in these situations was that cultural diversity was displaced and a more mainstream upmarket feel would move in, Murphy said. "On one level it seems to be increasing the road as a vehicle for transport, that's making it more a transport route which could have a negative impact on the street itself but it may impact property back off the street."

Murphy said there were a few possible outcomes from the changes planned for Dominion Road.

"It may develop more of an upmarket feel to it but given the length of the road it might only affect parts of it. With more people passing by, rent should go up but, if people go by on buses, that may not translate as shopping on that street. Those things are very hard to predict."

One Balmoral shop owner, who didn't want to be identified, said the changes to parking would be the big problem.

"I hope the changes work for us, it won't be fair if people are forced out of their business. Parking might be a nail in the coffin for some.

"Everybody has more cars than ever before . . .what it is going to do is [make Dominion Rd] a fast mini-motorway or freeway. If people can't park then it's going to affect our business."

Balmoral Neway sales manager Lena Yang said she was worried about the inconvenience while the works were on as she believed it could take some time.

"Then there will be a loss of parking areas because of the bus lanes and they have longer times. They [council] talked to us and said after the changes the parking times will be shorter and the parking spaces will be less. I am uncertain about all of this.

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"If the rent goes up many businesses will close or change hands and even now there's a lot of restaurants changing hands quite often. If they put the rent up I don't know how long they can exist."

Oscarma Fishing owner Alvin Huang has been in his Balmoral shop for two years, and says he is undecided about the proposed changes.

"We are doing a small business here so we want more people to come here . . . "

An Auckland Transport spokesman said it was normal and understandable for there to be apprehension.

"We are building for the future, with up to a million more people living in Auckland and increasingly wanting to use public transport or walking and cycling in preference to driving."

He said bus patronage along Dominion Rd was projected to increase by 67 per cent to three million annual passengers by 2021. "Up to 99 parking areas will be permanently removed, in places, throughout the total project area. Of these 68 will go from Dominion Rd and 31 from some side streets. Works will begin in November 2014 and be completed in late 2016."

Mt Roskill's Amigos Paperpower owner Bharad Patel said if the area was made to look nicer that might bring in more customers but he still held concerns.

"They are going to change the footpaths. We are sometimes sort of worried about the changes, if there are bus lanes and no parking that may disrupt the customers. I'm hoping they might do the work during the holiday time and the night time."

Across the road, Raam's Dairy owner Girish Patel said he didn't think there needed to be any changes.

He had owned the small shop for 12 years and said he would be pushed out if his rents went up or if customers stopped shopping in Mt Roskill.

"I can't even pay this one, I have already asked my landlord to lower my rent. We are already worried."

He said if the ethnic communities moved out of the area it would be a shame.

"People always come out, it's good for integration for all society."

THE UPGRADE

Auckland Transport will provide continuous bus lanes and signal priority for buses at traffic lights. The bus lanes will be 4.5 metres wide south of Mt Albert Rd and there will be parallel cycle routes along the roads east and west of Dominion Rd and new regulations for parking. Indented parking and bus bays will be removed. Part of the upgrade is a "streetscape improvement to village centres" and safety upgrades for pedestrians and cyclists.

- Sunday Star Times

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