I think it is appropriate to send a few claps to Rotorua District Council for a couple of positive moves they made this week.
The free parking in the CBD in the 12 days before Christmas is a great idea. I hope that it does give the retailers a lift for the end of a difficult year.
The decision to extend the submission period on the District Plan was also another good move. This is probably the most important document to enable economic growth in our city.
Chief executive Peter Guerin has also agreed to work with the Chamber to provide a series of six workshops to highlight the areas of change in the plan and share their philosophy of what they are aiming to achieve.
We will be opening these sessions to the public for those that are interested in seeing the form of the new plan which has considerable relevance for the future of the CBD.
There are a number of irrefutable facts about the CBD. The existing retail footprint of the CBD is too large for the current demand for retail spaces. With the exception of some relocations, there has been little increase in demand for retail spaces over the last five years. Without a large increase in population to stimulate demand, we are not going to fill those empty retail shops.
The change in retail culture is a worldwide trend and not the fault of our local authority.
If Pukeroa Oruawhata had not established Rotorua Central, some other developer would have established a big box retail centre to meet changing shopping patterns. Rotorua is fortunate to have Rotorua Central adjacent to its strip shopping. We have the opportunity to take advantage of positioning and use it to strengthen a smaller CBD retail area.
The relevance of this string of facts to the District Plan and the CBD, is that the future development of the CBD will be enabled by a positive plan.
If the vacant properties no longer have a viable future as retail, there are only a couple of alternatives: accommodation either commercial or residential; commercial, such as office (or even parking); or returning to green space. There is also the possible financial consequence of the earthquake strengthening requirement on some buildings.
These factors may result in major changes to the CBD. The District Plan will play a major role in enabling and positively supporting such change of use.
The desired change in use raises the perpetual discussion on development contributions particularly in respect of the CBD. There is in the Ten Year Plan currently, an opportunity for developers to apply for and argue the remission of some parts of any development contributions. But it is still a reactive policy. Developers are required to be aware of this facility and be willing to justify the remission. If we are to really encourage change of use of these redundant CBD properties, then the development contribution policy needs to be more proactive.
Developers should have certainty that no development contribution will apply if they developed in the CBD. Given the original intent of development contributions to pay for infrastructural services and reserves, surely the reduced business population in the current CBD is putting less demand on existing services, no longer justifying increased investment.
_ Roger Gordon is chief executive of the Rotorua Chamber of Commerce.