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How can the Karori town centre be improved?

For what was once the largest suburb in New Zealand, Karori is not as well served by amenities and retail as its residents deserve. A meeting on Thursday night as part of the Wellington City Council’s ongoing Karori Project is asking for residents to contribute to solutions for the town centre.

The Karori Arts and Craft Centre, and Community Centre (at back)

While Karori’s wider amenities include many pre-schools and day care centres, primary schools, a private girls school, rest homes, a reasonable array of sports fields and many areas for recreational activities (Wrights Hill, Johnston Hill Scenic Reserve, Makara Peak), as well as Zealandia, the town centre is problematic.

There’s a great swimming pool up the road, but the unique architecture and purpose-built facilities of the nearby former Wellington Teachers’ College will soon be no more, following the sale of the buildings and ground to Ryman Healthcare by Victoria University of Wellington.

The town centre has also lost its post office and Kiwibank. Other banks operate reduced hours and are unlikely to continue in the area for long.

The recreation, arts and crafts, and community centres still operate behind the attractive library and café area, but the funding drive for the interior fitout of the new Karori Event Centre nearby is stalled only a third of the way toward its $960,000 goal.

The Karori Events Centre is waiting for its interior fitout

The narrow strip of land available for retail either side of Karori Road has always limited the options for expansion. The only likely area for development is the Karori Mall, home to two supermarkets, and a number of specialty shops and office tenants, with a gross floor area of about 5,715 square metres, and 91 on-site car parks.

Foodstuffs, the company that owns the New World, Pak ‘n Save and Four Square chains, bought the Mall in September 2016 for $22 million, well in excess of its rateable value of $13.6 million, and seven times more than former owners Mike and Gay O’Sullivan paid for it in 1988.

Its New World supermarket is one of two main tenants in the mall. The other is the Countdown supermarket owned by Progressive Enterprises, which may have to exit the complex when its lease expires, though no indication has been given by Foodstuffs of any development plans.

Submissions to Council on the suburb’s future in 2015 included a number of themes that remain relevant:

  • the town centre does not function well due to traffic and built-form issues;
  • the community supports a redevelopment of Karori Mall and Mobil petrol station;
  • the number and diversity of shops available is good for basic needs and services, but the community supports a greater and more diverse town centre, given the size of the suburb; and
  • infrastructure, specifically roading and traffic, are a concern.

Findings from the start of the Karori Project in 2017 found a lack of any strong sense of identity, with the widespread feeling that Karori is a “dormitory suburb”, where a lot of people who work in the city go to sleep. While there are a lot of people in Karori in the daytime, there are gaps in the economy and no hubs to work from, with the suburb physically split by the main road and isolated from the city.

The WCC is hoping for input from residents on improving the town centre at a community meeting this Thursday, 23 August.

The Karori Town Centre Project Introduction Evening will run from 7:00pm to 9:00pm at the Karori Community Centre, 7 Beauchamp Street.

The meeting is the latest phase in the Karori Project, which you can read about here.  It is an opportunity to provide further feedback, in preparation for workshops to explore future urban design improvements.

Light refreshments will be provided.