Businesses suffer as protestors foreclose precinct

Protestors near Parliament in Wellington (RNZ Photo by Angus Dreaver)

Hamish Cardwell
Wellington, February 14, 2022

Businesses near Parliament in Wellington said that they are only just holding on, with customers scared off by the massive group of protesters occupying the grounds.

Some bars and cafes near the precinct have already been forced to temporarily close their doors, while others have had customer numbers more than halved.

There are now calls for the government to enter dialogue with the protesters in an attempt to break the deadlock and open the city back up.

There are no signs people are going anywhere. There were at least 1000 people at the protest on February 14, 2022, and the number of illegally parked vehicles blocking streets and tents on the grounds and in the surrounding areas increased.

Hospitality sector suffers

The Backbencher Pub is slap bang in the middle of it, forcing co-owner Alistair Boyce to shut its doors.

“It is bloody hard, I don’t know like we are in real trouble – everyone is. Hospo businesses have only got weeks left, like seriously, it is just dire, we are on our knees,” he said.

Boyce said that the only way out of the deadlock was for the Prime Minister to meet with protesters to show she was listening.

A local business owner, who did not want to be named, said that takings nose-dived since the protest started.

She said that most of the protesters were nice to her but she also feared for her safety at times. Some people became aggressive when she told them to wear a mask in her store.

“We are a small business, we have to remain open, but at the same time I feel my health and my safety as well are at risk as well,” she said.

Backbencher Pub Co-Owner Alistair Boyce ( RNZ Photo by Hamish Cardwell)

Fear grips commoners

Rae Julian, 80, lives in an apartment block in the thick of the occupation.

Her age and asthma mean that she is immunocompromised.

“And that’s bothering me more because I don’t have a car and therefore if I want to go anywhere I have to walk through the middle of them,” she said.

“I wear my mask, I’m not afraid of them and I have got into conversation with a number of them. It hasn’t had much of a useful effect I should add, but I’m bothered because of Covid.”

Julian is a former New Zealand Human Rights Commissioner and is no stranger to protests – having hit the streets just two weeks ago. But she said that the protesters were going too far.

“They are breaking the law, they are infringing people’s rights. I might want to protest again within the next few weeks, what is what they are doing, and getting away with, saying for other protests or issues. It is very important that we should have the right to protest but … there are boundaries – and they have gone beyond those boundaries.”

Chris Roberts, who also lives near the precinct, said that the protesters had taken over that part of town. He said that he had to negotiate with the protesters to get his car in and out of the building over the weekend.

“We have not seen anyone at any of the intersections around here controlling traffic. It is the protesters who are controlling traffic in the streets of Wellington right now,” he said.

A number of large local employers including the nearby Victoria University Pipitea campus had also shut, and public transport was being diverted away from the area with the busy Molesworth Street and side streets totally blocked by trucks, campervans and other vehicles.

In an bid to ease the situation, the protesters were being given free parking at nearby Sky Stadium from 6.30 pm.

Michelle, a protester, doubted there would be a mass exodus of vehicles.

“It is about all of New Zealand and if the shops on Molesworth Street and stuff have been affected, I don’t think that is good. Therefore, it would be awesome if they move their cars. A lot probably won’t, but I think a lot will probably do so,” she said.

Time would tell whether the trucks and vehicles move away, but it did not look like the protest would end any time soon.

Hamish Cardwell is a Senior Journalist at Radio New Zealand. The above report has been published under a Special Agreement with www.rnz.co.nz

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