Wellington's empty and sad – where are the ideas to revive it? – Stuff

John Bishop is a Wellington political veteran who has covered politics, business and economics variously for Radio NZ, Television NZ and the National Business Review over the past 40-plus years. He helped set up the NZ Taxpayers’ Union. He has never joined any political party. He is the father of National list MP Chris Bishop. All views expressed are his own.
OPINION: You know a place is in trouble when a central city McDonald’s opens only one day a week. The small Maccas​ outlet in Courtenay​ Place is open only on Thursdays. It can’t get staff. Several other nearby hospo outlets are now closed on Monday and Tuesdays; others have closed their kitchens.
This week I walked Wellington’s Golden Mile from the Embassy Theatre to Bowen St, and counted at least 11 restaurants, bars and cafes closed or on restricted hours, including the McDonald’s in Lambton Quay.
Staff shortages are magnified by close contacts, and Covid cases isolating at home. But the problems of the city aren’t all staff-related. The customers aren’t there either.
At 1.20pm on a weekday, I looked closely at eight shops in the heart of Willis St, the centre of the Golden Mile. Five had no customers in them; one had one customer. The other two were permanently closed.
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This week I turned my car on to the only main road out of Karori, Wellington’s largest suburb, at 8.15am, having waited just one minute. Normally it’s a lengthy queue of slow-moving cars heading into the central city. A day later I turned into the traffic without waiting.
It’s been like this for several weeks now: so, it’s not down to the occupation at Parliament, the school holidays, universities being closed, although all these factors may contribute.
There are simply fewer people going into central Wellington. Public servants and many others are working from home. Those who don’t need to go anywhere are hunkering down; more may be shopping locally.
Wellington’s population, residents and regular commuters alike, are avoiding contact. Not everyone, of course. This is not level 4 lockdown of 2020, when no-one moved. This is the “I’m not going into town if I don’t have to” of 2022.
The city council, which used to be a loud, fractious rabble, is also quieter but has no adequate response. Its best shot is to propose an 8.8 per cent increase in business rates.
How will that help the cashflow of struggling businesses, or attract foot traffic back into the city? (Getting a car park is easier, which is something, I suppose.)
My question to the council and the chamber of commerce and the Government is where is the plan to revive the city?
Where are the solutions to our problems? These clown leaders can’t even Get Wellington Moving.
Transmission Gully continues to set new records for missing deadlines, and the Basin Reserve is still a major bottleneck – reduced traffic notwithstanding.
The city’s infrastructure is in a woeful state. And just about everything that’s important in a city needs more money spent on it.
The region’s economic development strategy is woefully inadequate and poorly focused. No doubt a burst of tourism promotion will bring some visitors now the borders are reopening.
More backpackers and Aussies/Kiwis visiting friends and relations are all very well, but they are not and never have been a substitute for getting “new” money to establish new businesses in the city.
We need more start-up businesses offering long-term, well-paid, permanent jobs, and WellingtonNZ should be devoting almost all of its time to that. But it doesn’t.
Frankly it’s worrying. High rents are forcing students who want to study in Wellington to go elsewhere. Jobs are not being created fast enough. People are fearful and scared, worried about the future, theirs and their kids’.
Right now, the city, particularly the inner city, is dying from decay, neglect and lack of investment. It’s long since ceased to be a place of fun and excitement. Now it is struggling to stay alive.
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