Wellington Scoop

The mayor surprises us

The first surprise was the Wellington City Council’s waterfront company. Mayor Celia Wade-Brown wanted to close it down. This didn’t happen. A majority of councilors voted against her. The second surprise was …

… the report describing her letter to the New Zealand Transport Agency about Wellington roads. In the words of the observant Maximus on eyeofthefish:

Mayor Wade-Brown allegedly agrees to go ahead with the roads in the Ngauranga to Airport report. That includes twin tracking tunnels in the Terrace and Mt Victoria, double laning of Ruahine Street, and other measures. That seems… odd. Given her previous stance.

Most recently, there’s been her surprisingly dogmatic comment that nothing can be done to solve the problems of the Newtown shopkeepers whose Riddiford Street businesses are collapsing because their offpeak car parking has been taken away. As a reader commented in response to the mayor:

Please, please, instead of saying why things cannot be done, please state … what can be done … to provide remedies to the situation.

During the election campaign, the soon-to-be-mayor came up with a constructive proposal for solving traffic problems round the Basin Reserve. So it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch for her to suggest a similarly positive approach to the Riddiford Street issue – before the languishing businesses (the florist has been there for 18 years) close their doors and the triangular heritage building is abandoned.

And while we’re remembering the election campaign, we remember that Celia Wade-Brown campaigned persuasively in support of light rail. Since the election, however, she doesn’t seem to pushing the subject so strongly. It’s the opposite in Auckland, where new Mayor Len Brown has been talking repetitively about the need for his city to have a new rail loop in the CBD, at a cost of $2billion. The Government has been unenthusiastic, just as it’s unenthusiastic about helping Wellington to get light rail. But yesterday a visiting Australian politician advised the new Auckland mayor: “Just do it.”

The new Mayor of Wellington may not have the same powers as her super-city equivalent. But she should be continuing to remind us – and the Government – why light rail would be good for Wellington. After all. it was a cause which appealed to many of the people who voted for her.


  1. Kent Duston, 1. April 2011, 9:11

    I know the plight of some of the Newtown retailers is dire, but I think it’s a bit rich to lay the entire problem at the mayor’s feet.

    For starters, Celia was only elected in October, yet the changes to the parking were made in early 2009 under Kerry Prendergast’s leadership. So if you want to hold a single individual responsible for the actions of council officers, fingering the right person might be a help.

    And as John Dunphy points out in the original wellington.scoop article, the new businesses put in place by the Hospital have made the local competitive environment even worse.

    But most importantly, New Zealand is enduring a very severe recession in the retail sector, made much worse by the incompetent economic management of the current National government. Compared to our OECD peers, we’ve been in recession much longer and the recovery is much further off – and retailers have borne the brunt of the downturn. The Nats decision to increase GST to 15% – in stark contrast to their pre-election promises – has had a dire impact on retailers around the country, and the Newtown businesses will be no exception.

    So if we’re playing the blame game, it’s undoubtedly Bill English that should be burned in effigy, not the mayor.

  2. Pauline Swann, 1. April 2011, 10:31

    Well said Kent. What a number of our councillors forget is that they are there to serve their ratepayers, not their own personal agendas as witnessed by their voting records, the latest being the $650,000 feasibility study for a deep water pool. Where we were these councillors when the community tried to save the Boys and Girls Institute’s learn to swim facility?

    The same group not only voted against the Mayor for the $375,000 Lobster Loos but also against Council Officers’ recommendation to bring the waterfront company back into the council.

    Nobody said it would be easy for Celia but it’s time for the ex-mayor’s mates to forget their personal vendettas and listen to the ratepayers.

  3. The City is Ours, 1. April 2011, 14:23

    Kent, Celia was the Southern Ward Councillor at that time, which makes her equally responsible for what happened to the retailers in Newtown. Becoming Mayor thereafter does not make for an excuse. We are getting sick of elected members passing the buck.

  4. Kent Duston, 1. April 2011, 21:55

    Maria – It’s a good point, and by your own standards, therefore, Bryan Pepperell should bear 50% of the responsibility, as he was the other Southern Ward councillor at the time. Still is, in fact.

    And it’s no use Bryan trying to hide behind his voting record or anything trivial like that, because “we are getting sick of elected members passing the buck”, aren’t we?

  5. The City is Ours, 2. April 2011, 0:59

    Yes, absolutely I agree with you Kent, we are getting sick of elected members passing the buck. And while I can’t begin to imagine what it would be like for those retailers, they are the obvious victims here but essentially all in the same boat thanks to Bill English.

  6. uke, 2. April 2011, 4:43

    It dismayed me, too, to see that Bryan P. did not even attend the recent meeting when the deep water pool report report was voted through. (As reported in The Wellingtonian.)

  7. simon, 2. April 2011, 11:19

    Mr. Duston, I understand you were part of Ms Wade-Brown’s mayoral campaign team, so perhaps you have a bias which is understandable. Ms Wade-Brown was a southern ward councillor prior to her relinquishing that to concentrate on becoming Mayor. So, the plight of the Newtown retailers cannot just rest with one councillor in my opinion.

  8. Kent Duston, 2. April 2011, 21:13

    Simon – My involvement with Celia’s campaign is a matter of public record; what’s less well known is that I ran retail businesses in my 20s, so I have some understanding of the pressures that retailers are under.

    So it seems unlikely to me that the loss of 9 car parks would be enough on its own to produce the trading loss of $39,000 that John Dunphy refers to in his article for wellington.scoop. Bill English’s slashing of the public sector in Wellington, the lingering effects of our long-running recession and the hike in GST to 15% will all have had a significant part to play as his customers found they had less discretionary income, and cut back on their spending in the face of rocketing unemployment.

    The important question in the circumstances is this – would reinstating the carparks be enough on its own to restore John’s cafe to profitability? Based on my experience in retail, I would suspect the answer is no, in which case there’s little point in using Celia as the whipping-boy. In my view, the completely justified anger of Newtown’s retailers should be directed at Bill English, who seems utterly incapable of returning New Zealand’s economy to a sound footing.

  9. Laura Newcombe, 3. April 2011, 13:20

    I rang Ms Wade-Brown the Southern Councillor years ago about the parking deletions here in Riddiford Street. She said she “was busy and running out the door”, and she never called back. I wrote to her and she never replied. I have spoken of heritage parking deletion concerns at both the NRA and Newtown Business Group where she was present. Ms Wade-Brown ignored and avoided this issue completely; as a Councillor serving the ratepayers, as she was busy with her Mayoral campaign.
    I wrote to her again about my disappointment of being ignored, and she told me that when she would be elected Mayor she would have a PA, therefore she could reply to my letter.

  10. theAlbertus, 3. April 2011, 13:24

    I did not vote for Celia Wade-Brown because, unlike all of you, I did not want to listen to talking about empty promises. All of you know, for a fact, that the city is in a severe budget deficit, thanks to a particular someone. Throughout the campaign, all I have been hearing is promise to deliver this and deliver that. The only thing being delivered is seeing the Mayor telling everyone to bike to work. Seems that’s the only promise worth delivering on the cheap!

    Put it this way: nothing has been delivered apart from more rate increases. Can you all argue on that? Since the new Mayor came in, we’re going to be spending more. Let’s face it: the city is broke and not even the new Mayor has a clue how to fix it.

  11. Kent Duston, 3. April 2011, 15:40

    Albertus – Thanks for pointing out the obvious. So given the city has financial challenges – not least from the cost of leaky homes – what is your proposed solution?

    The choices are pretty straightforward; either increase revenue or decrease expenditure. On the revenue side, this means either higher rates, more debt or asset sales (or a combination of all three), and on the expenditure side it means cutting services, decreasing maintenance or deferring capital projects.

    So rather than throwing stones from the sidelines, how about suggesting which of these options you think would be the best.

  12. John Dunphy, 3. April 2011, 21:34

    Kent if you read my submission in full you will note that the loss of 9 car parks was not the only factor contributing to my financial loss. The lack of access my business and customers incurred for the two and a half months the contractor was on site, was also a significant factor. This delivered the financial blow to mine and all of the businesses in the precinct, and not just during the time the contractor overstayed his welcome; it also had an effect for months after the work was completed, as commuters realised that the area was accessible again. The 9 car parks were just the icing on the cake.
    Having been in business yourself, you would understand that the basic necessity for your customers getting to your front door is critical.
    There has been some confusion as to the value of the 9 car parks, which in itself may not seem significant. The opportunity cost of these car parks is significant however, for the following reasons:
    1) Normal hospitality hours are from 7am to 10pm, 7 days and 7 nights per week before loss of parking. This amounts to a 15 hour trading day.
    2) If permissible parking time in the lost car parks is 30mins, and we allow 10 minutes of additional time per car park for cars that do not move on after the allotted time period, this conservatively allows each car to remain in each park for 40 minutes. A 15 hour trading day allows 900 minutes of parking per park per day. If this is divided into 40 minute intervals, there is the potential for a minimum of 22.5 customers to use each car park in a trading day.
    3) The average spend per potential customer could be estimated at around $20 per interval – remembering there are a range of shops in the precinct, such as florists, eateries, antique shops, an art teacher, underwear store, stained glass artisan, white wear trader, furniture store, etc.
    4) This suggests a potential average loss of potential revenue per car park of $20.00 X 22.5 = $450 per day. Multiplied by 9 parking bays, this amounts to a potential loss of revenue of $4050 per day.
    5) If a conservative vacancy rate of twenty per cent is then attributed to each parking bay, potential lost revenue is 80% of $4050, which amounts to $3240 per parking bay per day. If this figure is multiplied by 330 trading days in the year, this is a potential loss of $1,069,200 per year revenue.

    I hope that helps Kent.

  13. Kent Duston, 4. April 2011, 13:16

    John – I thought your original article was very balanced and explored a number of reasons for the downturn in local businesses; it’s just a shame that it’s been used as a launch-pad for a few people who want to use every social, economic and environmental problem at the feet of the mayor, which has rather detracted from the good points you wanted to make.

    However given my business background, I do take issue with your financial calculations as I think they are founded on some faulty assumptions.

    The first and most obvious problem is that you assume the occupancy of the car parks will run at 100% for 15 hours a day, when this clearly doesn’t occur in real life. The vast majority of short-stay car parks in the CBD run at 60%-80% occupancy, so let’s give the nine Newtown parks the benefit of the doubt and say that they are used 70% of the time.

    The next faulty assumption is that 100% of car park users will spend money with the local businesses – i.e. that the only function of the car parks is to bring in paying customers. Again, the reality is somewhat different; there are friends to be visited, children to be played with, crutches to be returned to the hospital, purchases to be contemplated but never proceeded with … all the minutiae of daily life that doesn’t involve giving money to a local retailer, but which still drives the demand for parking. So let’s assume that only 50% of the parking is used by paying customers.

    Just changing these two parameters means that your $1.069 million in theoretical revenue has declined to about $375,000 – still a substantial sum, but as you point out this needs to be shared between all the businesses in the block.

    The final and most glaring omission is that you’re presuming there is no alternative way of getting to local businesses, other than by getting in the car – and that if customers can’t park right outside the door of your shop, they will automatically go elsewhere. This is simply not true, as my own experience highlights.

    Late last year my wife and I put some beautiful stained glass into our 1900-era villa, designed and hand-made by one of the businesses in your group of shops. We visited on four different occasions, discussing the design, investigating glass types, and inspecting progress – and we walked to and from the shop every time; not once did we use the car. The quality of both the design and the workmanship was superb, and so it simply didn’t occur to us to go elsewhere merely because there was no car parking outside the door. We didn’t come by car, but we bought the stained glass anyway.

    I have no doubt that the removal of the car parks has made business in the area harder, but as I mentioned earlier I don’t believe it’s the only factor – in a booming economy (rather than a recessionary one) the changes to the roads may have been just an annoyance, rather than the straw that broke the camel’s back. So is it fair to blame that final straw, or is the load imposed by higher GST and the ongoing recession actually the root cause of the problem?

  14. Newtownite, 4. April 2011, 15:05

    As per usual under the regime that was, the amount of consultation that occurred was the absolute minimum required by the law. A notice in the DomPost. Also, what was presented was a fait-accompli anyway. The roadworks were associated with the new regional hospital and that was all that mattered as far as the council was concerned.

    Council and Councilors as a whole are responsible for the debacle that has occurred. It is true that Celia and Bryan were the Southern Ward Councilors and must take some responsibility over and above the rest – but not much. Regardless of that, lets have a resolution of the problem so that customers are able to park and avail themselves of the services provided by those businesses.

    Regarding the light rail issue, I am not a supporter, but none-the-less the discussion has to be held. Have that discussion in an open and transparent manner so that all can have their say. It is an important issue. Lets have conversations at all sorts of levels so that we as a community are informed of all the pertinent facts and figures.

    The Basin Reserve issue isn’t a Wellington City Council proposal. Being State Highway 1, it’s a New Zealand Transport Agency issue. One hopes that NZTA does not come out with a single proposal and ask the community of Wellington to endorse it. One hopes that there will be open and transparent discussion on all the options that are available and then the preferred option (preferred by the community) is progressed.

  15. Laura Newcombe, 5. April 2011, 6:00

    Kent- did you and wife carry home your stained glass purchase?

    Bill English didn’t arrogantly tell me “because we can!!! ” like the Council Project manager Stephen Harte told me, when I asked “why did the Council delete the parks without any notification to us struggling businesses?”

    Kent – as you’re so clever at retail business, please tell me how will I be able to access my florist shop at its service entrance in Adelaide Road when the Council soon removes all the parks so that the supermarket has a 3 way access and egress?

  16. Kent Duston, 5. April 2011, 8:43

    Laura – No, we didn’t carry the stained glass home, as the fantastic people at the stained glass company delivered it due to the size and weight – it wouldn’t fit in a regular car. And for the record, they don’t leave their delivery vehicles parked on the street all day in the 30 minute spots, so parks right outside the door wouldn’t have made one iota of difference.

    But here’s what I don’t understand about this whole debate. There’s an ex-car yard on Adelaide Road not thirty metres from the shops that has half a dozen spaces, and it’s been sitting empty and unloved for many a year. If parking is so critical to your businesses, how come the local retailers haven’t banded together to lease it from the owner? With the cost spread across all the retailers in the block, it would probably be close to peppercorn rental – and that way you could offer free parking to shoppers for as long (or as short) as you like, just like many other retailers in the Wellington region. Surely this is worth a look?

  17. Laura Newcombe, 5. April 2011, 9:20

    Kent – You have avoided my question on the further deletions of parks here in Adelaide Rd and John St due to the non-notified resource consent granted by the city council for the supermarket.
    I have investigated on site parking for this building. However due to its heritage status and restrictions, WCC said it is not feasible.
    Kent, imagine if the stained-glass shop was on this side; how would they have got your window into their vehicle and delivered it to your home if the carparks here on Adelaide Rd are all removed?

  18. Kent Duston, 5. April 2011, 10:08

    Laura – As should be apparent, I’m not a traffic engineer or a planning officer; I don’t work for the council, and I don’t personally know any of the officers you’ve been referring to. So I’m really not qualified to comment on the detail of the deletions, which you know far better than I.

    But as a businessperson with some experience in retail, I would have thought your options are pretty obvious at this stage – you can either look to lease parking nearby (perhaps in conjunction with other shops in the area), or you can negotiate to exit your lease and move the business to somewhere more amenable. Given the apparent intransigence of the council, perhaps the second option is the more viable – only you can make that decision.

    But let’s be clear about this; when we set up shop, there’s nothing that guarantees the road outside the door will remain unchanged for all time. Bus routes move, traffic movements alter, new businesses open, and the flow of the city evolves. Having parking outside the door is a bonus, it’s not an entitlement. As businesspeople we have the responsibility to adapt to the changes and ensure the continuity of our companies, even when the changes are not of our making and we fundamentally disagree with the people who have instigated them.

    So my advice – definitely unsolicited and probably unwelcome – is to be really clear-eyed about the likelihood of the council putting the parking back into the area, and either adapt or move. It would be a tragedy if your business faltered because fighting with the council distracted you from running a successful shop.

  19. Laura Newcombe, 5. April 2011, 11:32

    Kent, I purchased this building as a heritage listed building, therefore I am entitled to some protection from the Wellington City Council. After all, if there is no parking to support these businesses, the building will quickly deteriorate if the owners are no longer able to maintain them.
    Heritage buildings like ours are entitled to residential parking outside this property. Why wouldn’t I consider the WCC to reinstate the parks? It’s not that big of an ask.

  20. Kent Duston, 5. April 2011, 13:01

    Laura – I’ve just looked through the council’s heritage policy, the parking policy and what I think are probably the relevant bits of the District Plan, but I can’t find anything that says heritage buildings are entitled to residential parking on the street directly outside the building. There are general guidelines around parking provision, but nothing that appears to count as an actual “entitlement”. Now, this may be because I’m not reading the District Plan correctly (and I’m open to correction from anyone who knows their way around it) but it seems that the council have prioritised traffic movement over parking, and there is nothing that states that the rules are different for heritage buildings.

    And for the record, I very much support your desire to get the WCC officers to re-think their approach; however my experience is that it doesn’t seem to happen that often.

  21. Laura Newcombe, 5. April 2011, 13:28

    Kent – Ask the manager of WCC Infrastructure, Stavros Michael. He will confirm the provision of residential parking outside this heritage building.

  22. John Dunphy, 5. April 2011, 21:56

    Kent if you read my last blog again you may notice I included a vacancy calculation of 20% and decreased the income from $4050 to $3240, so I’m not sure what you’re on about, it seems you sometimes miss some of the content.
    Also I used a very conservative $20.00 purchase amount for each potential transaction. You yourself noted that you had purchased some stained glass windows – I could argue then that this item along with others could push that average transaction amount up significantly. It’s all very subjective, but in there somewhere is a dollar value amount that makes these businesses sustainable, without it we are not.
    Which leads me to my very final comment regarding this debacle and your observations about businesses adapting to environmental changes, and I quote you Kent, “Bus routes move, traffic movements alter, new businesses open, and the flow of the city evolves. Having parking outside the door is a bonus, it’s not an entitlement”. This is all very true, but we are not protesting the right of local government, the mayor or councillors to make changes for the greater good. What we are protesting and defending here is our right to be heard and to be properly consulted with, so that we are all able to compromise for the benefit for all parties concerned. There was and is a systemic failure in the process which could have averted all of the problems that have followed.
    Some of the suggestions/compromises I offered can be seen on the following link http://wellington.scoop.co.nz/?p=32436. Possibly had some of these been presented at the time of planning, we might have reached a compromise that we could have all lived with. That is long gone.
    Thank you Wellington.Scoop. What a fantastic site this is, I wish you the best.
    Cheers John.

  23. Laura Newcombe, 16. April 2011, 9:27

    It’s karma that the Mayor feels “betrayed” in The Dompost this morning. These roading issues belong at the Council table. Don’t let her stuff it up – like she did at this heritage shopping centre in Newtown by deleting the car parks and ignoring the issue for the last 3 years. To this day she and Cr Andy Foster have never made an on site visit, despite our invitations, simply because they don’t care and we are expendable in the big picture. Praise be for democracy!