Is Big Box Retail the best solution for Wanaka?
Council appointed commissioners have given the green light for the big box second town centre. This is a real shame for the community of Wanaka as it is a completely unimaginative solution to the growth needs of the Upper Clutha’s retail needs, and it is the lowest common denominator of retail.
It is no surprise really, having worked closely with the council planning department, it has been apparent for the last four years that this is the direction they have committed all policy towards. In this sense the Plan Change Hearing just satisfied ‘due process’ rather than questioning was this the solution for Wanaka. This is demonstrated by the fact that the hearing had only two commissioners, one who works for the council planning department and another a layperson who is on the councils Wanaka Community Board. I have attended smaller Plan Change Hearings where there have been 5 or more commissioners, each independent and each bringing in their own expertise on infrastructure , planning , policy etc.
The good news is that apparently there are conditions placed on the consent, limiting size of development and conducting ‘health checks’ on the town centre. This is a new concept and how effective it is remains to be seen, I am skeptical as there is no current baseline information on the health of the town centre . There is lots of money to be made developing Greenfield sites, so it will be worth investing in consultants to work around whatever health checks there are.
My only hope is that both market conditions and market competitors will put this proposal at bay for some time, in the short term expect an over sized Mitre 10 or Mitre 10 Mega and a Nichols Graden Centre in this area. Hopefully there will be a change in retail trends over time that make this cookie cutter retail park solution unviable. Local developer Roger Gardiner spoke to a number of national corporate retailers prior to the plan change hearing and they noted that Wanaka was not on the radar yet, and even if it was they would want to be in the existing town centre even if it meant adapting to a smaller store. The other positive is that the council are implementing some of the town centre strategy that was developed in 2009; unfortunately the councils coffers have been severely diminished with the current economic conditions. However at least it is underway, and it pre-empts a ‘Main Street’ program on the existing town centre that would usually be implemented after the negative effects of Stand Alone Retail Parks.