Wellington Scoop

Strange priorities: one more supermarket, one less swimming pool

by Lindsay Shelton

Click to enlarge

Above: Demolished after 95 years, the swimming pool in Tasman St, Mt Cook

Even a five-year-old is aware of what’s been lost. “They smashed down my swimming pool to build a Pak’n’save,” she said as we were driving down Tasman Street the other day.

We agreed we wouldn’t want to shop at a supermarket that had been so mean as to destroy a swimming pool. And the Boys’ Institute pool in Tasman Street was a special one – not only the oldest indoor pool in Wellington but also popular with tens of thousands of boys and girls from all over Wellington who had attended swimming lessons in the pool for more than 90 years.

It would have been sensible, as well as public-spirited, if the owners of the new supermarket – which now seems likely to be a New World rather than the Pak’n’save as first reported – had decided to keep the pool and incorporate it into their latest complex, whenever it is to be built. A pool as part of a supermarket could even have been good for business. Parents could have done their shopping while the kids were taught freestyle and backstroke.

But the damage has been done. The building which housed the swimming pool since 1914 has been demolished. Only the street frontage (with YMCA signs on both side walls) is still standing. Contradictorily, the remains of the pool are now visible. They are being used as a base for propping up the wall of a neighbouring factory.

Demolition was opposed unsuccessfully by the Mount Cook Mobilised group which was formed in July 2007. Around 250 residents attended its first public meeting and more than 1400 signed a petition which asked the council to keep the pool and upgrade it.

“There’s more to a city than putting up new buildings,” said spokesman Peter Cooke. “We have to maintain the culture and character of the city.”

But the swimming pool building was demolished anyway.

A city council officer expressed concern about demolition being permitted before redevelopment plans were known. Development Guidance Manager Dougal List was quoted in Capital Times a year ago as saying: “We do not want a large vacant site in this prominent location for a long period.”

The council may not have wanted a large vacant site. But it wasn’t willing or able to stop it. The bulldozers moved in. The result: a new wasteland in a prominent inner city location.

Mount Cook residents have been asking why demolition was allowed before plans for the site were approved. The community could still have been using the pool. But it’s all too late.

Apparently the site isn’t only to be a supermarket. Four six-storey blocks of apartments could be included, with so many carparks (almost 200 in early plans) that concerns have been raised about traffic impact in this residential area where the narrow streets are already congested at peak hours.

The city council once thought about protecting and enhancing the area where the demolition has occurred. Early in 2005 it staged the launch, by Prince Charles, of the New Zealand Urban Design Protocol, “which aims to make urban design an essential component in New Zealand towns and cities.”

In May of the same year, the council’s Urban Planning Update announced “the need for more refined provisions for the protection and enhancement of character in Berhampore, Newtown and Mt Cook.” Three years after those brave words were published, anyone can see that the council hasn’t been able to protect or enhance Mt Cook’s popular (and historic) swimming pool.

The same council publication reported that Wellington had been given a New Zealand Planning Institute award as the national leader in urban planning. The judges must be embarrassed to see the destruction of a swimming pool and to know that grassroots urban planning concerns have not been addressed.

Wellington’s New World supermarkets are locally owned, efficiently well-run, popular and friendly. I’m a regular visitor to the stores at Newtown and Island Bay, and an occasional visitor to Thorndon. (The Wellington phone book lists 18 of them, which makes one wonder why they need another store to compete with the others). Their billboard on Vivian Street reminds us that they use sponsorships as a way of showing that they are good citizens. But the demolition in Tasman Street is not the first Wellington example of New World falling short of its civic responsibilities.

An unredeemably ugly feature of the New World supermarket across the road from Waitangi Park are the two open rubbish areas outside its loading docks on Oriental Parade and Wakefield Street. The debris can be seen every day by everyone driving into mid-city Wellington from around the bays. It’s also visible to tourists staying at the Bay Plaza Hotel and the Youth Hostel. What can they think of a city which allows such a mess?

Click to enlarge

The view of New World from Oriental Parade

A see-through fence on the Cable Street edge has done nothing to reduce the ugliness. When I drove past this week, the spaces outside the loading docks were occupied by piles of wooden pallets and blue, red and green plastic trays, with big packs of empty cardboard cartons, discarded shopping trolleys, and other detritus overflowing on to the pavement. A bulky green waste compactor sits outside one of the dock doors in full view of the Bay Plaza.

The supermarket at Waitangi Park is also a reminder of one of Wellington’s worst town-planning failures.

The city council allowed it to be built in the middle of the unique viewshaft which ran from the Basin Reserve to the harbour. Pre-supermarket, you stood on Cambridge Terrace and looked north towards the harbour and the hills. Now from the intersection with Courtenay Place you can’t see them at all. Instead, all you see is the New World building (described last October by restaurant critic David Burton as “lumpy” when he was dining nearby) and its exposed air-conditioning units (not forgetting the discarded shopping trolleys)..

When the supermarket started renovations last year, some of us suggested – not entirely facetiously – that it should be shifted on to the open car park to the west of its site, thereby re-opening the viewshaft. (If the multi-storey Museum Hotel could be moved, surely a single-storey supermarket could be moved too.) Acknowledging that such a move might happen one day, the city’s plan for big new buildings on Waitangi Park east of the old Herd Street Post Office has kept an opening for the re-opened viewshaft.

But the supermarket didn’t show any interest in giving the city back its view. Instead, it just got bigger. And the council seems to have lost interest in restoring the viewshaft. It’s planning to uglify it at the opposite end with an overhead motorway on the edge of the Basin Reserve to be enclosed “within buildings and other structures.”

Stand on Cambridge Terrace and look south. You see a magnificent panorama of city hills above the Basin Reserve. Now imagine if – as you get closer – the panorama disappears behind a cluttered foundation made up of an overhead road and new “buildings and other structures.”

Long-time Mt Victoria residents can tell you how they miss the harbour views when they’re walking down Cambridge Terrace. The children of Mount Cook can also tell you what they’ve lost. Before a supermarket bought the land, they had their own swimming pool.


Content Sourced from scoop.co.nz
Original url


  1. QE2, 9. January 2009, 21:51

    What a great shame. I well remember using that pool. At a time when the populace is suffering from terrible rates of obesity, the council allows another supermarket that will destroy smaller traders and screw suppliers (and fatten up the population with two-for-one booze and junk food deals.)

    I left Wellington 10 years ago and each time I go back I am constantly surprised at the incoherent approach to town planning. The ill-considered motorway extension and the loss of familiar old buildings are very notable.

  2. Pauline Swann, 14. February 2009, 15:44

    What an irony, now that the city has lost a dedicated “learn to swim” facility which has been used by generations of Wellingtonians, to read some of the options for discussion in the Council’s “time to cut back” consultation includes “meeting learn-to-swim demand by reducing casual lane swimming hours”.

    Not only did the Boys and Girls Institute provide for dedicated Learn to Swim classes, one of my daughters also belonged to their excellent gymnastic club which performed very well in local and national competitions.

    During the war years I was a member of a girls’ cricket club who used to practise there and there are many more stories I am sure could be told as to the many uses since its beginnings.

    What are we going to get but a supermarket, apartments and more traffic problems around what is already a busy road, and to add to this there is another wasteland at John Street for what – you guessed it – another supermarket and there are also plans for yet another one in Cable Street opposite Te Papa just a block away from Chaffers and the Sunday Farmers market… and more congestion.

  3. Michael, 3. November 2010, 11:16

    It’s now nearly two years since this article (One more supermarket, one less swimming pool) was written. I guess nobody will read this comment or seldom hit on this link anymore but I am just writing to say that it is STILL a vacant lot and the writer’s fears were confirmed. It’s sad when the council ignore common sense. They display a very poor ability to forward plan and have no concept of the immense unnecessary loss of a swimming pool this has been. Especially if they think a pool in Kilbirnie with water cannons is better!