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Bleak landscape to be transformed for community to enjoy

Sep 10th, 2009 | By | Category: Featured Article, Front Page Layout, News

cath-waitangi-top

WORK on Waitangirua’s community park is set to begin soon, now that the development has cleared a key bureaucratic hurdle.

Porirua City Council recently gave approval for the Waitangirua mall carpark – currently a designated road – to be converted to a pedestrian mall.

The change will allow part of the vast and under-utilised carpark to be demolished to make way for the new community park.

Waitangirua community development worker Maria Burgess says the mall has declined since the 1980s, when it was “a bustling focal point for people to shop and catch up with mates”.

As the community can’t have a say in what happens within the mall, it has “taken to making something happen in its carpark, which is owned by the council,” she says.

While the park concept dates from a 2005 council planning review, hammering out the details was largely the responsibility of a design team made up of representatives from the residents’ focus group, Housing New Zealand and local schools and marae.

cath-denny lathamAccording to councillor Denys Latham (left), a member of the park’s steering group since its inception in March 2008, this “bottom up” approach is typical of projects developed under the council’s village planning programme, which encourages residents to take the lead in improving their local environment.

Park project manager Pune Brown hopes the community will continue to take ownership throughout the construction process. He says volunteers may be needed to decorate the park’s buildings or create artworks for the grounds.

Once the park is completed, Waitangirua will boast a new basketball/volleyball court, fitness circuit, playground and falè, along with picnic areas and gardens.

Mr Brown says the new playground will be especially welcome.

With 33% of the Waitangirua population under the age of 15 (compared with 20.6% across Wellington as a whole) youth recreation facilities have been feeling the strain for some time.

Heavy use has left three nearby play areas dilapidated and in sore need of upgrade.

cath-playgroundA council report on the project says all three playgrounds will probably be closed once the community park is finished.

This will allow resources to be concentrated on “providing a high quality, large scale and centrally located park that has strong community ownership and support”.

Mr Brown says multi-user equipment will be installed in the new playground to ensure it can be enjoyed by a wide variety of children.

He believes it will be the first playground in Wellington to feature a Matrix Web, a large-scale climbing frame designed for all-ages use.

The council says the park will also benefit the local economy, with mall retailers set to experience a boost in foot traffic.

Shopkeeper Vanhxay Lathong is less than enthusiastic, however. He says shops already have to deal with gangs of youths “hanging around” throughout the day, and expects the park will make matters worse.

Ms Burgess says ongoing community involvement should “provide a level of security, including addressing vandalism and safety issues”.

cath-playingBut on the whole, she gives the retailers’ worries short shrift.

“As far as I am concerned I am not really interested in the approval of local businesses or to give them reassurance, as their interest is monetary gain and mine is community need.

“They are more than welcome to attend the park project meetings to voice their concerns, but there is one thing I can reassure them on, and that is the park is going ahead.”

When, exactly, that will happen is still to be resolved.

Work had originally been scheduled to begin in 2010/11 but the council’s decision to make $250,000 in stage-one funding immediately available should allow work to start this financial year, subject to a public submission period ending on September 18.

The park’s total budgeted cost is $783,120.

While Mr Latham says the council is “almost ready to start shovelling”, no official start date has yet been named.

Mr Brown says demolition work on the carpark could begin as early as November.

Residents face a long wait until the park is operational, with completion scheduled for 2013, or perhaps 2014, according to Mr Latham.

He says the project will have an overwhelmingly positive effect on the area

“I think this park will be the biggest thing to happen to Waitangirua since it was first built.”

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is a graduate from Whitireia's National Diploma in Journalism (Multimedia) who now works at Metro magazine in Auckland. While on the diploma programme she won the North & South Feature Writing Award.
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