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The council didn’t want an empty site – but that’s what it got

Wellington.Scoop
Six years ago the city council said it didn’t want a large empty building site in Mt Cook. It was a meaningless statement. A year later the council got what it didn’t want, when the Boys Institute swimming pool was demolished to make way for a supermarket. It was a pointless demolition. The site has been empty ever since.

The demolition of a swimming pool, and the demise of a swimming school, was something the council should have been able to stop. As the Wellingtonian has reminded us this week, Mt Cook residents were left annoyed and disappointed by the demolition. It was also one of the first subjects that was headlined soon after wellington.scoop was created. Here’s what we wrote, more than five years ago.

pool

by Lindsay Shelton for Wellington.Scoop – January 8, 2009
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 destroyed 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 been ignored.