Keeping Wellington moving

The more I looked at the WCC proposals for the so called Golden Mile the nuttier the proposals seem.   The process has clearly been captured by those activists who enjoy participating in it.

The commercial sector, which pays proportionally more rates for properties of equal value, is typically less engaged with the WCC, and so we end up with business hostile proposals.   Doing nothing would be better than the three options proposed.   My formal submission is below.

Submission on “Golden Mile” concepts

August 7, 2020

The “Golden Mile” could benefit from some refinement, but the WCC must take extreme care to avoid imposing unnecessary costs or otherwise damaging the commercial sector with well intentioned policies that reduce activity and the current level of vibrancy.

A beautiful “Golden Mile” with greatly diminished commercial activity, is a formula for a sad “Mile” with empty shops and space inhabited by anti-social people not usefully employed.  The old Manners Mall is a salutary lesson in this regard and must be avoided.

I reject all three options proposed because they are too extreme.   The WCC was seriously negligent in not offering the status quo as one option, because it is clearly legitimate.

Commercial realities 

The business sector pays substantially more in rates for properties of equivalent value than residential owners, and its view should be weighted by its proportional contribution to rating revenue.

While COVID will ultimately pass, it and the ongoing impact of seismic issues, will negatively impact the CBD for up to a decade.  This is not a time for additional major capital spending.  We already have stormwater issues, civic square seismic costs, and important priorities, such as road access to the airport and eastern suburbs for both cars and commercial vehicles.

The retail sector also faces the prospect of more online shopping and the ongoing competition from shopping centres in the Hutt and Porirua.  What the CBD needs is parking for those who wish to shop in the City and for whom public transport is not the best option.  The Kaikoura quake took out car park buildings which ideally would be replaced, but not by the WCC.

Models for Wellington

Many planners like to reference the dense cities of Europe and others where zero traffic streets have been created and argue Wellington should follow suit.  Two realities are relevant to this discussion.

First, densely populated cities offshore were largely built of very durable materials prior to the car.  This does not apply to our cities which were mostly built after the arrival of the car and are consequently more dispersed.

Second, Wellington has just 200,000 people, with a daily workforce arriving from neighbouring cities, some of whom also shop here on the weekends.  This is a very modest population compared with say Copenhagen City (pop 800,000) and the recently referenced San Francisco area, pop of 890,000, and the San Francisco-Bay Area 7.7 million.

The “Mile” (actually much longer) is a long street for retail shopping and we must be realistic with our expectations.  Townsville Queensland is an object lesson in CBD planning gone wrong.   It has a population of around 200,000 and some strong suburban shopping centres.   In 1979 it made Flinders Street (its CBD main street) into a mall without cars and the CBD went down-hill not long afterwards.  Cars are now allowed back.  I have visited Townsville’s Flinders Mall most years since 1993 and have noticed the damage that was done and the costs of rectifying it.  While one can argue about which cities are relevant to Wellington, I believe Townsville is more appropriate than San Francisco and Copenhagen, both of which I have visited.  See the very readable article from the ArchitectureAU

Traffic in the Golden Mile

I reject all three options proposed by the WCC on the grounds they are extreme, too costly and will create more problems than they will solve.  Delivery vehicles, taxis, Ubers and individual drivers, need to be able to access the “Mile” from the side streets to avoid having to turn around in them thereby creating costs and congestion.

The proposals look like they are driven by dreamers, biking advocates and the anti-car brigade, who don’t understand how fragile is the Wellington economy and even how it actually works.

Recommendation:   The WCC actually visit at least as many of the business owners on the “Mile” and get their assessment of what problems may exist, and what they want done, if anything.

I suspect many of these people don’t engage with the WCC because they either don’t think it will make any difference, or they are so busy trying to simply survive they don’t have the time or skill to make submissions.   The submission process suits activists but not people in business.

Recommendation:  That the WCC remove all 99 car parks on the Golden Mile and replace them with a mix of: 10 minute stopping zones, loading zones, seats, trees and bike racks.

With just 200,000 people footpaths don’t need to be made wider because people like to be in busy streets and shop owners want them to see what they have in their windows.  The removal of the long term parks along with the new slower speed limits, which are too slow, would reduce private vehicle traffic at very modest cost.

I would be very happy to meet with the WCC on this very important matter.

Barrie Saunders

1/25 Tennyson Street, Te Aro, Wellington.     021 449 469 

Note:  Barrie Saunders has lived in Wellington for nearly 50 years including 22 years in Tennyson Street, Te Aro.   He has also lived in Melbourne, London and New York and travelled extensively in North America, Australia, Europe and South America. 

He was President of the Wellington Chamber of Commerce for three years – 2000-2002, and  was a Government Relations Consultant for 25 years until 2015 – Saunders Unsworth



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