Lack of progress takes town's toll

JODY O'CALLAGHAN
Last updated 05:00 18/01/2014
David Ayers
STACY SQUIRES/Fairfax NZ

TOUGH THREE YEARS: David Ayers, the Waimakariri District Mayor, in Rangiora’s town centre which still has areas fenced off because of earthquake damage.

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Every parking space not blocked by fences is full during Rangiora's rush hour.

There is no unhindered path down the main street and pedestrians cross the road several times to avoid cordons around earthquake-prone buildings.

For a town with little damage compared to its neighbour, Kaiapoi, the perceived lack of progress is hard to understand.

Waimakariri Mayor David Ayers has lived in the North Canterbury since the late 1970s. He and his wife live in the only home left on High St - "the most central house in Rangiora".

"I look at fences, so I'm very conscious of our town centre," he says.

Buildings council has "total control over" are being fixed, like the Town Hall.

Most businesses in Rangiora pre-quake are still trading, but many still battle with insurance companies.

Department store Farmers closed its doors in March 2012, after its building was deemed quake-prone. Fences remain around the prime and central spot, which Ayers says has been "certainly significant for the town".

"It is sort of like the anchor store really."

Company executives would not respond to calls from The Press this week but the chain has indicated it wants to come back, Ayers says.

Street Legal manager Rachael Martin misses the business that used to come with crowds to popular Farmers sales.

"As soon as they get rid of those fences and we hopefully get Farmers back, we will be good to go," she says.

Sparks Rangiora owner Barbara Morris is frustrated "with nothing happening". Her landlord was quick to strengthen her building, but Farmers is still the main concern among locals.

"We're looking at that building every day. It's awful," she says.

Rangiora Pharmacy owner Greg Knight is despondent about the cordon around Robbies bar and restaurant scaring away customers. The building is destined for demolition then sale, but owner Bob Muschamp is trying to save the facade through the Heritage Places Trust. Knight's business "can't move forward" until it does. "Our regulars still keep coming but it's getting a lot quieter. Rangiora population is booming and we're just finding we're not getting any of those people now."

Local Kris Clemenger thinks the main street is "a mess", and not a pleasant place to visit. "The whole thing has been hinging on Farmers reopening, which it doesn't seem to be doing."

Renee Knipe, 19, wants to see more teenage-appropriate shops in the centre. Without Farmers, there are no affordable shops.

Wee Kiwi owner Mark Leeburn worries small town shopping habits are changing and "if they don't start doing something soon then there will be nothing left".

"As far as the High St, if the local people don't support what's left, then everything will close."

His wife, Lisa, says the recovery of High St is "not moving fast enough".

Amberley and Kaiapoi are "taking off" but Rangiora is at a standstill, she says.

Jaks boutique store owner Debbie Albrecht has a more positive view, and is expecting big changes in 2014.

"Rangiora I think will just get better and bigger."

She is operating from a temporary council-supplied portable building, but is "100 per cent optimistic" of having a permanent location next year.

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Ayers predicts new buildings will begin popping up in the next six months.

"We've centred our social recovery on Kaiapoi for obvious reasons. But in Rangiora, it's definitely the town centre."

With 14,000 residents - up about 2000 since the quakes - locals are concerned the centre cannot cater for them. The "speed of things" has been frustrating. Some businesses are doing okay, others are struggling, Ayers says. "It's very tough for them. You take three years out of the life of a business, well that's significant.With those fences down the street it just doesn't feel normal."

Inaccessible roads historically stifled plans to expand the centre north, and the piecemeal town was based on little planning in the 1960s and 1970s.

"There is an opportunity now to bring that about, because of the earthquakes," Ayers says.

Ayers hopes landowners will not create shopping destinations on the outskirts as it would "suck the heart out" of the centre.

"Keeping the High St full is actually central to all our planning, where foot traffic's important and you feel as if you're in a town, not a mall," he says.

- The Press

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