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Salient. Victoria University Newspaper. Volume 38, Number 14. June 20, 1975

Mt Vic On The Move

Mt Vic On The Move

A newly completed block of high-rise flats in Mt. Victoria has become the focal point in a struggle between private developers and local residents.

The local residents, led by the Mt. Victoria Progressive Association, are angry about the construction of Williams Development Holdings' new 10-storey Melksham Towers building, which was originally given a council permit on the basis that it would be a block of flats.

About two months ago, however, the residents found that the company intended to use it for temporary accommodation at a weekly rental of $80 per person, and subsequent advertisements have stated that the apartments are aimed at businessmen, conference delegates and sales and marketing representatives visiting Wellington.

The tower comprises 36 fully self-contained two-bedroom apartments, each with separate kitchen, lounge and balcony, colour television and all linen, crockery and cutlery supplied. A dry cleaning service, a 24-hour telephone service and a shop are also to be available.

Williams Development have a keen eye for a prospective market and judging from overseas developments, 'a new concept in accommodation' such as Melksham Towers has certainly all the makings of a nice tidy profit. But as the Mt. Victoria residents point out, they want 'development for people and not for profit', and Melksham Towers certainly doesn't help any people in the Mt. Victoria area (except if you're allergic to sunlight).

Mt. Victoria has a serious shortage of permanent accommodation and there is a need for family homes, not serviced apartments for transient businessmen. Wellington Tenants' Protection Association has records of numerous families and groups who have had to shift out of the area because their rented accommodation was to be demolished or was no longer suitable in terms of rent and conditions. The rents charged in the tower block will hinder any general reduction of rents in the area because of the comparative nature of the Rent Appeals Board's assessment of a 'fair rent'.

Photo of Melksham Tower, Mount Victoria

Residents have mounted a vigorous campaign against the tower block itself, but the main attack has been focused on the roots of the problem—the inability of a community to have any say in the development of their area. The campaign started from general meetings of the Progressive Association and a small group of people went from door-to-door in the area discussing Mt. Victoria's development and the significance of Melksham Towers.

The response was such that a demonstration of 70 residents gathered outside the tower block recently to show their disapproval of what has been described as 'a human filing cabinet'. They also discussed what steps could be taken to prevent the construction of any similar structures.

In consultation with Councillor David Shand, the meeting decided on two courses of action.

—At present Mt. Victoria is zoned 'Residential C', which allows as of right for a building to be up to 100ft. high and it also allows for construction of apartments and motels. The residents decided to put pressure on the council to get a special zoning which would allow them a say in future developments.

—A petition is being circulated calling on Williams Holdings to stop any future development in the area and to make a certain percentage of Melksham Towers available for long term rental accommodation. It also asks the Council to change the area zoning from 'Residential C' to 'Residential D' or a special zoning.

Last week the City Council considered the Melksham Towers issue and decided to turn it over to the Town Planning Committee. However, two members of this committee, Crs. Fitzgerald and Foot, made their positions very clear when they both supported the right of this type of private development. Cr. Foot ridiculed the call for private developers to build low-rental housing because he considered it to be an 'uneconomic proposition'.

The struggle between the interest of private developers and local communities will continue as long as people are told that area planning is perogative of those experts 'who know best'. But, even if the Mt. Victoria residents have been too late to stop the construction of the Melksham Towers monstrosity, they have been successful in building a much closer community which is more aware of the injustices that surround it and the forces that control it. As one resident said: 'The protest has only just begun.'