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The disappearance of nine car parks, and the decline of a heritage shopping precinct

by John Dunphy
In November 2008, road works were started to resurface and widen Riddiford Street in Newtown, from the southern end to the heritage shopping precinct at the intersection of John Street and Adelaide Road. The contractor put up a sign saying the work would take a month. But it took two and a half months, finishing about the middle of February 2009.

This work severely affected access to all businesses at the intersection. My Recovery Room cafe recorded a trading loss for the year of $39,000 which brought the business to its knees. As for neighbouring businesses: the Guitararium is gone, World Treasures is gone, Serai Heaven has changed ownership several times, and Jewel of Nepal has changed owners several times as well.

As a result of the roading changes, nine car parks were removed from the western side of Riddiford Street. The car parks were a lifeline for our businesses. They provided customer turnover, particularly during off-peak periods.

The Wellington Regional Hospital opened at the end of April 2009 and within the new hospital set up a number of competing businesses internally, which greatly effected surrounding businesses which had supported and been supported by the hospital in the past. As a consequence, the nine car parks were an even greater critical loss to the economic viability of our shopping precinct. It is worth mentioning that the car parking on the eastern side of Riddiford Street at this time provided for 10 minutes parking only at all times (now 15 minutes) and to this day does not provide reasonable parking for any of our customers.

From this period on, we noticed that regular customers who visited our businesses from Newtown, Island Bay, Berhampore, Mornington, Brooklyn and Mount Cook began complaining and making comments that it was hard to access the area and had become so hard to park that they wouldn’t be shopping or dining with us anymore.

From late 2009, Laura Newcombe (Four Seasons Florist) and I started to engage with the city council on behalf of our heritage shopping area. We told them that a considerable amount of the bus lane on the eastern side of Riddiford Street, outside the hospital, was under-utilised. As a result of our lobbying and pleading, some periodic parking was made available in this area. But it has proved useless to our shops as the parks were absorbed by people attending the hospital, and the distance and sequencing of the pedestrian crossing did not make the parking useful for potential customers.

The nine car parks which had been close to our shops had provided the impetus for customers to make the decision to stop. Without the proximity of those parks , our economic future was sealed. Patronage has declined ever since. The heritage shopping centre was dealt another economic blow when the option to make a sharp left hand turn at the northern end of Riddiford Street on to Adelaide Road was prohibited; this had at least offered another parking option.

After enduring decreasing economic activity and growing losses, we decided to engage with Chris Brown, the council’s issues resolution officer. Mr Brown seemed sympathetic. He mentioned that our area had sparse foot traffic and the only indication of activity was traffic going by. My comment to him was that Riddiford Street had become an urban motorway and area was full of emptied shops rather than the historic shopping district portrayed by town planners. From my recollection he nodded in agreement.

We discussed our wish for off-peak periodic parking on the western side of Riddiford Street. He made a recommendation to Stavros Michael, Garry Poole, Kevin Murphy and John Vissor to reconsider our parking problems. But our plea for a compromise even on a trial basis was declined. In a letter of 21 December, Mr. Brown blamed traffic flow issues and referred to a traffic assessment.

We disagree with the traffic assessment because it was done before the opening of the Karo Drive bypass, which now handles significant traffic flows from Buckle Street that used to come down Riddiford Street. It is evident to us who eat, sleep and work in the John Street heritage shopping precinct that traffic volumes drop dramatically after 10.30am, increase again from 3.30pm onwards, and drop again after 6.00pm. The refusal of our request seems unfair and unjust.

How can the Council justify its mission statement when it stands by and watches the disintegration of our shopping precinct because of the loss of access and parking? The mission statement identifies key goals for the Adelaide Road framework as:
• Strengthening the local community by promoting community facilities
• Continuing to recognise and provide protection for valued heritage and character areas and buildings
• Recognising and protecting employment opportunities

When the Maranui Café and Surf Club suffered a serious fire loss it was given financial and sympathetic support from the City Council and its mayor . Yet our shopping area of more than a dozen businesses and a multitude of people has been left to stagnate as a result of a poor consultation process, and ill conceived town planning and roading.

All Wellington’s other historic heritage shopping centres – including Aro Valley, Berhampore, Hataitai Village, Thorndon Village, Island Bay, and the Newtown shops – are prospering with an abundance of parking space. Yet our heritage shopping precinct has had its parking removed.

There are profound social and personal impacts from the loss of car parking. At the Recovery Room Café, since the roading change of 08/09, my staffing needs have been reduced from 17 full time and part time employees working seven days and seven nights a week to roughly eight full time and part time employees. My last round of redundancies took place on 17th January.

Coinciding with this drop in trade, we are no longer offering dinner at the weekends. We will be looking to gradually close dinner service from Monday to Friday and will probably only offer breakfast, lunch and early dining going forward. This will result in another reduction in staffing. And I am only one business.

On a personal level the impact has put financial and personal stresses on my marriage, and as a consequence of working 60 hour weeks to survive, not including administration work, I have not been able to enjoy my three year old daughter’s formative years. I have put five years of my life and most of our retirement savings into the business to prop it up. I have provided professional training to a multiple of individuals who go out into the hospitality sector and on to professional careers. We have provided great food and service for the last five years for our local communities, and a few years back we were awarded 4 stars out of 5 by David Burton, not an easy feat for a little café in Newtown.

We are a community, we are valued, we are important, we are a heritage shopping centre in desperate decline. We need to be heard. We want to survive.

John Dunphy is director and owner of the Recovery Room Café, 16 Riddiford Street, Newtown. This article is edited from a submission which he made to the city council last month.

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14 comments:

  1. The City is Ours, 5. March 2011, 12:54

    The Adelaide Road Framework was dismantled when the NZTA concluded that the benefit cost ratio did not validate their $7-8 million dollar contribution. Now with the Countdown supermarket in John Street taking its time, possibly till after the Rugby World Cup, there is little hope for the business people who’ve been left stranded.

     
  2. Steve W, 7. March 2011, 13:14

    If the Countdown supermarket has been put “on hold” until after the World Cup, and the shops are suffering from a lack of parking, why doesn’t someone open up the site as a temporary car park?

     
  3. Neru Siolo, 7. March 2011, 20:14

    I fully support John Dunphy for his business to survive as i have been a long time customer and friend of John, and have seen the hardship since the parking has been removed from that sector of Newtown. It has effected not only John’s Cafe , but also other businesses in that area.

     
  4. Steve Keig, 8. March 2011, 10:40

    I do struggle with the Council’s inflexibility at times – I appreciate they have every man and his dog having his say but there appears to be a legitimate case here and reasonable alternatives suggested. Is it just a case of what the Council says goes and that’s that? Surely that’s not the way these things work…

     
  5. Slim Jim, 8. March 2011, 17:47

    The Council have left Newtown to rot, they have systematically degraded the area – it is embarrassing and ironic that Government House looks out over the industrial wasteland that Adelaide Rd has been allowed to become. It is equally embarrassing and ironic that your shopping precinct has a heritage rating, and they create a highway outside your door.
    The council have a lot of ground to make up across the board in Newtown – they could start by giving an iconic and historic shopping area its parks back – that won’t cost them a thing and would be a good demonstration of their commitment to seeing Newtown live up to its potential.

     
  6. runlikeagirl, 9. March 2011, 9:19

    Totally agree with John on this. The impact of council decisions on his shop and on Newtown in general is palpable. It’s a fantastic suburb but it sometimes feels like the council is cauterising it from the rest of Wellington.

     
  7. Michael Smith, 9. March 2011, 9:53

    This reminds me of the Bond Street debacle some years back when ongoing road and gas works forced businesses to shut down in the area. The Newtown area is being affected in the same way. I am a close friend of John’s and hear first hand the negative impacts of each event the council arbitrarily makes in this area without consultation with business owners. But why would the council care? Councillors don’t care unless they are publically forced to do so. It would seem to me the planning and effort the council have put into ruining these businesses could, with the same effort and foresight exercise in a positive fashion, save the livelihoods of John and others in the area. My challenge to the council is to honour your Vision and find a way to ressurect John’s cafe, or pay them compensation dating back to November 2008.

     
  8. Celia Wade-Brown, 24. March 2011, 14:03

    The business owners in Riddiford Street (opposite the hospital) would like to see nine short-stay carparks during the off-peak traffic period (ie 9.00am to 4.00pm) . The thought is that during off-peak traffic periods, this would not constrain effective traffic flows. They point to parking arrangements on Adelaide Road (from John Street to the Basin Reserve) as justification for introducing similar arrangements outside their premises.

    The actual traffic volume on Riddiford Street does not see peak/off peak fluctuations, something we measure using signal detector loops which are completely objective measurements. On average, some 900 vehicles per hour use the two lanes on Riddiford Street heading north where they then split into the direction of John Street and Adelaide Road – this is pretty close to maximum capacity. The traffic flow onto these two lanes is greatly affected by the traffic in and out of the Hospital, the flows from Mein Street and emergency vehicles coming out of the Hospital from Mein Street.

    Adelaide Road (from John Street to the Basin Reserve) receives traffic from mainly two sources – Riddiford Street and Adelaide Road South. Those two sources feed approximately 800 vehicles per hour into a single lane during off-peak times when the bus lane clearway is not operating.

    One could argue that this is a similar traffic demand so why can’t it work in Riddiford Street? There are two reasons – the sections differ in terms of entries and exits. Riddiford Street has a higher demand for cars entering from side roads which means that the main flow has to be stopped via signals. There has to be adequate space for the vehicles waiting for the signals to change. The second reason is that although both sections of roads carry roughly similar number of vehicles per hour the Adelaide Road section is almost twice the length of Riddiford Street section under consideration. This means that Adelaide Road has more length to accommodate vehicles when they are not moving.

    Overall the two sections of road have different characteristics and separate traffic demands. If we introduced off-peak parking in Riddiford Street, we would see long vehicle queues extending half a kilometre south into Riddiiford Street. While we appreciate the needs of the business owners along Riddiford Street, unfortunately this is an unacceptable constraint for the emergency vehicles coming in and out of Wellington Hospital – and the adverse effects on the wider community outweigh the benefits or having parking there even during off-peak hours.

    Mayor Celia Wade-Brown

     
  9. Laura Newcombe, 25. March 2011, 11:45

    The City’s Heritage shopping centre was here long before the hospital was ever built.
    The problem is that the WCC granted RC to both the hospital and the soon to be supermarket, so that any positive solutions or suggestions in regards to the removal of parks that support these businesses could be avoided.

    How mean spirited that WCC can accommodate a Supermarket, with 7 retail shops in a busy intersection with further removals to come, yet couldn’t even have a test trial for a few car parks off peak time for a week for us businesses with orders by the Council to strengthen our heritage buildings.

    The city values this shopping centre, however the Mayor clearly does not. The worst part is us businesses have to do it all over again for the soon to be supermarket.

    Laura Newcombe.

     
  10. John Dunphy, 26. March 2011, 10:31

    The Mayor points out a number of obstacles with regards to the reinstatement of periodic car parking, which are incidentally not outside our businesses but further down the road where they originally were, not near the bottleneck end of Riddiford St. But to be fair she may not be aware of this as she has never made an onsite visit or met with us to discuss this issue.
    Secondly as far as the traffic flows and constraints, these may have been avoided had the WCC infrastructure and the town planners consulted with us for solutions instead of allowing Non Notified Consent for the Hospital and Countdown Shop; their abysmal attempt was a tiny notification in the Dominion Post advising of parking restriction changes.
    What could have been provided – a compromise for everyone – should have been:
    1) Reduce the football field size corner entrance footpath on the eastern side of Riddiford St. I dare, nay challenge anyone to find a bigger corner footpath in New Zealand if not the world. If you can I will shout you lunch at my cafe.
    2) Use overhanging traffic signal lights on booms to accommodate the reduced real estate used in the current set up.
    3) Reduce the width of the footpath adjoining this massive corner again reducing its profile and creating room on the western side of Riddiford St
    4) Reduce the largely unutilised planted area at the front of the Hospital thus reducing the overall footprint of the frontage
    5) Then change the road markings in the median strip, which is at least a metre wide in the middle of Riddiford St
    6) Then the road markings could deviate to the left as you drive south down Riddiford St (as they do currently on Kent Terrace, just down the road from Riddiford St, heading south) accommodating parking on the western side.

    I, like a number of people, have been made very worried by the Council’s position on business and commercial enterprise. They are operating with impunity and to that end no one is watching the watchers. Their belligerent and arrogant attitude reminds me more of an elitist group rather than a representative body elected by the people to serve and help the people. My interaction with this group in regards to this issue has left me feeling wary and defensive about ever making a commercial investment in Wellington again.

     
  11. Sean Mulholland, 26. March 2011, 20:16

    Why doesn’t the council simply reinstate the car parks it has removed? It’s ridden roughshod over these important character businesses’ needs, and apparently with no meaningful consultation . Without reinstating these car parks, this will become a dead area.

     
  12. Newtownite, 27. March 2011, 19:36

    Madam Mayor, please, please, instead of saying why things cannot be done, please state in words of one syllable what can be done by Councillors and Council staff to provide remedies to the situation.

    We know that the Wellington City Council doesn’t care too much about businesses anywhere (unless involved in the hospitality industry AND located in the CBD or more accurately Courtenay Place).

    Those businesses in Riddiford St near the John St Corner bring a character to that part of Newtown. Without those businesses, the building which is held in such high regard by Council would be a run-down, worn out building that would be regarded as hazardous to people as well as traffic. Those businesses are in a heritage building, a building costly to maintain and are struggling as a direct result of of a decision of Council to remove parking spaces, a decision that puts cars up against the footpath, but most importantly, a decision made with the absolute minimum of consultation with the community and those now affected. It is a shame that Councillors seem oblivious to the needs of a community be it business or residential but in this case business.

    Councillors and Council staff are challenged right now to resolve the issue. Not make excuses.

     
  13. Michael Smith, 28. March 2011, 9:54

    Celia Wade-Brown comments that she “appreciates the needs of business owners along Riddiford Street”, and goes on to say that no accommodation can be made for businesses due to there being an, “unacceptable constraint for the emergency vehicles coming in and out of Wellington Hospital”. I completely agree with the Mayor that public safety should not be compromised and as she does not put forward a solution that could work for all parties, it would seem the entire situation has reached an impasse. Therefore WCC should negotiate with all businesses owners along the area of Riddiford Street concerned and provide compensation. Celia in her comments does not disagree that the businesses affected have suffered irretrievable damage from the council’s gradual removable of parking along the area in question. And without offering a solution, I think we can take it to mean the council are ready to discuss reparation with John Dunphy and others. I fail to see any other solution now that the Mayor has made this a public safety issue.

     
  14. Laura Newcombe, 28. March 2011, 11:22

    The Mayor needs to apologise and compensate the businesses that she and her Council have destroyed.

    The WCC notification that would destroy my business of 18 years was a small ad in the Dom in 2008 stating-
    “107-08 Riddiford St -revised restrictions ”

    This was the notification that nine carparks been removed from this shopping centre and no left turn into Adelaide Rd.

    Riddiford St is a very long street. WCC seem totally incapable of engaging effectively with the public and act with impunity.

    I knew this choice of Mayor wasn’t for the faint hearted, but this business genocide by the Mayor and her WCC is impossible for me to digest 3 miserable years on.