New Plymouth CBD will suffer as a result of development – planner

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Ted Wells has been a city planner all his life and warns New Plymouth’s CBD will suffer with the Bluehaven commercial development on the edge of town.

ANDY JACKSON/Stuff

Ted Wells has been a city planner all his life and warns New Plymouth’s CBD will suffer with the Bluehaven commercial development on the edge of town.

A long serving city planner and the New Plymouth business association have hit back at developers’ claims that the city centre will survive a new $200 million out-of-town shopping complex.

Development company Bluehaven has consents for a two-level site that will include big box and speciality retail stores, a supermarket, cinema, offices, food and beverage premises and hotel at the former Ravensdown site on Smart Rd, opposite the Valley Shopping Centre.

New Plymouth’s proposed district plan discourages retail development outside the town centre in order to protect the central business district (CBD).

At a hearing this week, Bluehaven criticised the district council’s approach, saying there was no evidence to justify it.

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But Ted Wells, a New Plymouth City Planner from 1977 to 1983, said he “100 per cent supports” the council.

“I’ve spent my life doing this and I’ve seen major cities lose their hearts.”

Money spent on downtown places such as libraries had been wasted as people migrated to out-of-town shopping malls, and no one wanted to spend the hundreds of millions to bring them back, he said.

Wells, a retired member of the New Zealand Planning Institute and a Life Member of the American Institute of Planners, said anything aiming to serve a region but built outside of a city centre would end up hurting the CBD.

“That’s why the [central business district] is in the middle of a town because it’s equidistant to everybody.”

Wells also disagreed with Bluehaven’s claims that there was no room in the central city for “big box” retailers – he could think of at least six spaces a company like Kmart could go to.

Wells suggested the area around the Metro Plaza, on Devon St, could be used for big box retail.

Bluehaven had used the example of central Hamilton bouncing back with office redevelopment after the Base Mall was built in Te Rapa, about 15 minutes from the CBD.

Wells said the Hamilton CBD had badly hit by a mall built in the 1970s. He said any bounce-back would be at ratepayers’ cost.

The Taranaki Business and Retail Association also criticised the Hamilton example.

“We totally disagree with that because the Hamilton City Council has spent and continues to spend multimillion ratepayer dollars,” coordinator Michelle Brennan said.

“The reset that [Bluehaven] is talking about ends up being funded by the ratepayers.”

The CBD was the “heartbeat” of a city, she said.

“It’s the lifeblood of a district.

“It’s really important for people’s wellbeing as well, not just for businesses.”

Local business owner Les Marshall, of Bookstop Gallery, on Brougham Street, said Bluehaven had made some valid points, but they did have a vested interest.

The problem with CBDs was that council processes and changes moved slowly, he said.

“Many of us smaller businesses in this area, I guess we don’t have the resources to develop any more than we already are.

“I don’t know if the development will finish off the CBD. It won’t make it any easier. I think it’s going to make the CBD contract.

“You can’t be overly pessimistic about it. It is what it is.”

Marshall said the lack of parking was an issue affecting people’s attitude to the CBD.

Meanwhile, a survey on a proposal to extend paid parking until 7pm, but providing an hour’s free parking, closes on July 16.

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