In a move to the suburbs, an area not normally frequented by the Eye of the Fish, a Mall is on the menu. Johnsonville Mall, to be precise. And there’s a big fuss brewing. Not about the concept of a mall – after all, there’s one there already. But this one is due to be different, to be bigger. Much bigger. Unusually however, we can’t show you any plans of what is planned. Why? Because it hasn’t yet been decided whether it should go to a Publicly Notified Resource Consent, or not.

Now how is that possible? Apparently the Wellington City Council has asked an “Independent Planning Consultant” (David Hill) to produce a special report by the end of November, just on the very question of whether this project should be Publicly Notified, or just allowed to slip under the net and be processed by Council officers just like an extension to your bike shed. Surely, for it to be Non-Notified, the current 10,000m2 site would be remaining much the same size. Surely, if it was to double in size, that would trigger some kind of public interest clause? But what if it was to quadruple in size – to nearer 40,000m2 – surely there would be no question as to whether the Public should be allowed to look at the scheme and have a say?

The DNZ website says remarkably little about the project: 

The Centre is attractive, and the buildings in good condition; the Centre enjoys strong trading performance. The strategic plan for the asset is to redevelop to a regional shopping centre integrated with a transport hub and upgraded existing railway station.   

How’s that for bland and non-commital? The Architect’s website says even less: nothing at all, to be precise. Thanks Buchan Group. I’m not sure what they’re all scared of. The National Party wants the redevelopment to go ahead. No doubt people in Johnsonville wants the development to go ahead. But the Dom Post is refreshingly blunt in its appraisal, when it notes the Resource Consent application freely admits that a revitalised Johnsonville Shopping Centre would “suck $44 million from the tills of downtown Wellington retailers in its first year”. So, in a manner of speaking, the new Mall will suck, big time – at least in terms of cash, if not its architectural aspirations as well.

Now some may say that the present J’ville is such an abhorently bad piece of townscape anyway, that anything that could be done would be an improvement – and they may well be right. Its currently like a gaping wound of asphalt rollocking across an undulating field of back yards to retail outlets, a thin ribbon of retail backed by a fairly shapeless morass of carparking. As far as I understand, the new (4 times larger) mall will build over much more of the present carparking, and so one assumes that the carparking needs will also be 4 times larger as well (at least 1000 cars). There will be a large plane of carparking overhead, rather than underneath (too expensive and the levels won’t work), and a separate carparking building as well, as J’ville folk are keen on parking right outside the door, and appear to have an aversion to stairs.

There will be, as sure as eggs are eggs (around $4 / dozen I believe), a glazed atrium thingy over a confusingly shaped central walkway to help you lose track of time and the way out, some large anchor stores that will look ugly from outside, the car deck at level 1, and an almighty traffic snarlup if the Westfield in Petone is anything to go by. But will there be more? Will there be, for instance, a swath of swanky apartments over the top, as indicated to be a desirable thing by the WCC in their recent Suburban Centres dialogues? How will the new integrated and (much needed) upgraded train station and / or bus station work to allow shoppers to use public transport? Will there be a decent pedestrian management plan so that the considerable vehicular traffic through poor old J’ville gets better to walk around, instead of worse? Wouldn’t the simple and best way to let us all know that, be for the plans to be Publicly Notified, so we can all have a look and see for ourselves?