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Mayor Foon calls for low-cost apartments for Gisborne

MAYOR Meng Foon is calling for Gisborne to “fill the city with people” by developing low-cost inner city apartments.

Mr Foon and Gisborne District councillors had a wide-ranging discussion during a Future Tairawhiti workshop as they examined their draft urban strategy.

“Fill the city with people” was a catch phrase the mayor used often during the debate.

Easier council bylaws rules would be needed to bring tidy, clean and safe dwellings into the city centre, he said.

Mr Foon’s ideas did not earn total support. Chief executive Judy Campbell expressed reservations about the type of accommodation he had in mind.

Alan Davidson said he supported the development of higher-cost apartments in a city centre where the golden era of retail was ‘‘truly gone’’, rather than going through a cyclical downturn.

Lowe Street was full of empty shops.

Ripped canvas awnings on the former Burnard Bull offices blew in the wind and the street looked like a neutron bomb had gone off, he said.

Mr Foon said he knew of developers who needed to be encouraged with more permissive council bylaws to develop small shops, low-rent backpackers and apartment-type accommodation in the CBD.

Asian people had different attitudes about apartments to New Zealanders.

“I understand the old police station is going to be developed as a multi-use building.”

Vacant upstairs floors in the city centre were an opportunity.

“There are two and three-storey buildings that once used to have thriving businesses in them — my dentist, my doctor, my accountant — all tenants in the upper storeys in the CBD.

“Now 90 percent are empty.”

Mr Foon said the Tower building and the former Burnard Bull buildings were other options.

He had been to many cities around the world.

‘The only reason they are vibrant is because there are thousands of apartments in the city, and they shop in the cafes, shops and use the services of the CBD.

Encouraging CBD living“There is no need for cars. They can walk, cycle or use public transport.’’

Provincial New Zealand needed to be not so “precious”, he said.

There were too many ‘‘bloody hard’’ rules.

“Make it easy and make it happen. We have an opportunity to encourage CBD living.”

This would mean that the red tape would need to be slashed to ensure that rules and processes encouraged such development of apartments and hostel and backpacker-type accommodation.

“Fill the CBD with people living in the CBD, I say.”

The Ballance Street Village had “spawned” because development was easier there than in the CBD.

Mr Foon said 400 or 500 people living in the CBD would use cafes and restaurants.

“That’s what we want,” said Pat Seymour.

Mr Foon said people living in the city would expect noise.

He called for multi-purpose spaces in the CBD, which could host sport, markets and music.

Mrs Campbell said cheap boarding houses “is not what we need".

“Let me dispel another myth,” said Mr Foon. “Cheap is not nasty. Wealthier people could be just as bad."

Later, speaking to the Herald, Mr Foon said, “contrary to what some people think, low-cost accommodation does not mean bad tenants.

“If we don’t get people into the city, our CBD will die as retailing and services are disrupted by the electronic age — and more disruption will come. “We can have nice things in the CBD but if no one uses these assets, it’s a waste of time.’’

Amber Dunn said she was not sure about Mr Foon’s ideas. “We need standards.’’

She accepted the market had led to cheap shops in the CBD, otherwise owners would not have opened them.

Mr Davidson said he would “go with the Mayor’’.

More accommodation was a good idea and it might not all be of an upstairs variety. “I feel for the Heart of Gisborne people”.

The council would have to look at the empty shops with vacant space both upstairs and downstairs in commercially-zoned areas.

There was no chance that the retail sector would recover and there was potential to renovate and develop better quality apartments, which would attract people to the CBD and turn areas like Lowe Street into “nice streets’’.

Mrs Campbell said developing apartments had been a key part of Melbourne’s urban development strategy.

There were about 70 inner city apartments in the 1990s, compared to thousands today, she said.