2nd WEEK AUGUST 2014
Submissions for the Whangarei District Council’s innocuously titled “Plan Change 130: Bulk Format Retail Environment (Okara Park)” closed a couple of weeks ago with little or no fanfare. I would imagine very few within our community were aware of it and based on its title, even less would take the time to investigate further. However based on recent discussions on the need to create a more vibrant Town Basin and CBD it did contain information that would be of interest to many. It divided the CBD into an inner and outer CBD with the inner being that area which most of us would have traditionally associated with the CBD, while the outer encompasses newer commercial activity in the vicinity of Okara.
It also contained information on the impact of Large Format Retail (LFR) on the inner CBD. The report identified a negative impact on sales in this area estimated to be in the vicinity of 10 percent and that even after 8 or so years this will not return to existing levels. Furthermore it predicted a reduction in product availability, employment, opening hours and in some cases store closures.
This in itself does not necessarily equate to a lessening of commercial activity or employment within the wider CBD but does suggest a marked shift in the location of existing commercial activity. A walk through the existing inner CBD quickly identifies many retail outlets that would sit comfortably within a LFR zone. It is highly likely that this proposal will result in many more inner CBD premises becoming untenanted. This accompanied by the lack of a significant attractant, could potentially create a further disconnect between the Town Basin and the commercial hub of the city. This would directly impact on the nature or character of this area and will not lead to a strong centre of an inner CBD as described in the council’s Urban Growth Strategy
Large Format Retail (LFR) exists as a direct response to the consumer’s never-ending demand for choice and cheaper prices. It is neither good nor bad. LFR and its perceived conflict with CBDs is a global issue. LFR exists as a direct response to the consumer’s never-ending demand for more choice and cheaper prices, and exist only because demand says they should. The challenge for Whangarei’s inner CBD now is how it can develop into a truly diverse and vibrant metropolitan centre. Accompanied with the appropriate infrastructure and attractions, we must critically examine the CBDs’ competitive points of difference then market these in a unified manner.