The revitalisation of the city centre that Wellington has been debating for years is finally actually happening. Joel MacManus explains what that means.
There’s a handful of road cones and some tradies hanging around Grey Street this morning, and it’s possibly the best thing to happen in Wellington since Elijah Wood pissed in the Bucket Fountain. After years of shitfighting, the first piece of construction on the Golden Mile has officially begun.
It’s not much, just some new road markings and some footpaths being dug up to put in mobility ramps. But it’s worth celebrating, because getting to this point has been exhausting. Wellington has faced a never-ending onslaught of debates and reports and consultations and angry pictures of shop owners with their arms crossed. At times it felt like nothing would ever happen.
The Golden Mile is the very centre of Wellington’s retail and hospitality economy, but it’s become shabby and dilapidated. It has been in desperate need of an upgrade for years. Wellington needs its mojo back, and this could be the city’s best hope.
What is the Golden Mile?
The Golden Mile is not golden, nor is it a mile. It’s called Golden because it’s the financial and economic centre of Wellington, and it’s called a Mile for no good reason at all.
The Golden Mile is 2.43 kilometres (around 1.5 miles) long, and because I refuse to acknowledge the imperial system, that is the term I will be using from here on out.
The Golden 2.43 kilometres is four connecting streets, each of which have a slightly different vibe and purpose:
- Lambton Quay is the business district. It’s lined with huge offices full of public servants, lawyers and accountants. The most successful retailers take advantage of the enormous foot traffic from workers pouring in and and out of offices. But it’s dead on weekends and outside of work hours; there isn’t much drawing people in or making them stick around.
- Willis Street is thriving. Spark Central and Aon Centre stand on each side, filled with tech businesses. It has better entertainment offerings than Lambton, including three great food courts: Willis Lane, Press Hall, and 18 Willis, and craft beer bars capturing the after-work drinks crowd.
- Manners Street is a shitshow. It was once a pedestrian mall, but was paved over to make room for a bus lane. It has high foot traffic – largely because it’s the closest bus stop to Cuba Street. But it can be pretty gross at times – a boarded-up $2 shop, grimy footpaths, and a minor hotspot for crime.
- Courtenay Place is Wellington’s nightlife centre. It’s full of bars, clubs and restaurants, and a great stretch of greasy 2am takeaways. With so much fun stuff all on one street, it has the potential to be the best entertainment hub in the country – but right now it’s nowhere close. It looks dated, it feels dodgy at night, and most of the prime party space is taken up by parked cars.
What they all have in common is buses. The Golden 2.43km is Wellington’s public transport spine – about 95% of all buses in the city run through here, carrying tens of thousands of people every day.
What’s going to change?
The Golden 2.43km revitalisation is a core part of the Let’s Get Wellington Moving programme. It often gets summarised as “removing private cars”, but that undersells the project. There’s a huge number of changes based around two concepts: making buses more efficient, and making the area prettier and nicer to spend time in.
There will be much wider footpaths along the entire stretch, a cycling and scooter path, many more trees and shrub plantings, as well as new parklets and shared spaces.
Private cars will be blocked from most of the Golden 2.43km, but they will still be allowed on Courtenay Place after 7pm and before 7am, which is a good thing for getting drunk people into Ubers. There will be loading zones for businesses, and an increased number of mobility parks on side-streets.
Most of the intersections onto side-streets will be closed and converted into public spaces, or pedestrian-priority areas.
There will be bus lanes running the entire length of the Golden 2.43km, and the bus stop locations will be changed. With no cars turning from intersections and delaying buses, Metlink reckons it will save each bus three minutes and 40 seconds. That doesn’t sound like much, but delays on the Golden 2.43km compound across the whole city, making the entire network less reliable.
Will there be a street full of road cones?
No, not yet. Minor work is starting today on Grey Street, which runs between Lambton Quay and Customhouse Quay, and will continue on all the Lambton Quay side streets, but will be paused in November to keep the streets clear during the Christmas shopping period.
In early 2024, early construction work will begin at the Courtenay Place end with new pedestrian crossings and footpath changes.
The main construction work doesn’t start until mid-2024. It will begin at the Courtenay Place end and work its way along in chunks, so only a certain section will be under construction at any given time.
Could this entire thing still be cancelled?
It’s possible, but pretty unlikely.
The Golden 2.43km revitalisation is mostly popular with the public – surveys of 2,000 Wellingtonians overwhelmingly found people wanted more radical changes to the street, not less.
It has faced heavy backlash from some businesses who fear change; last week a group filed a judicial review application to prevent the works going ahead, but insiders at the council and LGWM feel quite confident it is baseless.
The construction is part of Let’s Get Wellington Moving, which National wants to cancel, but it’s unlikely the Golden 2.43km changes would be affected should they win the election. The works should be under way by the time the new cabinet is appointed.
National’s Simeon Brown suggested he would cancel the plan if the construction contracts were still unsigned, but even that probably wouldn’t stop it from happening. Wellington City Council and Greater Wellington Regional Council both want the project to go ahead, and they ultimately have authority over the roads – funding might get a bit tricky, but it’s hard to see the councils backing down.