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Promises, promises – but nothing new at Johnsonville’s mall

johnsonville-mall
Photo from WCC

by Diane Calvert
Johnsonville has been my closest main town centre for over 20 years. Promises of a local movie theatre in the 2000s made my teenage daughters and their friends incredibly happy. They are now well into adulthood living in their own properties in Johnsonville, yet no mall development whatsoever has occurred. Long standing retail has disappeared from the fading mall which has exacerbated the decline of the town centre.

The vision for the Johnsonville town centre is further away than it was over 12 years ago – and this is when most suburban areas are seeing increased consumer need due to the impacts of Covid-19.

The Wellington city council has invested in new and upgraded local community facilities such as Waitohi and the Keith Spry Pool to support the vision, yet is hamstrung by the lack of progress by Stride Property, the major Johnsonville land owner.

Promises of an upgraded mall, movie theatres and a large retail anchor tenant have not eventuated. There have been at least two resource consents approved (2009 and 2017) yet no action by Stride Property other than concepts and a ‘promise’.

It probably doesn’t help that Stride Property is governed outside New Zealand, with executives based in Auckland, so they have no real social or business connection with Johnsonville or Wellington. Yes Stride have given excuses such as the GFC, earthquakes, Covid-19, priority investment in other areas – but it is now time to see their spades hit the dirt, working collaboratively with local agencies and the community. We need the Johnsonville town centre to be a vibrant community and business area now, not in 15 years.

Stride Property are now suggesting that an 18 storey development be allowed under their recent submission to the city’s draft spatial plan. Up to eight storeys is already permitted, yet only now they want to go above one storey? It’s commendable they are looking to include residential development, but a height of 18 storeys is not even permitted now. I have to wonder if this is a genuine commitment to deliver, or stalling tactics to increase the value of the land to eventually flick it off to the highest bidder with further delays to eventual development.

Last week, Stride Property told the Wellington City Council it was an ‘investment company’. When I asked them what investment they had made in the Johnsonville Mall over recent years, their response was to list areas in Auckland and the Wellington CBD. They could not list any investment in Johnsonville.

How long do we allow Stride Property to hold up the potential of Johnsonville and our city? It’s now time to put their words into action or enable someone else to develop the land appropriately for the city’s and local community’s wellbeing.

Over the years, the City Council has worked hard to facilitate the development of the area with Stride Property. What alternatives are there if they won’t develop the mall in a timely way? Perhaps on sell to a more community minded owner. The City Council could look at a special purpose vehicle to purchase and develop the land with the government through Kāinga Ora, or even enter into a public private partnership that benefits all. At the very least the Council should start to investigate these options should Stride Property fail to deliver once again.

Whatever the preferred option, it needs to be a solution that is focused on creating, within five years, a vibrant town centre that supports the growing northern suburbs, connects well with public transport and community facilities; and enables new housing (done well).

Diane Calvert is a Wellington city councillor and holds the Economic Development Portfolio which includes suburban business areas.

Background: Johnsonville and Kilbirnie are the only two areas within Wellington City that are designated ‘metropolitan centre zones’, which are intended to be predominantly for a broad range of commercial, community, recreational and residential activities. It is also a focal point for sub-regional urban catchments. It is intended to be secondary to the city centre zone in terms of scale and function.

Kilbirnie has constraints for growth in terms of its infrastructure and geography which Johnsonville does not face. So in essence, the Johnsonville town centre is a major strategic centre zone for the future development of our city and to adequately service the surrounding north areas from Crofton Downs/Ngaio through to Tawa.

The long term vision of the Wellington City Council, as detailed in the Johnsonville Town Centre Plan (2008), is that Johnsonville will become the service centre of the northern suburbs and the second largest centre in Wellington city. The residential areas surrounding the business area were subsequently designated for medium density housing[1] to support the intended growth.

The last resource consent issued by Wellington City Council in 2017, for the Mall included

26,000m2 development including retail, cinema and commercial activities
900 car parking spaces, 200 available to general public
a new street façade on Johnsonville, Broderick and Moorefield roads
relocation of the Countdown Supermarket
24/7 public pedestrian link through the mall to connect Johnsonville and Moorefield roads, bus stops and rail platforms
widening Moorefield Road to provide access to Mall parking
improvements to pedestrian crossings to provide better linkage to community facilities off Moorefield Road

A $150m commitment to revamp Johnsonville mall is still months away – Stuff.co.nz
Projects – Johnsonville Mall redevelopment – Wellington City Council
Draft Spatial Plan – Wellington City Council
Guidance on Zone Framework and District Spatial Layers Standards – Ministry for the Environment
J’Ville_Design Guide 2013 – Wellington City Council

36 comments:

  1. Michael Gibson, 2. December 2020, 10:55

    This is a superb contribution by one of our local Ward Councillors – thank you to Cr Calvert.
    I would just add that I keep getting people raving to me about the wonderful new Library in Johnsonville.

     
  2. G-man, 2. December 2020, 12:55

    NZ is a cash cow to foreign capital-owners for milking high-returns on their assets. Yet successive governments and businesses are keen to sell more brownfield assets to overseas interests.

     
  3. Ralf, 2. December 2020, 14:20

    While I strongly agree that something needs to be done in Johnsonville I cannot fail to notice this statement: “enter into a public private partnership that benefits all.” This is not true. It might benefit investors (who get a good guaranteed return high above any other investment), politicians (who get to do a photo op and who are long gone when the bill comes due) and perhaps Johnsonville residents, but definitely not for the tax-/rates-payer who has the risk and the high cost (much higher than if this would be done via public debt with the current super low rates).

    I also read about that request for 18 storeys and was wondering where that crazy idea is coming from. Playing for time is a good explanation.

     
  4. Dave B, 2. December 2020, 17:21

    I love Johnsonville and I love to shop local. But my use of Johnsonville’s shops is limited by the narrow range of items retailed there. The mall seems to cater far more for women than for men. The music shop disappeared years ago, and now that Paper Plus has gone there is little for me there other than Countdown and fast-food. And since I live much closer to Countdown in Crofton Downs, I do my food-shopping there.
    Outside of the mall, all hardware has disappeared from Johnsonville. In former times Mitre 10 was there but that is also now in Crofton Downs so I go there. Dick Smith I used to frequent but that has gone. The Warehouse has gone. The Post office has gone. Only the bicycle shop up a side-street remains of real relevance to me, though I might occasionally wander into Cash Converters for a browse.
    My point is that it shouldn’t take a major redevelopment of Johnsonville to tempt me back. Just bring back some of the more useful, male-oriented shops that used to be there. And once drawn there for a reason, I am more likely to pop into other places also. I wonder how many other blokes might tell the same story.
    The library is great, but we have a local library in Ngaio which also needs supporting. And my regular use of the swimming pool ceased about 25 years ago once the children didn’t need me to take them there any more. I worry that turning Johnsonville into a Queensgate-type of centre might destroy the friendly, suburban character that it currently has.

     
  5. Julienz, 2. December 2020, 18:11

    Great article, Diane highlighting the stagnation of central Johnsonville over the past thirty years. It does seem time for Stride to shape up or ship out. Sadly the determination of previous councils to protect the Golden Mile contributed to this impasse.

    Stride’s suggestion that the Johnsonville Line be double tracked to enable better public transport to Johnsonville shows how shallow is their understanding of their investment. We can’t get agreement to one new tunnel through Mt Victoria, so how we would get agreement and funding for seven new or extended tunnels needed to double track the Johnsonville line is quite beyond me. And I suppose we will just cantilever another track over the Ngaio Gorge now we know about its stability. Will Stride be paying? Haha.

    While I admire the Council’s ambitions for Johnsonville, I cannot see how development can work without a dedicated busway (and preferably some kind of larger capacity public transport) down Ngauranga Gorge and on into the city. The train line lacks both capacity (2000 passengers per hour), frequency (no better than every 15 minutes) and connection beyond Wellington Station to meet the demand for connection to the CBD and the airport likely to be imposed by Johnsonville being the service centre for the Northern Suburbs. Already as many people as use the train take the bus from Johnsonville to the CBD.

    And this is before three waters (two new reservoirs needed), electricity, telecommunications, schools etc are considered.

     
  6. Benny, 2. December 2020, 19:36

    “Promises promises” … What an ironic title and article coming from a seasoned councillor who promised to vote against the development at Shelly Bay when she was a candidate, a year ago … and ended up voting for it.

     
  7. Bill Guest, 2. December 2020, 19:51

    Johnsonville Mall or Karori Mall …. which is worse? Johnsonville is bad, Karori is appalling. The Council’s Town Centre Policy is pitiful, and way out of date. The Council still refers to The Golden Mile meaning Lambton Quay. Personally, I call it The Mouldy Mile. When I first came to Wellington in 1969, Lambton Quay was a great precinct. Now it is a sad strip. The gold has long gone. Parking for customers/clients is hard to find, and very expensive. Stuff it, let’s go shopping in Petone, Lower Hutt, or Porirua …. Long term failures of vision and planning have brought Wellington to this. Where to now, Councillor?

     
  8. Meany, 2. December 2020, 20:21

    Malls destroy communities and suck the energy out of local businesses. The centre of Johnsonville used to be cattle yards with a blacksmith on the main road, a local butcher, chemist, fruit shop, cake shop, a butcher shop around the corner next to the Town Hall. The Mall should be turned into a housing opportunity … but 18 storeys?

    Councillor Calvert … many councillors before you (one became mayor) were going to save the Mall despite the fact that it and the land are not owned by the Council. Focus on what you can do – a proper transport interchange/hub is long overdue. See whether you can get the relevant parties together at last.

    Not only is this not owned by Council, but it is not in your ward. Are you really suggesting that it is in the interest of the city to buy this land and Mall?

     
  9. Michelle Rush, 3. December 2020, 7:16

    Great article Diane and I wholeheartedly agree having a commercial company that owns 70% of the commercial district in Johnsonville holding the whole suburb up is just not on. Would strongly support an approach by council to Kainga Ora to see the whole area redeveloped as mixed use around a vibrant town square – am not necessarily against a higher height limit if this made sense for the commercial heart – it all comes back to an overall coherent design being what is important. Thanks again for speaking out.

     
  10. Kerry, 3. December 2020, 9:03

    Double-tracking the Johnsonville Line makes no sense, but double-tracking the Johnsonville Station does.
    At present, trains can only pass at Khandallah, so a the shortest possible interval between trains is the time needed to go from Khandallah to Johnsonville and back. The interval could be halved with a double-track Johnsonville stop, although an improvement as large as that would need more work elsewhere.
    Better still would be bringing the buses back into a quality interchange in the station yard.

     
  11. k, 3. December 2020, 11:27

    Good idea about Kainga Ora possibly making a bid for the property and working with council or others about turning it into a fantastic mixed used area (retail/commercial/education/civic below, state/affordable housing apartments above/public sky garden on top)

     
  12. DaveO, 3. December 2020, 11:48

    Had a quick read of Stride’s last two financial reports and it’s pretty obvious what the company’s agenda here is.

    What you might or might not know is the company owns Queensgate in central Hutt, which it is redeveloping with a new major cinema building + carpark plus strengthening of the buildings which make up the rest of the complex.

    It only owns 50% of the J’ville mall, the rest is with a few Australian super funds, usually passive investors, and Stride is the dominant ownership. It isn’t in its interest to have a competing major mall complex within easy driving distance of its prime retail property in the Hutt. The strategy is block any redevelopment which could threaten its Queensgate business or its CBD office assets, plus have an increasing capital asset on its balance sheet with enough rental income to just maintain existing buildings till such time as WCC gives up its ideas about J’ville being a secondary hub and lets Stride turn the area (or sell) into primarily a high density residential zone. The proposed Petone Grenada link road (which I’ve always thought is not cost effective due to the engineering costs involved) makes this more likely not less.

    All the “suggestions” or promises make the company seem like it’s interested in redevelopment, but it has no realistic chance of going ahead even in the long term or if by a miracle this happened, it would massively increase the value of a cheap-to-keep-going asset. J’ville mall is a classic land bank scheme.

     
  13. Rob Suisted, 3. December 2020, 15:10

    Problem is the mall owners also own the whole precinct between the motorway to the railway station, roundabout to lights. That’s why there’s nothing interesting because they try to force us to get coffee or eat in the mall. No coffee carts etc. it’s a company town. They need to go. Dire. [via twitter]

     
  14. Simon Pleasants, 3. December 2020, 15:11

    Got that right, Rob. Heaven help us if Stride Property get permission to build 18 storey high buildings. It’ll be a gulag. [via twitter]

     
  15. Conor Hill, 3. December 2020, 15:39

    Both Karori and Johnsonville centres could be better. Real key is to allow for more people in the neighbourhoods so that more people shop there.

     
  16. greenwelly, 3. December 2020, 16:52

    Karori Mall will be redeveloped when Countdown’s lease expires and they are told to leave by the new mall owners (Foodstuffs). A similar thing happened in Tawa when Foodstuffs bought the mall out from under Woolworths in 2009 and booted them out and redeveloped the site around the New World.

     
  17. Mary Hall, 3. December 2020, 19:11

    Dear Stride Property

    If you were interested in Johnsonville and the Mall you would have undertaken the re-development years ago. All you have given us is excuse after excuse.

    My recommendation to Stride Property is cut your losses and sell to someone who will re-develop the Mall in a timely manner without continuing excuses.

    We have all had enough!!

     
  18. Rob Suisted, 5. December 2020, 12:33

    Stride owning any land for any more time in Johnsonville is totally not acceptable. They’ve shown over decades they care 0% about locals & 100% about $. It’s beyond a joke now, they’ve had their chance. As has been said so often, piss or get off the pot. [via twitter]

     
  19. Diane Calvert, 5. December 2020, 12:35

    Currently 2 options:
    Plan A – Stride retain land & work with WCC & community to get a great mixed use within 5 yrs.
    Plan B – Govt acquire land & work with WCC & community to get a great mixed use within 5 yrs.

     
  20. Claire, 5. December 2020, 12:44

    Plan B Diane … then the same plan on Adelaide Road!

     
  21. rockyd, 5. December 2020, 15:21

    …. the only thing bigger than Stride’s pure greed are the potholes in the parking lot.

     
  22. sygran, 7. December 2020, 13:49

    It’s all very well to say ” Govt acquire land”, but what if Stride won’t sell?

     
  23. Claire, 7. December 2020, 14:42

    Sygran – Govt acquired land means the the owner is required to sell.

     
  24. Julienz, 7. December 2020, 14:46

    @sygran – The Urban Development Act 2020 gives Kainga Ora pretty sweeping powers to acquire and redevelop urban land.

     
  25. jacob, 7. December 2020, 20:45

    @Kerry “Double-tracking the Johnsonville Line makes no sense, but double-tracking the Johnsonville Station does. At present, trains can only pass at Khandallah, so a the shortest possible interval between trains is the time needed to go from Khandallah to Johnsonville and back” Unfortunately, not quite that simple. The Johnsonville line did have a second platform till 1984, and this did not affect the schedule.

    The line is limited by the number of passing loops, not the lack of an extra termination platform at Johnsonville. The next iteration on passing loops to go from a 15 minute to 7 and 1/2 minute service would be from 3 to 7, which would be unworkable. The only realistic upgrade path would be to extend the platforms and passing loops maximum capacity from 4 cars to 6 cars (50% capacity increase), but this would not improve service frequency or duration.

     
  26. Julienz, 7. December 2020, 22:39

    Thanks Jacob for that explanation which is also my understanding. The Johnsonville line can take 2000 passengers an hour, sitting and standing, with four cars, or 3000 an hour if it is extended six cars. If WCC wants to put an additional 10,000 to 12,000 people along the Johnsonville line then there will need to be a better public transport solution for peak time. The alternative will be traffic gridlock well beyond that seen to date on SH1 as well as on Onslow Road and Ngaio Gorge. There will also be some very frustrated commuters (currently the biggest users of the train) at Ngaio and Crofton Downs who will be potentially be left on the platform, the train having filled up further back toward Johnsonville. Buses without a dedicated bus lane are not a solution as they share the road with cars.

     
  27. Kerry, 8. December 2020, 10:19

    jacob. You are right about a second Johnsonville platform making no difference to travel times, but it helps in two ways:
    — An extra platform, or siding, is always useful when something goes wrong, because there is space to put a train out of the way.
    — Timetable changes become possible, because a southbound train can leave as soon as a northbound train arrives. The time-saving isn’t much, but an extra train has been slipped in.
    Of course, other passing loops will also be needed, and I understand that the frequency can be increased to six trains an hour at reasonable cost.

    Julienz. A two-car Matangi has a passenger capacity of 377, a four-car 750, a six-car 1130. An 8-car Matangi is also possible, 1500 passengers. At four trains an hour, the capacity is at least 4500 pass/hr. Your figure of 10 to 12 thousand new residents seems doubtful; are you expecting them all to be commuters?

     
  28. Julienz, 8. December 2020, 11:39

    @Kerry – I don’t think an eight car can run on the Jville line, sidings too short and I understand some kind of signals issue plus the grade is very challenging. Current improved platforms have been built for a maximum of six cars although one station can’t accommodate six cars. I have not seen any GWRC plans for further expansion. GWRC advise me the capacity of a four car Matangi is 492 per train and current maximum capacity is four trains per hour. According to the Spatial Plan numbers WCC wants to increase catchment on line from 28500 (2018 census) to between 38500 and 40800. Current percentage catching the train to get to work 12.43% over the whole line – highest proportion 27% from Ngaio North area. Apply the 12.43% status quo, which is likely to be low if Stride get their 18 storey apartment building, and you get about 6000 trying to go to work on the train. Six thousand is before you consider travel to education, the 12% who already bus to work (which will also increase) and the 56% who travel to work by vehicle who might try to convert to the packed trains or buses due to increased congestion on the roads.

     
  29. Kerry, 8. December 2020, 12:46

    Julienz. Thanks for this. My figure for passenger capacity comes from the Matangi design team, so GW have chosen to be conservative. These are the sort of numbers that tend to change with demand…
    Yes, eight car trains would need quite a bit of work on things like platforms & sidings, but the gradient would not be a problem: more cars means more motors, and the maximum gradient would be the same. Not that the Johnsonville gradient is minor: it is one hell of a climb!

     
  30. Dave B (Wellington), 8. December 2020, 12:52

    The Johnsonville line’s crossing-loop locations worked optimally for many years with four trains providing a peak-frequency of 13 minutes. In the 1990’s the service was unhelpfully cut back to three trains which provided an irregular service-pattern of 13min, 13min, 26min. It ran like this until 2015 when the fourth train was reintroduced and a “clockface” frequency of 15 minutes was instigated.

    Modelling prior to the arrival of the Matangis showed that a 12-minute frequency could be achieved if a train could leave from both Wellington and Johnsonville immediately after one had arrived. As Kerry states above, this would require a second platform at Johnsonville. It should be mentioned that the Broderick Road overbridge which was rebuilt a few years ago was designed to allow room for this second track.

    All of the Johnsonville Line platforms were extended to accommodate 6 cars back in 2009. The only current impediment to running 6-car trains is Johnsonville Platform itself which has effectively been shortened by requiring trains to stop short of the end of the line to allow a safety-margin in the event of an over-shoot. This would require a modified arrangement to fit 6 cars now. The crush-loaded capacity with 6-car Matangis at 15-min frequency is 4524 people-per-hour. At 12-min frequency this would increase to 5655pph.

    It should be pointed out that at the moment, the Johnsonville Line is not crowded and would appear to have lost patronage to the new high-frequency bus service that runs from Johnsonville to Wellington with a much shorter journey-time. Most of the train patronage is now from intermediate stations which do not have the quality bus option. It is unfortunate that when the train timetable was re-cast for the 15-min frequency, the journey-time was also slowed by 2 minutes, partly due to issues which the Matangis were having at the time. This further eroded the appeal of the train vis-à-vis the bus and needs sharpening-up.

    Of course what the train service really needs is extension beyond the present Wellington Station to bring it closer to the many destinations it should be serving. The rail-system’s contribution to the entire region is held-back because of this lack.

     
  31. cam5far, 8. December 2020, 14:12

    Diane. Unfortunately there is no money tree in parliament grounds so I am wondering why you are suggesting the Government should acquire the land as per plan B. I’m sure taxpayers in Hokitika or Taranaki Maori will not be wanting their money being used to fund a project in Wellington city where there are some of NZ’s highest salaries. Surely this is a Wellington city problem which should be dealt with by WCC. Council should be focusing on core infrastructure and retail should be left to business.

     
  32. luke, 8. December 2020, 15:13

    Five trains an hour should be possible with some minor tweaks. Definitely no need to double track the line. There are plans for additional crossovers at the Wellington end under the motorway so trains can cross adjacent the locomotive depot.

     
  33. greenwelly, 8. December 2020, 16:36

    @Luke. You could trim the travel time by dropping a station or two (merge Simla Cres and Box Hill), and then potentially close Awarua Street (build a pedestrian footpath adjacent to the rail alignment to allow a 400m walk to Ngaio station).

     
  34. Julienz, 8. December 2020, 17:46

    @Dave B – What is the goal? I am really asking this of WCC rather than you. I understand your suggestion that the train needs to go further, but even then it is still hub and spoke system not a high frequency grid. If the goal is to get more commuters to use the train to get to work in the 1km semicircle around the railway station, then shouldn’t we encourage population growth that would utilise, without overwhelming, the existing 15 minutes apart 4 car (or possibly a 6 car ) Johnsonville service, given there are no other good commuting options from this part of town on the horizon? I am reluctant to dump on particular suburbs for growth, but the Johnsonville train seems to become more attractive as the journey gets shorter so maybe intensification needs to be closer to the city end rather than the Johnsonville end.

    Just flying a kite, perhaps GRWRC and WCC could collaborate to facilitate a development of apartments incorporated into the station on top of the Park and Ride site at Crofton Downs; do a joint venture with Mitre 10 to share parking and an even better piece of land is available. Design sympathetically so that residents up the hill still get a green outlook. It starts to look like your perfect 15 minute neighbourhood. Fourteen minutes on train to work, five minutes walk to a supermarket, pharmacy, cafe and coffee cart. Twelve minute walk to Ngaio library. Medical centre in Ngaio. Trelissick Park on your doorstep, children’s play area in Silverstream Road and another in Cummings Park. 600 metres to a primary school. And there are walkable employment opportunities at Bowen Hospital and the new Bupa retirement village. If the goal is to get people out of cars for everyday trips, then this could work. Given public entities appear to own the land, there is potential to voluntarily add affordable housing for ownership or rent to the mix. Let’s start thinking at a more granular level about sites that work for Wellington rather than being straitjacketed by the dictates of the NPS-UD.

    @greenwelly. Wouldn’t closing Awarua Street station amount to fixing the part that is the least broken? The highest use of the train now both as a percentage of population, and numerically, is Ngaio North which would encompass that station. Crofton Downs is second highest in train use.

     
  35. Julienz, 8. December 2020, 18:19

    @cam5far – I don’t think this is any longer primarily a retail play, but rather a high density housing proposal. The DSP proposes housing a further 5000+ people in Johnsonville over the next 30 years. The way I heard Stride when they submitted on the DSP was that they are now thinking of a large mixed use town centre development. Diane’s Plan B would see government compulsorily acquiring the land as an urban redevelopment site if Stride don’t step up. The government would not necessarily be a long term holder of the land but rather a facilitator of redevelopment which would likely include a mix of social, affordable and market housing as well as retail and service areas.

     
  36. Ross Clark, 8. December 2020, 22:48

    It should be pointed out that at the moment, the Johnsonville Line is not crowded and would appear to have lost patronage to the new high-frequency bus service that runs from Johnsonville to Wellington with a much shorter journey-time.

    And no doubt because the bus can get much further into the CBD than the train?