The conventional wisdom in New Zealand seems to be that people will always drive to go shopping, they won’t take public transport or cycle. It’s even spawned the term #Quaxing, named after your friend and mine, councillor Dick Quax.
— Dick Quax (@DickQuax) January 3, 2015
I’ll talk about some UK and Australian examples of shopping centres below. In other news, UK and Australia are no longer to considered to be part of the western world.
With the Auckland Unitary Plan working through the hearings process, one of the topics up for debate is “parking minimums” – the idea that new shops, offices, bars etc need to provide a minimum number of carparks, based on their floor area (these rules also apply for dwellings across most of Auckland, based on the number of bedrooms).
Various retailers and shopping centres have argued for parking minimums to remain, including Scentre Group – who operate the Westfield centres across Auckland (and the rest of NZ, and Australia). They own some of the largest shopping centres in Auckland, and control a large number of carparks. They have valid concerns about other people using their parks when visiting other shops or places, and that potential ‘freeloading’ is the reason for them wanting parking minimums.
Incidentally, there are plenty of shopping centres in NZ which do quite well out of this ‘freeloading’. They know that they have the carparks, and shoppers will drive and park there but also visit the shops outside the mall, post some mail, etc. Providing the hub for parking means they’ve got the opportunity to make some sales at the beginning or end of this trip. Westfield Newmarket does this – a $10 purchase gives you two hours free parking there, and you’re free to wander around the rest of Newmarket as well. Back in the day, I’d often do this, and just go and grab something I needed at the supermarket. Many thousands of people would do something similar.
The wider Westfield group has an excellent understanding of cities, and retail centres which are oriented towards public transport. Until recently, they were the biggest owner of retail property in the world (they’ve now restructured and split off the NZ/ Australia centres into Scentre Group). Westfield has plenty of central city malls around the world, in some of the most high profile locations in the world. That includes two centres in the UK (London and Stratford City) which rely heavily on quaxing for their success. To quote:
One of the largest shopping centres in Europe, Westfield London, opened in 2008. Modal targets were for 40 percent of shoppers to visit by car, and 60 percent by public transport, walking and cycling. So far the actual figures have been 22 percent car and 78 percent walking, cycling and public transport.
These UK centres are very successful. They each have specialty shop sales of £9,500 per square metre (this figure won’t mean much to most of you, but take my word for it, that’s a lot), and annual sales of around £1,000,000,000 (it’s pretty obvious that’s a lot). Public transport links allow these malls to achieve a level of sales that would quite simply not be possible in New Zealand, with our more car-dependent society and retail sector.
Car-based shoppers are still important for Westfield London and Stratford City. However, these malls have around 40% fewer carparks per square metre of retail space than equivalent centres in New Zealand (3 carparks per 100 sqm, whereas we’d have 5 per 100). And yet they have sales which are substantially higher than any centre in New Zealand – at least double the sales per square metre of a typical NZ centre, even before allowing for the cheaper price of goods in the UK.
Closer to home, Westfield Sydney is one of the global flagship centres for the Westfield brand, with a prime position in the Sydney CBD. It’s top of Westfield’s Australian portfolio in every respect, except total sales, where it comes second to Westfield Bondi Junction. And yet this mall, which is about seven or eight times the size of Auckland’s (current) Downtown Shopping Centre, has just 172 carparks. That’s not a typo, although of course there’ll be more in other buildings in the area. Westfield are certainly not wedded to having masses of parking; it depends on the location.
The examples above are in bigger cities than Auckland, and in central locations with excellent public transport provision. But Auckland shouldn’t short-change itself. Public transport patronage is booming, and the New Network will give much better access to much of the city in the next few years. Once the City Rail Link is complete, shopping centres like Sylvia Park, or Westfield Newmarket, or the proposed Downtown Shopping Centre, could target much higher sales than their current level, and with fewer parks. Getting to the shops on a bike, bus or train will become increasingly common in Auckland.