A local community pressure group, Rongotai Revived, has been set up to counter the proposed Wellington City Council proposal to limit the growth and zoning of ‘big-box’ bulk retail shopping. There have been a number of community pressure groups over the years – Waterfront Watch being amongst the more successful in recent years, but others include the Mount Victoria Preservation League, the Oriental Bay Rich People’s View-Keeping Organisation, the Aged Person’s of Wadestown Social Club and Toilet Lobbying Facility – or names and concerns to that effect. Curiously, most of them seem to include Pauline Swann, the indefatigable fighter at Waterfront Watch and Civic Trust, who brought down the Hilton Hotel and now has her sights pointed at the OPT. Citizens of lesser-moneyed suburbs such as the barren back streets of Berhampore, the deeper unhappy depths of Happy Valley Road, the curiously destitute northern suburbs of Wellington (you know who you are), rarely, if ever, seem to get their act together to organise an effective protest.
However, this time it appears that Rongotai Revived has really got their act together (possibly even got their ACT together) and posted out a flyer to a fair portion of the population in their battle to be allowed to build Bulk Retail Barns over a large chunk of Rongotai. Their presentation and logic seem superb: that shopping locally creates jobs, that Wellington is presently woefully under-catered for shops (compared with Auckland and Christchurch etc), that industrial or hazardous processes could be going on within ‘a stones throw’ from homes and schools without notification, that consumers don’t purchase lounge suites on Lambton Quay, that the ‘popular Rongotai Retail Park’ should be able to flourish and continue to lead the change, that 19% of shoppers at Queensgate Mall in the Hutt come from Wellington, that 32% of shoppers in Porirua MegaCentre come from Wellington, and that 91% of shoppers in Rongotai come from Wellington. Well then, that all makes sense does it not?
Let’s look at this a little closer, to see if everything really does stack up. Firstly, our Fish guts tell us to sniff out who is behind Rongotai Revived and their impressively produced brochure. The good thing is they are quite open about this: they list Eyal Aharoni (Prime Property and about 50 other property companies), Gil Retter (Dimension Display shop fitters), Richard Mazur (RHL Group which is a
monster US shopping centre specialist local motelier only apparently), Steve Cox (Capital City Flooring: a local business man and, I would guess, property owner).
Do the Rongotai Revived claims really ring true? Is Wellington haemoraging money to their northern neighbours such as Porirua and the Hutt – and is that such a bad thing? I’m a bad one to ask: Fish are notoriously poor shoppers and prefer to stay in schools, so the thought of spending time in a Mega-Mall fills me with fear and loathing, yet clearly they are the preferred shopping and breeding grounds for some. I am somewhat amazed to see that 32% of shoppers in Porirua MegaCentre are from Wellington – I’ve been there only once and it was so hideous that I never wish to repeat it in my life, yet clearly some dreary shoppers get excited by it. I won’t question their figures (although you could), but it would seem logical that the majority of those shoppers would be from Wellington’s northern suburbs like Johnsonville and Tawa: and these shoppers are hardly ever likely to travel all the way across town to get to south coast Rongotai, especially with the inner-city congestion we have now.
Personally, I think that Wellington has more than enough shops selling cheaply made tacky chinese tat, such as bobble-headed plastic nick-nacks, thousands of ill-fitting shoes and baggy sweatshirts for gormless youths, hideously decorated ’boutiques’ for banal brides-to-be, bogus bogan bandanas for bored and boring beat boys, and a plethora of bad-fast-food bars which process barn-fed chickens through a life of corn-fed hell into a simulacrum of saggy ‘spicy’ burgers. We have a bustling ‘Golden Mile’ that is mostly full of shops and decent shopping facilities, although in this current cold-climate of impending financial doom, even there a fair swage of shops are shutting up, well, shop. I really don’t see much advantage in allowing more shops to jostle into the market.
The Rongotai Revived plan entitled “Here’s an idea of what could be” features shops with enthusiastic optimistic titles such as Homebase, Home and Garden, Fashion City, Outside Sport, Street Electronics, Wild Surf and the Brewer. Given that the current Rongotai shopping area (sorry, Retail Park), features a huge Warehouse, and small Mitre 10, small Briscoes, and very small Briscoes and Rebel Sports, we can safely say that (and here I’m guessing, but it all seems so obvious) the target shops to get here will be a Big Save Furniture, a Mega Mitre 10, a Big Dick Smith, a Monster Noel Leeming, a Gigantic Lardy Lady Store, a Mental Monster Sporty Boof-Head Sports Store, a Krazy K Mart, a Dodgy Grey Importers, El Cheapo Chinese Tat-Stores and probably a Mega Monster McDonalds Drivethru or Krazy Komik KFC or two to satisfy all those fat stodgy bodies in their SUVs, sucking on their super-size-me lard-enhancing bottles of Corporate-Coke suckers.
OK, you can tell that perhaps I don’t intend to spend much time there myself, despite its optimistic ‘Potential Trolley Bus Link’ notation, or possible ‘Kingsford Smith Street could be recreated as a pedestrian boulevard’ claim. I’m picking that, as per the existing Rongotai Retail Park, most of the shoppers will continue to come from Wellington, but that the creation of this additional spending haven won’t really affect those northern shoppers who currently shop in areas north: they’ll continue to do so. The only effect it is likely to have is more cars in this area of town, and a lessening of mindless mall type shopping in the central city, but probably only by a small amount.
I actually think that the backers behind the Rongotai Revived proposal have got it slightly wrong. Maybe its me that has got it wrong – I’ll be sure to be corrected if I have. My understanding of the Council’s proposal is that they wish to have more control over the appearance of the Big Barn style of shopping, as well as controlling what goes where. The Big Barn architectural appearance is typically the lowest possible quality option, incredibly cheaply built with barely room for the thinnest possible veneer of architectural pretense. I’m all for a significant increase in the Council requirements for that architectural bar to be raised by a large amount.
But the main push behind the WCC proposal is, as far as I can fathom, a desire to keep the option open for light industrial in Rongotai. That’s an allowance for people that actually make things, and boost our country’s much needed GDP, as opposed to simple mindless shopping for imported goods. Only a couple of decades ago there was a concentration of light industrial in central Wellington in places like Te Aro and Rongotai, although the former area has been taken over by ritzy designer apartments (and lesser quality rabbit-hutch student dross), and so the Rongotai area is a vital last resort against the deletion of all manual labour from our capital. I’m keen on it staying as light industrial – factories are good honest places, that actually produce goods – plus, it is a real pain for both workers and customers to have to drudge back and forth to Seaview or the Hutt every time you need a car panel beaten, or steel widget fabricated. The scaremongering of the pamphlet evoking piles of toxic waste is disingenuous to say the least, and downright dishonest and silly to say a little more.
But enough of what I think: what about you? As the flyer says: “We want our submission on the Council’s proposed Centres Policy to reflect community views. That’s why we are seeking your feedback now.”