This is a guest post from Tony Horton, Senior Strategic Planner at Whangarei District Council

What will the heart of Whangarei be like in 20 years? This is the question currently being asked by Whangarei District Council.

But this is not being asked through the usual myriad of planning documents, strategic frameworks or growth strategies. This time the Council has put together a new website showing a list of key projects, such as turning a waterfront car park into a park or a new theatre complex.

The idea is that these projects are a more tangible way to talk to the community about the future of their city rather than using alien planning language and RMA speak.

It is also an opportunity to celebrate some of the great projects that have been completed over the last few years which have had a focus on connectivity for pedestrians and cyclists.

Te Matau A Pohe, Completed 2014 - Photographed by Patrick
Te Matau A Pohe, Completed 2014 – Photographed by Patrick

Te Matau A Pohe, Huarahi O Te Whai cycleway/walkway and the Canopy Pedestrian Bridge are world class projects that have had a meaningful impact on Whangarei. They have opened up the waterfront for pedestrians and cyclists.

Since opening the use of the cycleway around the Whangarei waterfront has increased by over 130%. It is being used by both commuters and recreational users, it is being used by the young and old, by residents and visitors.

Canopy Pedestrian Bridge, Completed 2012
Canopy Pedestrian Bridge, Completed 2012

The challenge for Whangarei now is how best to build on these successes. Although we are the 8th largest district and growing, we do not have the spending power of the likes of Auckland.

One answer has been to see the Councils role as creating the canvas on which the community then paints a picture. A good example of this is since delivering the basic infrastructure of the cycleway/walkway, community groups and charities have contributed park benches, art works and fitness equipment and commercial enterprises are looking providing cafes, cycle hire and food outlets. This helps create community cohesion and sense of ownership.

Reyburn House Lane
Reyburn House Lane, future CBD living along the waterfront

So moving to the future, there are number of projects and ideas which could be catalyst for further quality developments and economic growth. The ideas range from a new theatre with conference facilities, to a new cycleway along a city river connecting the waterfront to Whangarei Growers Market, to enabling more inner city living.

Reyburn House Lane 2
Reyburn House Lane, future CBD living along the waterfront

The website gives an overview for each project, including those that have been completed, those in the planning and finally those which are still just ideas or future concepts. It then allows you to make a comment or just simply click that you like the idea.

Proposed cycleway along the Raumanga Stream
Proposed cycleway along the Raumanga Stream from the waterfront

So the Council is seeking feedback on these ideas, from residents and visitors to Whangarei, but also from the developers, architects, planners, engineers and community organisations. We want to hear from people from all walks of life.

So tell us what you like about each of these projects and what you would change? What do you think is missing? And what should be a priority?

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  1. I’m a former Whangarei resident from the late 80’s to mid 90’s and I think this looks great Tony. I do miss that place. If I had to add something, it just needs people in the town centre. Living there, working there, playing there. And I think there is a case to move more of Northtec’s campus into the city.

  2. Hi Tony
    My 2cents would be “asking what you like about these projects” is putting the cart before the horse.

    First you have to define your social, economic, and cultural outcomes – then how you will measure them – then what your targets will be – and then ask which projects best enable you to meet those targets.

    Starting from a list of projects is like saying “do you want us to put a police station here or here” rather than “how much faster should we respond to burglaries?”

    1. Of course you need to do that too, I would imagine that this has already have been done and found in the usual “myriad of planning documents, strategic frameworks or growth strategies”.

      1. but where will the train station go? 🙂

        Seriously though, looks great.

        More pedestrianized bits (in a public space sense, not necessarily in a shopping mall sense) between the waterfront and main shops would really help give it a coherent feel and to grow to be a city people want to be in.

    1. More likely that shows the disconnect between LGA functions of Council (planning) and the RMA (anything goes/market knows best).

      The sooner we overhaul the 1980’s thinking of the RMA the better!

    2. Yep its a shame big box is in this document – I will be making feedback that it should be removed!! Bet you its the lingering mentality that any development is good development.

  3. Whangarei could be a booming city in the future.
    1) Ports of Auckland is wound back to just localised shipping while North Port and Tauranga take the international shipping.
    2) Railway extension to North Port and using the North Auckland line to move freight rather than trucks.
    3) Relocate the Navy to Whangarei (bring more people with it and lowering costs for the Navy)
    4) Relocate the airport to Marsden (links to the new Marsden line – Whangarei could have trains from the airport to the city before Auckland does!)
    5) Relocate the Whenuapai Air Force base to the new airport (joint civil/military airport capable of Trans Tasman international flights and with the new rail line potentially working as a 2nd airport for Auckland).

    All up you gain about 25,000 new residents (including families) for Whangarei and provide a massive boost to employment there all the while reducing demand for housing in Auckland and freeing up housing there along with valuable land in the city, Devonport and Whenuapai.

  4. This is refreshing to see. Its interesting how smaller Councils, due to lack of money can do things a bit differently!

    Some interesting projects here – good to see the emphasis on cycling and connectivity.

    What about rail – there is still a station in Whangarei (i think!) would be good to get some thinking around this to combat the negativity and backward views of the current government.

    Also the Hundertwasser museum will be an epic draw card if they raise the funds!

    1. Yes the Hunderwasser Centre will be a significant tourist and economic drawcard. It will bring the ‘Bilbao’ effect to town, just like the Len Lye Centre is doing for New Plymouth where its visitor numbers are well over the estimates.

      I haven’t stopped there for over a decade so might have to make a stopover rather than just pass through.

  5. The focus should be on:

    1. People living and working in the CBD
    2. Connecting the CBD to the Town Basin/Hundertwasser site
    3. Better PT infrastructure.

    It’s great to see this focusing or urban issues in Whangarei, not the usual rubbish about lifestyle blocks and gravel roads!

  6. Whangarei needs a proper University campus. Bring some youth and activity into the CBD.

    We don’t want to fall into the Tauranga trap of being a town for old folks (no offence intended – I’m in my 60’s).

    Also it would be good to expand the excellent cycle infrastructure!

  7. I ended up wandering around the harbour pathway a couple of weeks back with a group of international guests, and was quite impressed. The new development on the Reyburn House Lane site would be quite a cool way to keep up the momentum so far – has the potential to be a fun urban centre with a definitely Northland attitude.

  8. Continue to focus on cycling. The council needs to recognise the role of recreational/tourist cycling and commuter cycling – they can have quite different needs.

    I know some commuters will stick to cycling on the road, rather than cycleways because they are too busy with other cyclists, pedestrians. A pretty good sign that the cycling infrastructure is a success though!

    Although this good – still problems with these smaller rural authorities spending far too much on sealing gravel roads to satisfy wealthy lifestyle block owners

    1. From what I see of cycle ways they are built to fit around an existing road system that was the old link between centers of employment and markets used now by the car and displacing the original users, now the replacement infrastructure for cycling and walking is meandering and inefficient, we’ve been robbed.

  9. Great initiative Tony.

    My first thought is with all the current widening of the bypass effort must go into getting place quality wins across the city by restricting vehicle access in other places; especially by de-incentivisng through traffic in the city itself.

    Whangarei is typical of our older towns in that its old centre is devalued by auto-domination, despite some fine old buildings and lots of possibility. Like New Plymouth, Like Napier. I know this is not an easy topic with the idea that total up-to-the-dorr vehicle access is so considered essential in these places, but it seems to me that more of Whangarei could be ready to begin the reversal of this failed 20thC paradigm.

    Work quite often takes me to Whangarei and beyond and I always try to stop at Delucca cafe on the eloquently named Rust Ave [under the railway embankment]. Best coffee I’ve found in the north. But the old centre is drowning in traffic movements. Surely more of Cameron Street can now be pedestrianised; in particular the section between the Rust/Bank intersection and the current pedestrianised part. In general calming and slowing traffic all through the city is needed.

    With bypasses now east and west now’s the time to make these moves.

    1. Oh hell yes. I was up there last night at peak time. And it was raining. The centre is completely awash in cars. Build some parking on the outskirts and leave the inner streets to pedestrians/bikes/transit. And they’ve obliterated Porowini Ave, where I used to work. It’s now just an arterial.

    2. Thanks Patrick.

      I agree that the timing is right for a step change and there is appetite for it. Cameron St/James St shared space will continue, ultimately creating an attractive and inviting link to the waterfront. A meaningful connection to our waterfront is a big challenge.

      I also think you raise an important point. Whangarei is not facing these problems in isolation. The like of Napier, New Plymoth, Gisborne etc have similar issues, even Auckland with the connectivity to the waterfront and Quay St. This highlights the need for collaboration rather than duplication.

  10. Whangarei does have its lovely spots, particularly around the Hatea River. I do have thoughts about it.

    1) The new path between the new bridge and the Town Basin is very good, and very popular, but is let down by the fact that to complete the circuit on the other side of the river you’re squeezed back onto the old, fairly awful pathway. Surely now that the new bridge is open, we can justify removing a lane of traffic along the four-lane portion of Riverside Drive and putting in an expanded footpath and cycleway?

    2) There’s also obvious potential for better walking and cycling provisions heading towards the harbour. This could be used by commuters and tourists between Onerahi and town. The problem with this idea is that presently the 80 km/h zone with narrow bridges is a little unwelcoming for those not in cars and the Waimahanga track, which is lovely, needs maintenance. The council does seem to have something of this sort of thinking on its agenda, because it built a nice new pathway along Beach Road from one end of the track – now we just need to better connect that pathway to the town.

    3) I really like the fact that the Cameron St mall is being extended. That’s fantastic. I only want to see more of the same. The following suggestion might appal some people but how about it: close Bank St between Vine St and Rust Ave to all traffic except buses and make it a shared space. That’ll help people moving between the library, Forum North, and town, and might boost places like the Civic Arcade and the cafes alongside. Cars will still be able to use Walton St, Western Hills Drive, and Porowini Ave to get to the various suburbs quickly and easily.

  11. Planning for the upgrade of the Waimanga track for bikes is happening now, and likewise the link from town to the Waimahanga but those are still still a year or two away I think. Likewise the cycleway from Kamo to the CBD, largely within the rail corridor. I moved to Whangarei in 2004, lived in Onerahi from 06-12, and have been out on the Tutukaka coast since then and visit town maybe a couple of times a month. The chief issues I see are the delinquents roaming the streets of the CBD night and day making that part of the CBD unwelcoming to those who are made nervous by the appearance of young and under-employed (and having witnessed a mid week, early evening attack/mugging by a group of teenage girls on a couple in their twenties coming out the movies a few years ago, I am far more wary in town now than I used to be), the hollowing out of the CBD by the aforementioned big box retailers, and the weather – it aint called Whangarain for nothing. I am not sure the charms of the town basin (which I dont really understand but YMMV) will ever cause to make it much more than the service town for the rural hinterland and gentrifying coast it really is. That being said, the stagnation under Stan really made clear the previous progress under Brown and Peters, and the current progress that seemed to kickoff once Cutforth took himself out of the picture by illness, and the arrival of Mayor Mai, and things seem to be humming again after the dark days of 08-12.

  12. Hmmm; the Transit station is peripheral but the new car parking building is right in the centre. The parking building generates car movements into the core of the old city centre, and the Transit Station strands people on one edge of the city and a long way away from many destinations.

    Ironically the bus station is well placed for connection to the rail line, but of course there are no passenger rail services.

    Hopefully there are plenty of bus services and stops right through the city centre especially to high volume pedestrian areas? Or is this planned like Christchurch with a bus station intentionally away from retail and public space because of a loathing of buses and the ‘types’ that use them? Old sprawl-era auto-snobbery much favoured by retailers? cf Grey Lynn.

    1. An interesting issue. We are looking at different models here (transit center or more dispersed stop in the CBD). We are interested in hearing view on this, particularly from bus users.

      Intercity and Mana bus services have recently moved from the current bus station to a new stop at the Town Basin. This appears to be working well.

      1. Good idea. The existing transit centre has never been welcoming. Need to finalise on where the hub of the town will be. A place where density of people will create a social feelng and all day passive surveillance.

  13. The pace of change is accelerating in most cities around the world as the ingrained assumptions that the car is the best and only form of transport to now looking at it’s future in a world were climate change and pollution are becoming more urgent and banks are getting cagey about giving loans to oil companies we might be in for some big changes, we only need a small drop in oil production and the cars days will be over.

    So what will Whangarei be like in 20 years more like cities in the Netherlands with a bit of luck, as will most places around the country.

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