Youth need to come first in Stoke

Last updated 12:33 27/05/2014

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OPINION: Last week I went online to the Nelson City Council's website and filled in the questionnaire about Stoke facilities that mayor Rachel Reese and deputy mayor Paul Matheson launched earlier this month.

I tried to give helpful responses. After all, it's a citizen's duty to communicate his or her ideas to the local body - and let's face it, you can't complain if you haven't engaged with the process.

Stoke has changed a lot since 1978, when we bought our first home in Marsden Rd.

Back then, its centre had a much wider variety of retailers. If I remember these now defunct businesses correctly, Mockett's Menswear was the classy store on the corner of Main Road and Putaitai St, and next door in Main Road was a chemist, a bike shop, and a tiny cafe with gingham curtains. All these businesses, along with Curry's Bookstore in Putaitai St, have been swallowed by Countdown.

H and J Smith had a diminutive branch in Putaitai St where the PostShop is now. There was a dimly lit, old-style hardware store in Main Rd, and Stoke Radio and TV's well-stocked premises attracted customers from all over the region.

Stokians bought their groceries at a supermarket owned and operated by the MacCrae family or at the small Four Square, past the Mobil garage.

The first incarnation of the Pestell's meat empire, where the Pestell twins honed their particular brand of cheek, was a small butchery in the row of shops east of Mobil.

Horticulture filled almost all the land between Stoke School and Champion Rd, and you could buy fresh seasonal vegetables, pipfruit and stonefruit from the Robinson's, Harcourt's and Redwood roadside stalls in Main Rd, or from Echodale in Nayland Rd. There was no need for a campaign to buy locally produced, seasonal fruit and vegetables - it was what we all did.

As well as retailers, Stoke had Plunket rooms and a police station, both of which were open and operating most of the time.

Well, times change, as they will, and the era of big-box retail and mall chain stores has put paid to many owner-operator businesses.

Local bodies do not appear to have the ability to support local businesses, despite the fact that they are an essential part of a healthy local economy, keeping money in the region and providing the essential local flavour that helps to make places like Stoke vibrant, flourishing communities with their own unique identity.

Now the NCC wants to revitalise Stoke's centre and make the suburb suitable for its residents, especially the retired and elderly who need access to amenities.

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Reading Cr Matheson's ideas about the direction of the revitalisation (Nelson Mail, May 8), I was a little concerned that he didn't specifically mention young people's needs.

There's a bit of history here. In 2011, the council backed away from a plan to build a skate park near the intersection of Main Rd and Songer St. The decision saw young people's voices shouted down by business owners, the police - citing road safety issues - and an anti-skate park petition that received over 1300 signatures but was not circulated to Stoke schools.

Councillors were no doubt gun-shy, due to then chief executive Keith Marshall's poor record with consultation on project proposals making the council's planning decisions vulnerable to legal challenges.

A considerable amount of ratepayers' money had already been wasted on fighting challenges to two botched NCC decisions, not to mention the costs of planning work already completed.

It's not surprising that councillors voted 5-4 against the skate park. But we need to remember that young people were the losers.

At the time, the NCC promised to look at facilities for Stoke's young people as part of its long-term planning process. Now, in 2014, Stoke's facilities are on the radar again.

While I was on the phone to my 84-year-old mother this morning, she asked how my column was going. I said my proposed topic was the council's plans for Stoke.

As she is someone who lives very close to the shopping centre, I asked her what she thought about Stoke's facilities.

"Well," she said, "the first thing needed is a skate park for the teenagers. They hang around the road into Isel Park and get up to all sorts of mischief because they've got nothing to do."

During an Easter visit to my brother in Rangiora, she visited two skate parks with him and his 12-year-old son, a keen skater.

She was most impressed by the one the Christchurch locals call "the Wash", aka The Washington Way Skate Park - it was humming, according to Mum.

On the corner of Waltham Rd and Moorhouse Ave, the public site keeps everyone safe and seen - a point in favour of putting a skate park on the corner site the NCC voted down - and it's easy to access.

My mother thinks young people's needs should be at the forefront of the council's planning and spending.

"There are plenty of facilities and activities for the elderly," she said, "although I wish they'd get rid of that awful Stoke Memorial Hall. What an ugly, cold old pile that is!"

With senior citizens, apparently the hall's main user group, tucked cosily into a flash new community centre at Greenmeadows, surely that land would be the perfect site for a skate park.

I agree with my mother. Young people of Stoke, get online and fill in the questionnaire. Make sure your voice is heard this time around.

- Nelson

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