Déjà vu
By Andrew Frame

I’ve just finished reading an article on NZHearld.co.nz that went as follows:

Art Deco ‘sinking under shop signs’

Napier businesses will be asked to ditch their sandwich boards and tidy up their signs under a proposal that seeks to preserve the city’s Art Deco heritage.

Mayor Barbara Arnott last night encouraged shop owners and businesses in the central business district to work together to rid the Art Deco capital of unnecessary sandwich boards and garish signs.

Only 60 shop and business owners out of an invited total of 700 turned up to hear her speak on the topic. But the support they showed was unanimous.”

[AF: Considering 60 out of 700 is a mere 8.5% that’s hardly what I’d call a) ‘Support’ b) ‘Unanimous’ or c) A startling number of yes-men and women, but I digress.]

“Mrs. Arnott wants shop owners and businesses in the inner city, particularly the Art Deco Heritage area, to do more to improve the city’s heart and its growing reputation as an interesting place to visit, work and invest.

As part of the continuing improvement, Napier City Council is about to review its signs policy, and Mrs. Arnott called the meeting with business owners and inner city stakeholders to discuss how Art Deco heritage can be enhanced while still giving businesses the opportunity to promote themselves.

Mrs. Arnott gave a presentation, showing the difference between Napier streets currently strewn with signs, and a proposed sleeker option of using less signs and Art Deco-style designs.”

[AF: Maybe I’m just getting old and cynical, but the only things that could be considered as “strewn” over Napier CBD streets are café tables and chairs – a culture the mayor and council are constantly pushing to visitors. This “sleeker” (read ‘uniform’) Art Deco option could likely become the architectural equivalent of writing an entire newspaper in ‘Times New Roman”. Except it would be, technically “Broadway”.]

“She was the first to admit the council needed to take its own street signs down and place them instead on walls or pavements – which she added would be made a priority so people could see the difference.

“A lot of the council signs for street names and parking are unnecessary and they don’t have to be on poles sticking out like a sore thumb. They can be included in the actual facade of the building instead.

“Napier is the Art Deco capital of the world. This is incredibly important to us as a city in New Zealand, and a city of our size. “But I think we can get smarter and add more value to the CBD.”

Hawke’s Bay Today – Thursday Apr 6, 2006

I nearly fell off my chair when I saw the date line of this item. Almost four years ago. Before the last local body elections. Around the time Mrs Arnott was “Convinced to run for mayor again by a group of the city’s “influential” people.” The Hawke’s Bay Today quoted the Mayor on 25th March 2010 as saying the “signage saga” was not shaping up to be an election issue. Just this time around?

Have the council parking and street signs been removed, as was the case with the “unlicensed” sandwich boards recently? No? Methinks more double standards are afoot.

I have major concerns if World Heritage status is given to Napier’s CBD. The Mayor and Council seem blinded by the potential prestige of the title.

You just have to watch one of those “Grand Designs” English television programmes to see the issues that the owners of National Trust-listed buildings in Britain incur when they wish to renovate or alter their homes. World Heritage standards would be a couple of levels beyond even that. CBD tenants and landlords could lose the ability to do anything structural or aesthetic beyond just changing a light bulb without permission from the United Nations. When planning permissions were granted, the cost would be astronomical. Combine it with increasing rents, fees and the cost of running a store in Napier’s inner city becomes even less palatable.

Now here comes the kicker. Rumours have been doing the rounds for years of malls and “Big Box Retailers” threatening to build in Ahuriri or on Napier’s periphery and killing off the CBD – as happened to Hastings’ Heretaunga St when Kmart and The Warehouse opened off St Aubyn Street. These have been largely forgotten due to the recession. But very soon could be their perfect opportunity to strike.

The promise of no silly signage rules or fees and lower rents would be very tempting bait for over-officiated, over-charged retailers. The Napier City Council could get their World Heritage precinct, but it could very well be a World Heritage ghost town.

I love my city the way it is. Buildings old and new – glass, plastic, linoleum and aluminium versus wood, steel and concrete. I like the people that make up my city even more, because without them, the city is just a shell. This aspect of the Napier City Council’s strategy seems to have forgotten that for now.

I say “for now” because this is an election year. You can expect to be surprised or jaded or cynical at just how much of a turnaround Councillors’ attitudes will take towards the middle of the year. You can expect to be even less surprised at how fast the insular, “hear no evil, see no evil, let’s do as we want” status quo returns soon after.

I wish they’d actually listen just for a change.

Join the Conversation


  1. Being the patriot that I am ,I`d love to be able to agree with the mayor and her councillors about the signs on the pavements .but try as hard as I can , for the life of me ,I have only ever noticed the sandwichboard signs as informative ..I am amazed at how much money being demanded for the privelidge of informing the public ..

    I guess if I had been tripping over them ,I might feel different ,is that the problem ?

  2. Hello !!

    Does anyone else care .?,is there anybody out there ,apart from the author ..

    Come on Portnoy ,you also are going to vote in the elections huh

    This town surely wont be turning into a Stepford Wives

  3. Yes Alan ,Like ourselves one assumes "Man about town, Andrew Frame was born in Napier".?

    I have discovered,(after my Wednesday visit to the Napier Court, (right next the Napier City Council ) I can walk up Tiffen Park to fill my lungs with clean air, and forget for a while, our lovely city of "them and us"- What a breath of fresh air, is Andrew Frame,( I may have attended school with is father John,? Lets find out over a coffee Andrew, Alan Burke can join us.- your call. .

  4. The issue of signage on the pavements of Napier is not new.

    30years ago before the ART DECO phenomena had gathered momentum the pavements were uncluttered with anything other than designed for pedestrians.

    It was late closing Friday evenings and at weekends shops were closed and like most towns Napier was deserted for two days.

    I recall great controvesy over one shop a barbers from recall

    having a sandwhich board on the pavement. Numerous letters to the editor proclaimed if allowed in no time it would become hazardous to use the pavements for their intended purpose walking safely out of trafic lanes.

    They are now filled with signs tables chairs and potted trees. The biggest hazard of all to watch out for is being run over by a mobility scooter often driven by people whose eyesight and physical reaction response time is impaired.

    I am physically dissabled drive a modified car and hold a disability parking card and indeed was the person responsible in 2005 for parking meters being removed from dissability parks in line with Hastings and National directives to Local Authorities.

    Dave Bosely when GPN President began that with a submissions to the 2005 Annual Plan that was rejected.

    In response I requested a public forum on the issue that reversed the decision on Dave thoughtfull submission on behalf of GPN members and all disabled drivers.

    It is worth noting Mayor Arnott, Crs Furlong, White and Lutter voted against the removal of meters on dissabily parks. It was one of the few times Mayor Arnott wishes were defeated.

    There was a lack of sensitivity in what was seen as a loss of revenue gathering. There was also a dictatoral personality clash involved on two counts myself and Dave Bosley being the independent of each other challengers to an out of step with the rest of NZ untenable dissability parking charge.

    Personally I like tables and chairs outside but the problem is where many are there is not the pavement width to combine these with pedestrians going about their buisiness Traffic in every street compounds problems and destroys a sense of ambience.

    How one can reach a satisfactory one cap fits all solution is a hairy one. Throwing rocks at each other and making the issue a them and us bun fight will achieve Zero.

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