Urban sprawl the reason

Phil Campbell

Why has a city with a sudden spurt growth to 72,500 population losing its CBD population?

A Rotorua newspaper report suggests the CBD resembles a ghost town.

At opening hours, it implies shop owners are simply closing because business trends have so dictated.

If the city’s starting to look moribund, the simple explanation is that shopping areas are bulging in the suburbs – developments at Fairy Springs Road and the Tarawera Road roundabout in recent years are two prime examples.

Some 20 years ago, the Pukeroa Oruawhata Trust built a multi-purpose shopping centre tagged the Central Mall. Not only has it a fast food centre lane at its heart, but fringing the borders of the vast former railways land are big co-ops like Farmers, Briscoes, Van Dykes, The Warehouse and Rebel Sports.

One of three Countdown stores in Rotorua has also been in the mall for some years, replacing an American wholesale store which was too big for Rotorua.

Not all businesses within the Central Mall have succeeded over the years. Proportionately, few would argue that the mall area has sometimes resembled the ghost town of the recent article. Businesses come and go, as they do in practically every town or city or mall.

Some years ago, in attempt at beguiling the public and tourists, the local Rotorua Energy Charitable Trust did it bit to try to create the impression all shops were fill. Thus, transfers of busy market scenes were stuck on the inside of windows to remove not only the glare but the impression the shops were unused.

This may have fooled the tourists – who thought they were in some Turkish bazaar not a south seas resort – but not locals. Yet, any outcry was muted by the sincere if naïve attempt to create a façade that possibly only gave publicity to the elected number of RECT members.

Farmers and Van Dykes formerly occupied large spaces in town. Their absences inflate the empty areas. Other established businesses scarpered, too. Some have closed altogether, crimped by the relentless march of numerous co-operatives (plus in one case improved quality products) which simply outpriced smaller, specialist shops.

Inside the mall, many stores have remained on site with very few changes over the years.

This started the filleting of Rotorua, while developers were eyeing opportunities around vacant areas in Rotorua. One area opened in the last year or two is adjacent Rotorua Boys’ College.

One of the latest additions to an area occupied by MegaMitre10 store is K-Mart, which is now opened until midnight.

Not too many of the aforementioned incidentally were involved in an inner-city diaspora.

Most are new arrivals to a city desperate for injection, for a bit of RMA relief, and heft from councillors. Some years ago, a local developer quit Rotorua for Tauranga – luckily, he returned.

Shopping trends have changed. Suburbia has seen to that. The gaps evident in the CBD are quietly being compensated for in the suburbs where, to quote Carlyle the philosopher, there is infinite room in small spaces.

For a good 15 years, Rotorua’s growth was amorphous – it crawled along each at 0.1 per cent.

Rates were unjustifiably kept to a minimum and the town is currently paying for it as key infrastructure has been deferred so as not to ruffle community figures.

At a recent mayoral campaign launch, Steve Chadwick, eyeing a third term, said once infrastructure was repaired the debt would reduce – the inference here is that debt has been created by deferring badly needed maintenance. Add to this the earthquake risk costs to the Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre and the Rotorua Museum which assume priority, the difficulties facing the council seem manifestly insurmountable.

Apart from the unintended costs of rehabilitating these structures, and the floods which rent Ngongotaha and much of the district last April, previous councils under previous leaderships must shoulder much of the blame. Let’s not forget, either, the city’s costly bid to become an international airport with return flights to Sydney – a yoke which very few councillors then and now are willing to bear.

In recent years, the growth has exceeded even national levels. House prices are rising, people are pouring into a resurgent town, which despite critics of a radical overhaul in the city centre with the removal of sails which were going to prove costly to replace, has many spin-offs.

The council has had its blips. The strikes over changes to the Aquatic Centre hardly kept the council’s popularity afloat, while Mudtopia turned into a slag heap.

TRENZ is coming to Rotorua this year, the town currently is holding its annual Crankworx week-long event and it is election year. Will everything come up roses?

As Heraclitus said: “Everything flows, everything changes. You cannot step into the same river twice”.


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