by James Barber
Kei whea te wharepaku? Now that the big question of the US presidency has been resolved, we can focus on the smaller things at home.
Those of you who were patient enough to read my previous locally-focused piece on the many papa tākaro (playgrounds) in Newtown  might be bemused to know that during consultation on a revamp of Carrara Park, wharepaku (toilets) were ruled out from the start.
Hard hitting news from me on wellington.scoop I know.
On the council website it clearly said: “The installation of public toilets… is outside the scope of this project.”
The question of toilets at Carrara Park has been around for a while. If you Google the park you will even find reviews along the lines of “great park. Would be perfect with toilets and two more swings.” The Newtown Residents’ Association has also been politely asking for public toilets at the park for some time.
I was curious about why toilets had been ruled out before consultation even began. So I contacted the council. After a few days my query was passed on to the “Parks and Properties Team.”
Eventually there came a response:
“although… council wanted to hear about the park in general, the actual budgeted build work was secured solely on the playground upgrade. In addition to this there is currently no secured budget in council’s long term plan for a new public toilet at Carrara Park.”
So the summation is that there was no money for toilets, and to be fair, what with the multi million dollar white elephant being built in the middle of the city, the exploding pipes and the myriad of buildings in Civic Square needing strengthening this is understandable. There are much bigger fish to fry I suppose.
What I did find interesting though, and as I pointed out in my previous piece, there are some cool new barbeques which are clearly not part of the playground. I wasn’t sure who to contact so I emailed two councillors, Teri O’Neil and Jill Day, who have playgrounds and parks portfolios.
I heard back from Jill Day a few days later. Her response was essentially, “I don’t know, but I’ll ask.”
A month later we finally received a response about this.
“Hi Jill. As discussed on our site visit, the recent Carrara Park project was focused on the renewal of the play space. While the toilet was not part of the project scope we obviously received feedback on having a toilet. The play spaces development did not include budget for a new toilet and the project for public toilets does not include provision/budget for a toilet for Carrara Park.
From the engagement with the community on the matter of a toilet there are mixed views about the need/demand and benefits of having a toilet in the Park and there is a perception that having a toilet located in the Park could attract other less desirable behaviours in the Park. A key consideration relating to evaluating the need for a toilet is how people travel to a park and the likely duration of their stay. Most people who use this park are local and travel by foot to use the park and outside of organised community events the duration of stay is relatively short.
For one off community events we always have the opportunity to use portable toilets when necessary.
As you are also aware there is always a need for us to prioritise our investment in new assets and at this time any new funding for toilet provision is targeted into higher demand/ growth areas or area where there is a significant gap in existing toilet provision. There is an area in the Park that could accommodate a public toilet in the future subject to future demand, budget and community engagement. The bbqs in the park were made possible due to funding from reserve contributions collected from the recent town house development that neighbours the Park.”
So, mystery solved. There is space for one toilet, but no budget for it, no plans to have any, and the money for barbeques came from the next door townhouses.
I do find the question of “other less desirable behaviours” quite stimulating for my imagination.
Presumably having a mimi behind a tree is not one of these “less desirable behaviours” – otherwise they’d find some money to put in a toilet. Considering that their consultation documents explicitly ruled out toilets, it’s notable that so many people had something to say on the subject anyway.
Clearly a discussion about it is warranted.
I did a quick search for other public spaces in Wellington with barbeques. On the website I found Shorland Park in Island Bay (which has two public toilets), Otari-Wilton’s Bush in Wilton (which has public toilets) and Grasslees Reserve in Tawa (which has public toilets). These make sense. If you’re putting in something for people to tunu kai (cook food) then you should probably put in somewhere for them to have a mimi (piddle) or a tūtae (the other one).
With this response about Carrara Park we can safely say that the barbeques were put in as an afterthought because they had the money.
There’s a clear view that people will come to the playground for a quick play and then head home. This is totally fine. But if the council wants people using the barbeques, when they will drink stuff too, then they’ll need to add a wharepaku – otherwise the main undesirable behaviour in the park will be people popping behind the many trees for a mimi.