Fears ‘Let’s Get Wellington Moving’ will cause retail and hospitality businesses to grind to a halt, writes Hamish Cardwell.
Wellington retailers in the central shopping corridor are scared a plan to ban cars from the area will cause businesses to close or abandon the area.
What is known as the Golden Mile – Lambton Quay, Manners and Willis Streets and Courtenay Place – will be open only to buses, cyclists and pedestrians.
The car ban in the busy arterial corridor will come into effect in 2024, and is part of the beleaguered $6.4 billion Let’s Get Wellington Moving transport programme.
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The Golden Mile project is about prioritising pedestrians and public transport above other transport users.
All car parks along the route will be removed, and footpaths widened by 75 percent.
Most side streets will be closed off where they intersect with the main thoroughfare
Retailers have always hated the plan – but earlier consultation showed the majority of the public backed the car ban.
Nicola Cranfield is a second generation Wellington retailer, taking over her mum’s gifts and homewares store Cranfields which opened three decades ago.
She said retailers were already struggling with reduced foot traffic that never bounced back after the Covid-19 lockdown.
Officials explained the plan to retailers in a meeting last night. Cranfield said retailers were dejected, their submissions and concerns ignored, and they had given up.
“I’m really tired, and my business aside I’m really worried for Wellington as a city.
“They’ve got this plan to have all these huge open spaces, but I just don’t know if we’ve got the bodies to fill them. And I hate to say but I don’t know if our climate is the right climate to host all these open air spaces.”
She feared a desolate downtown without car headlights would feel dangerous – deterring visitors – as would the noisy construction as contractors paved over car parks for pedestrians.
Retail NZ chief executive Greg Harford said it was hard enough to find a park in town as it is.
“It’s already almost impossible for customers to get into town and find a park, and taking cars away from that Golden Mile and reducing the connectivity between Lambton Quay and some of those side streets will make it even harder for them to get customers through the door.
“Ultimately, that is going to lead to reduce turnover and could well lead some businesses to close their doors or relocate out to suburbs where there is much easier car parking access.”
Harford said the councils and the Transport Agency were virulently anti-car.
While delivery vehicles would be able to get access at certain times of the day, he said shutting the side streets would just cause more headaches.
“Retailers operating in the central city need to be able to get goods delivered to their stores.
“The side streets that come off the Golden Mile play a key role in that, it’s not possible necessarily to turn some of those delivery trucks around and all of those side streets.”
‘Huge economic benefits’, ‘very little risk’ for retailers
Let’s Get Wellington Moving projects director Siobhan Procter said the plan was to ensure the city had a vibrant and engaging environment downtown.
She said pedestrians spent more than those using private vehicles and the changes would bring “huge economic benefits” to businesses.
“Thirty five percent of the retail spend comes from … pedestrians, 32 percent from public transport users, and 23 percent from private vehicles [users].
“So the main conclusion [is] that there [is] very little risk of any downside to retailers. And that the there could only really be benefit.”
‘I think you will see now an avalanche of substantial projects’ – mayor
Wellington Mayor Andy Foster said 22 percent of people travelled to the Golden Mile by car, and only 3 percent who shopped there actually parked there.
The Let’s Get Wellington Moving project has been in the doldrums, beset by delays, lacking in leadership and facing likely substantial cost increases.
Foster said the public, and elected councillors, had lost confidence in the project and it was great to finally be making progress.
“I think you will see now an avalanche of substantial projects coming in front of our community over the next few months – it’s not going to stop with Golden Mile and people are going to go ‘crikey… there was work being done in the background’.
“We always see those work [projects] being done in the background. Now that’s going to be rolled out.”
Greater Wellington Regional Council chair Daran Ponter said there would be announcements monthly for the next while about developments for other major parts of the transport package.
“That malaise, if you like, that the programme was in, that pretty much has been put to bed and we’re now starting to pump things out at the other end.”
Construction is expected to take two years – starting in late 2022 – and cost up to $79 million.