The Council has made a complete botch-up of the consultation process for Manners Mall.
On the surface, Wellingtonians have become very concerned about the impending loss of a pedestrian space in the central city, but the reason for the concern has as much to do with the poor quality of the proposal as anything else. There’s definitely a case to be made for improving the transport spine through the Golden Mile, and sorting out the torturous and winding track of buses through the city would certainly be a smart idea.
However the core of the problem is that Council officers wanted to run buses through Manners Mall, and replace the pedestrian space with …. nothing at all.
The obvious solution that many submitters identified in the public consultation round – replacing the Manners St mall with a mall in Lower Cuba St – is eminently sensible, and addresses many of the concerns expressed by Wellingtonians. Turning Lower Cuba St into a mall between Manners St and Wakefield St would bring significant benefits; the continuity of the current Manners Mall would be improved, there would be better connection to the Michael Fowler Centre and Civic Square, and the developing cafe culture in the street would be enhanced. There would be ample opportunity to create a high-quality streetscape that highlighted the best aspects of the Victorian facades on the Eastern side of Lower Cuba St, better connection with the James Smiths building, and a thematic consistency in the way the mall looks and operates from Ghuznee St all the way to Wakefield St.
It seems an obvious solution. So it’s a pity that instead of proposing a plan that would add vibrancy to the pedestrian cityscape and which many Wellingtonians would support, Council officers suggested that Manners Mall be opened to buses, and to compensate, Lower Cuba St be turned into a car park.
It’s obvious to everyone that there’s already ample car parking in the immediate area, which is nowhere near peak capacity. So it looks alarmingly like officers are conducting a simple revenue grab rather than looking for the best solution to the interlinked issues around Manners Mall. They have confirmed that the additional parking would bring an extra $300,000 into Council coffers each year, but this seems poor compensation for the loss of the pedestrian space.
So this is a plea for sanity in the increasingly contentious debate around Manners Mall, and a request that the Council officers do the smart thing – replace Manners Mall with a Lower Cuba Mall. Wellington will be a better place as a result.
There are other issues in this proposal that show the same lack of attention to the wider impact – such as how Dixon St is treated, and the astoundingly poor decision to signalise the Courtenay Place pedestrian crossings – but they can wait for another post. In the meantime, Wellingtonians need to be asked if they would support the replacement of one mall with another.