Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 28, No. 8. 1965.
Dream Or Disaster ? — The Wellington Town Plan
[unclear: Dream] Or Disaster ?
The [unclear: Wellington] Town Plan
On April 27, 1965, a [unclear: draft] town plan was presented [unclear: a] for public discussion [unclear: by] the Wellington City Council. The plan contained [unclear: c] major proposals [unclear: designe] to rehabilitate the [unclear: city] centre.
The foothill motorway plan [unclear: re] commended by the De [unclear: Leu] Gather transportation plan [unclear: ex] tended to the eastern side [unclear: s] the Mt. Victoria tunnel.
Three-level streets with [unclear: segregate] traffic and pedestrian [unclear: shoppi] malls in Victoria and [unclear: Will] Streets.
Other ground level pedestrian malls, and extensions to the proposed one-way street system, together with a number of parking buildings surrounding the Central Business District.
An underground railway extending from the present suburban commuter service to Courtenay Place.
Superficially the public relations of presenting the draft plan at this meeting were very good. However, the majority of the members of the public who attended were confronted with a series of rather esoteric discourses on the finer arts of town planning. The lack of discussion, induced by both this and the restrictive attitude towards questioning, was interpreted by the Council and the Press as favourable reaction to the plan.
To assess the merits of this plan it is necessary to isolate the assumptions on which it is based and test their validity.
• The assumption that "the residential population will increase to approximately 150,000 persons by 1985" has not been based on any statistical research. Population projections by the Wellington Regional Planning Authority, based on statistical analysis, for the whole of the Wellington city area estimate a 1986 population of only 133,000. It would appear that the Council planning authorities have been rather optimistic.
• Given the present negative attitudes of New Zealand urban dwellers towards high density housing, it is not unreasonable to assume that only certain sections of the community can be expected to live in the large area planned for high density housing—single businessmen businesswomen, young couples, the estimated 20,000 university and polytechnic students and staff.
This feature has been edited by D. J. Hewitson with contributions from Salient staff reporters W. A. Leagron, A. G.
Loesch and G. F. McDonald.
To persuade the family man employed in the inner city to live in these areas instead of separate suburban homes will require a drastic revision of the existing New Zealand housing mores.
• It is estimated that the plan will cost £50,000,000, the investment to be spread over the next 20 years. It is questionable whether there will be enough money in New Zealand society to ensure this. There are many other capital investments which will be hindering the plan's chances—for example, by 1976 £56,000,000 will have been invested in the establishment of the Iron and Steel industry.
• The planned three-tiered Willis Street-Victoria Street area is rather optimistic in view of the patterns of retailing decentralisation which have occurred in overseas centres. It is doubtful whether this retailing agglomeration will be able to draw on a sufficiently large buying power as establishment of considerable retail centres in Upper Hutt, Porirua, Tawa and Paraparaumu points to the local adoption of these overseas trends.
• The emphasis placed on the car in the draft plan is another cause of problems. The planning committee do not appear to have completely grasped the dual function of the car. It is:—
|1.||The means of transporting the owner to and from his/her work-place.|
|2.||The means of transporting the owner to and from the marketplace.|
The proposals regarding traffic problems have been aimed at preventing peak-hour traffic congestion and keeping the traffic moving throughout the inner city. This fulfills the car's function as a transporter to and from work. However, it inhibits its function as transporter to and from the market-place.
The inner city of the future should have a special market and intellectual atmosphere stimulated largely from its function—the fact that most car owners will not be able to drive themselves directly to the markets (or to the restaurant before the theatre) will help to ultimately destroy the essential atmosphere of the inner city; a factor that the retailers' associations seem vaguely aware of. This loss of atmosphere will have a detrimental effect on the retailers' economies and is a factor which will increase the decentralisation of retailing.
Finally, there is the rather incomprehensible situation of a draft town plan without any list of priorities. There is a need for the co-ordinated development of the various projects, otherwise there is the possibility of a motorway coming into the inner city without sufficient parking facilities to accommodate the incoming cars; a situation not completely unrealistic when one considers implementation of some previous City Council schemes!— D.J.H.
An enlightening sideline to [unclear: thv] actual socio-economic and [unclear: tech] logical aspects of the draft [unclear: to] plan is the steady stream [unclear: h] "sniping" by interested [unclear: individua] The editors and columnists of [unclear: th] Press were reasonably [unclear: compl] mentary in their remarks. [unclear: Howev] the more informed sources [unclear: ha] been much more derogatory [unclear: with] out providing only purely [unclear: negati] criticism. Representatives of [unclear: th] various local factions have [unclear: varie] in their opinions according to [unclear: ho] the plan has affected them.
". . . It does contain, [unclear: however] some very sensible and [unclear: eve] imaginative proposals for [unclear: th] shaping of development in a [unclear: wa] that might make the city less [unclear: co] gested, more capable of order expansion and thus a better [unclear: pla] to live in . . ."—Editorial [unclear: Even] Post. 27.4.65.
"The Wellington City [unclear: Council] has produced a town plan [unclear: which] impressed even the sceptics [unclear: wh] attended the public unveiling [unclear: of] Tuesday night . . . Shows [unclear: muc] thought and imagination."—N. Herald. 29.4.65.
"While the draft [unclear: incorporated] a lot of 'good ideas' from the [unclear: text] books of the town planner [unclear: an] traffic engineer, there are [unclear: obviou] dangers because full [unclear: consideratio] for so many areas and problem have not been possible in [unclear: th] short time . . . The town [unclear: planning] staff are to be commended [unclear: for] the amount of work they [unclear: have] done within the last few [unclear: month] but it appears even from the [unclear: first] impression that the rushed [unclear: pa] forced by earlier [unclear: vacillations] the council over long years [unclear: ha] made inevitable the [unclear: acceptanc] . . . of a great number of [unclear: appar] ently conflicting concepts, [unclear: s] of unresolved and deferred [unclear: decision] and of incomplete background information . . ."—Architecture Centre. 20.4.65.
"One-way streets would [unclear: increas] traffic capacity, but in [unclear: Welling] ton's case, it would be at [unclear: th] page 9expense of other city functions, particularly retailing."—J. A New[unclear: old] president Wellington and [unclear: Hutt] Valley Retailers' Association [unclear: .5.64.]
"Shop rents are high enough, [unclear: nd] if city shopowners have to [unclear: ear] the cost of this project it [unclear: ill] drive shopkeepers out to the [unclear: suburbs] . . ."— Saul Goldsmith, [unclear: resident] United Action Group [unclear: 8.4.65.]
Comments by various City Councillors, who were only too [unclear: ager] to use the plan as a weapon to five vent to personal bickerings within the Council, make entertaining reading:
"It (the Town Plan) seems to [unclear: ne], and to tens of thousands of Wellingtonians, a Utopian flight of fantasy . . ."—Cr. J. M. Turk.
"... A pie in the sky . . ."— Cr. J. F. Jeffries.
". . . Too dreary . . "'—Cr. C. H. Benney.
The Town and Country Planning Act, 1953, requires each City Council to submit to the Government a draft town plan covering anticipated development for a period of 20 years in the future. The Wellington City Council have notified the Minister that their Draft Plan will be finally presented to him for his approval in early August. This means that all interested parties have until August 1, 1905, to comment on, or object to, the plan if they so wish. Because the Government has the final say on the acceptance of the plan and because right in the middle of the city centre an area has been set aside as a Government sector, whose planning is principally the responsibility of the Government architect, it is essential that there is harmony between them and the City Council.
When Salient spoke to Mr. Shepherd, the Government [unclear: architect], he emphasised the close linkage between the Government and the City Council at all stages of the plan.
The Ministry of Works and the Government Statistics Department gave assistance, while architects from Mr. Shepherd's own staff were loaned on a temporary basis to the City Engineer.
Mr Shepherd admitted that his own sphere of interest lay in the Government sector and not with the general Draft Plan. But he underlined the fan that harmonious development with the Council, from an architectural point of view, would be pursued.
On being asked about Mr. Connell, the Chief Town Planner, who resigned last January, Mr. Shepherd outlined his views thus. Mr. Connell was on the staff of the City Engineer and any recommendations to the Town Planning Committee had to go through the channels.
This situation was peculiar to New Zealand, where City Engineers have carved a strong position for themselves, and must have been a singularly frustrating experience for the Town Planner.
When the conversation turned to the "Beehive," Mr. Shepherd clarified some popular misconceptions about this controversial topic. Local architects were of the opinion that the new Parliamentary building should be constructed in the "contemporary idiom" and when Sir Basil Spence came out to New Zealand to give the Chancellor's Lecture at Victoria, an approach was made to ask his expert opinion.
Sir Basil spent only a short time outlining his ideas of a circular building on a piece of paper approx. Gin by 4in. Mr. Shepherd conceded that Sir Basil had been paid a fee for his services and that a large amount of correspondence between himself and Sir Basil had taken place since the latter's return to England. All-in-all, he did not think that the policy of consulting overseas experts was likely to be continued.
Mr. Shepherd said that although the "Beehive" was revolutionary in design, the function of the building and the nature of the site had to be examined.
It was his considered opinion that the "Beehive" was aesthetically pleasing, yet at the same time, strictly utilitarian.—W.A.L.
An Alternative Plan: Pedestrian Precincts
Prior to the presentation of the Draft Town Plan, two Wellington architects submitted a very comprehensive report on city planning to the Council.
This report, known as the "Gabites and Beard Proposals," suggests that a reappraisal of the Transportation Plan should be undertaken and a plan embodying the traffic-free precinct principle should be initialed.
It recommends several changes in detail from earlier plans, including a realignment of the motorway from Tinakori Road to Grant Road, and three smaller tunnels for directing traffic around the bottleneck area between the hills and the sea in the vicinity of Lower Willis Street and Lambton Quay.
This is an alternative to one very large tunnel for the big motorway, and the three-level block proposed in the town plan which are primarily designed to relieve traffic pressure in the bottleneck area.
Also, rather than a single, large, high vehicle-capacity motorway, it suggests that traffic volume be spread over a network of reasonably wide feeder routes. There would be frequent and easy access to these main routes and they would feature compact intersections.
There would be no need for huge flyovers such as those which in the Draft Town Plan require the despoliation of Bolton street cemetery and the Basin Reserve. In addition, parking buildings could be strategically related to the feeder routes.
With this scheme the city could be planned as a series of precincts on the basis of the functions that different areas perform. For instance, the government centre, Lambton Quay retail area, Manners Street retail area, Civic Centre (in the vicinity of the Library) would each be separate precincts. Traffic in each precinct would be localised, since through traffic would use the feeder routes and Secondary Distribution cross routes.
In some cases certain streets could be completely closed to traffic (except for emergency services such as ambulances), and these would become traffic-free pedestrian malls. These could be serviced by a system of slowmoving minibuses.
These proposals have many merits and represent some realistic alternatives to the City Council's present plans. In addition to the obvious savings in land spare required for traffic routes and intersections, valuable reserve areas are retained.
In addition, the plan embodies the traffic-free pedestrian mall principle without having to create the costly multi-level block over Willis Street, and there are no one-way streets, This is a sensible plan. It does not require such drastic and sweeping changes as the Draft Town Plan, while retaining many of its virtues. It deserves careful consideration by the authorities.—G. F. McD.