Evolution of a City

Words by  Irena Brooks
Wade Harris Wade Harris

Greener, more family-focused and a pedestrian-friendly CBD.

This is the overwhelming feedback New Plymouth District Council has received to help guide plans for the Central Business District.

“It’s more than just commerce,” says NPDC Group Manager Strategy Liam Hodgetts.  “The vision encompasses the city centre’s role as the district’s main social and cultural hub.”

Plans for a green makeover of the Huatoki Plaza are underway, and since buying the Metro Plaza this year, the council has been looking at ideas to open the site and bring the Huatoki Stream right back into the heart of our community.

Also on the cards is a trial for a new shared space for vehicles and pedestrians in Devon Street, near the Gover Street intersection.  NPDC is working with businesses in the area on ideas that would expand the pedestrian area as a draw for people wanting a coffee or lunch in the outdoors.

“Think of the summer café area by the Coastal Walkway at Te Henui, and then transfer the idea of dropping in to enjoy the laid-back environment to the city centre and you can see where they want to go with the east end,” says Hodgetts.

The issues facing the city centre include changing shopping trends, new modes of transport – shared and individual – such as e-scooters and e-bikes, and persuading stakeholders that they need to work together.

Showcasing the central city as an attraction to visitors and as an alternative to big box, out-of-town retailers and online shopping is essential to its sustainability. “Everyone has a role in making it successful and vibrant and a destination that people want to visit,” Hodgetts says.

“We’re listening to the community because we all have a stake in the success of the city centre, whether it’s for shopping, business, work, a night out or just checking out Puke Ariki or the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery and taking in the atmosphere.”

NPDC is also lending a helping hand with grants to help conserve the heritage buildings, which are a core part of the attraction, and to brighten up frontages.  The iconic White Hart hotel is the most obvious success story in breathing new vitality into the city’s older buildings.

Events and entertainment, like the summertime food truck fair and winter’s Feast Festival Taranaki, and silent disco, are part of the mix too.  

As part of the central city strategy, Karen Johns was appointed CBD Facilitator in May and has been working on a number of projects.  Her role is to continue to develop programme of events in the city centre and she is keen to explore ideas with all those with an interest in the city from children and young people, to business owners and artists.

For the last two Christmas Parades, NPDC has also made the central roads car-free, including Devon and Ariki streets, for the day to highlight the family-friendly advantages of a car-free zone.

“People have felt much more at ease in a car-free environment.  It gives parents and kids a lot more freedom and a chance to relax and appreciate what the city has to offer,” says Hodgetts.

Improving Buildings

The new requirements for earthquake strengthening have been a financial headache for building owners.

The tall, red, Perry Dines building on the corner of Courtenay and Eliot Sts is a prime example — it has sat unoccupied and neglected for years as it has simply become unviable.

Nationally, the Heritage EQUIP Fund is the place to find funding and advice to earthquake strengthen heritage buildings.

In New Plymouth, The Red Post Building (where Shoe Clinic is located) received $200,000 from this fund.

“Recently the fund has been altered to allow for owners to apply for professional advice as well as actual works,” says Hodgetts.

Several other local owners have taken advantage of this. e.g. St Aubyn Chambers (next to Cenotaph), Devonport Flats and the Messenger Building (corner Richmond and Rata Streets, Inglewood).

It is also possible for owners to apply to NPDC’s Heritage Protection Fund, which is allocated $50,000 every year.

Established to help private landowners manage, maintain and preserve the heritage values of their properties, it provides a partial contribution towards the cost of a specific heritage project or work.

Applications can be made for any item identified in the heritage schedule of the District Plan, including:

•     Heritage buildings, items, places or areas

•     Significant areas of vegetation or wetlands

•     Individual trees or groups of trees

•     Geological features

•     Waahi tapu sites and areas, waahi taonga/site of significance

•     Archaeological sites.

It may also apply to items that are not listed in the District Plan if they meet the Council’s criteria for significance.

Examples of buildings that have received over $10,000 towards in the past 5 years include:

·         White Hart Hotel — $45,000 (this building has also received several grants previously)

·         Hooker’s Building  — $75,000

·         Old TSB Bank — $55,000

·         Val Deakin Dance Centre — $15,000

·         Red Post Building — $50,000

Smaller grants have gone to Brougham Street Offices ($7,000) and Teeds Building ($6,000).

Then there’s the Façade Enhancement Fund, that was created by the NPDC earlier in 2019 and so far has only had one applicant.

Any building owner can apply to this fund as long as they meet the requirements.  The building in question does not have to be a heritage building. It offers financial assistance to property owners or tenants in New Plymouth’s city centre to improve a building’s façade and/or signage on the building.

The scheme was designed to help add vibrancy to the city centre and make the city more aesthetically pleasing for shoppers and preserving the central city’s character through building treatment and design.

The types of improvements that can be funded may include painting, street art on buildings, signage, repair, removal of unsightly elements from building facades that do not fit the period of the building. Installation costs for the likes of decorative lighting, verandas or appropriate period architectural features, are also covered by the fund.

New Plymouth’s central city is a work in progress, says Hodgetts, but it will remain as relevant to the community as it ever was. 

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