Bob Jones on being pedestrian

Following the arrival of Wellington Council’s new CEO, Englishman Kevin Lavery, I broke my life-long wariness of contact with Kevins and invited him to our office for drinks. “So what’s your impression of Wellington?” I asked. “It screams out for pedestrianisation,” Kevin replied, unsurprisingly as all English cities have pedestrianised their CBD centres, so too throughout Europe, North America, Australia and the more advanced Latin American nations.

I told Kevin of my efforts to promote the pedestrianisation of Lambton Quay two elections back. There was a positive feedback from sophisticated retailers and people such as the capital’s leading CBD retail leasing agent, Ty Dallas of Colliers. Conversely, it elicited some mind-boggling stupidity, none more so than from John Milford, then manager of the city’s only department store, Kirkcaldie, who told the Dominion Post he was opposed as his customers like to park outside. Pointing out that there were no parks outside Kirks made no difference.

No surprise then that Kirks was slowly going broke. Indeed, as my company owns the building, we had already drawn up plans to chop it into shops. Then I suggested to Kirks’ long-suffering chairman that he approach David Jones, given its new owners were plainly into international expansion.

CBD businesses are rarely forward looking and fear anything but the status quo.  In provincial towns this is even worse, and their power over development, or even what kind of business is allowed to set up is remarkable in its likeness to a mafia protection racket. 

The rest is history and the mere fact of its arrival has produced enormous demand for retail premises in the vicinity. Most of the Kirks’ staff have been retained by David Jones although not Milford. He has moved on to be chief executive of the Wellington Chamber of Commerce where inside a year, according to theDominion Post, the membership has plummeted.

Nobody has more to lose from Lambton Quay pedestrianisation than me (if I’m wrong), my company owning the most Lambton Quay buildings and far and away the most CBD shops. But I’m not wrong as the worldwide evidence is compelling.

Indeed, talking of the Russians, I popped over recently to have a look at the wonderful exercise they’re currently undertaking in Moscow, this on a scale unmatched anywhere, and by God it’s marvellous.

I ran across an English town planner. “You know what the buggers are up to,” he said conspiratorially. “They’re creating the most beautiful central city in the world,” this proffered as somehow being a sinister threat to civilisation.

What “the buggers” are up to is rapidly pedestrianising the whole CBD. But they don’t stop there.

[Wellington] CBD’s worst blight is its buses. Throughout the day they run bumper to bumper through Lambton Quay. A few years ago I stood with then mayor Kerry Prendergast on Midland Park and pointed out only a few have any passengers but most are empty. She was shocked but did nothing about it. It’s a good deal for the bus company as they’re paid by losers to do this, the losers being ratepayers.

The extraordinary thing about the Lambton Quay [pedestrian] proposal is it’s costless. The creating of retail decked shops scattered down the wider parts centre will create investment units that will cover the entire expense.Wellington has numerous natural advantages to attract brain activities and not bloody call centres.

And no matter what Wellington does, Bob Jones will still own the buildings and make money from them.  He’s just given up trying to make the place look half pleasant and now takes regular potshots from his various columns.

– Sir Bob Jones, NBR

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