Food barns eating up Auckland land

LAURA WALTERS
Last updated 05:00 18/05/2014
Kumeu supermarket
Fairfax NZ

SHOPPING BARN: The spread of big-box supermarkets – like the one proposed for Beachlands- is set to continue as owners buy up more land.

Cameron Butler
Fairfax NZ
NOT IN MY BACKYARD: Pohutukawa Coast Community Association chairman Cameron Butler spent four years trying to stop the Beachlands’ Countdown.

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Residents are powerless to stop supermarkets moving into growing areas of Auckland where they see profit to be made.

Former Pohutukawa Coast Community Association (PCCA) chairman Cameron Butler gave four years of his life and thousands of dollars - which he is still paying off - to fight a losing battle against supermarket giant Progressive Enterprises and its plans to build a Countdown supermarket in Beachlands despite residents' $90,000 Environment Court fight.

In 2009 the PCCA door-knocked 1800 residents in Beachlands and Maraetai. Butler said about 70 per cent of respondents were opposed to the supermarket.

"People moved out here for the lifestyle, away from the big city, away from the supermarkets and away from the subdivisions."

A supermarket would take business away from existing retailers causing a "tumbleweed" effect on the current town centre, he said.

"We were very disappointed, we were gutted . . . my heart told me at least I tried."

However, the decision to let the supermarket go ahead was not unexpected, he said.

"We knew what we were up against: a lot of money and a lot of experts."

Butler said that despite community opposition to the supermarket, people would shop at the Countdown when it was built.

Beachlands was expected to have about 7000 residents when the current development was completed. Butler worried a supermarket would lead to further development, more people and the loss of the lifestyle he moved there for.

Work has not started on the Countdown but the supermarket chain's application to re-zone the land for business use had been granted.

Beachlands is not the only area in Auckland eyed up by the two major supermarket companies as a potential money-making site.

Foodstuffs, owner of New World and Pak'nSave supermarkets, increased its occupied space across the country by 6.6 per cent to 382,214 square metres last financial year and by 29 per cent between 2009 and 2013.

Countdown supermarkets occupied 5.9 per cent more space in New Zealand last financial year than in 2013, and increased its space by 23 per cent between 2009 and 2013 when its stores covered 372,373 square metres.

Foodstuffs has 22 New Worlds and 14 Pak'nSaves in Auckland - six of the 36 stores were opened during the past three years.

Foodstuffs property development general manager Angela Bull said the company was on track to open a New World in Howick before the end of the year and a Browns Bay replacement store.

A Pak'nSave in Westgate was also under construction and would open before the end of the year.

Foodstuffs was doing "significant work" at its New World stores in Birkenhead, Remuera, Eastridge and Devonport, she said.

Progressive Enterprises has 57 Countdown stores in the region. Since 2012, stores in Manurewa, Silverdale, Warkworth, Auckland Metro and Mt Roskill have opened.

Countdown property general manager Adrian Walker said stores in St Johns, Hauraki Corner, Ponsonby, Hobsonville, Beachlands, Orewa and Ranui were underway.

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The company was also refurbishing or extending stores in Helensville, Henderson, Glenfield Downing St, Mangere East and Mt Eden.

But the Mt Eden expansion has not been straightforward, with Valley Rd residents opposing the supermarket's plans since 2011.

The supermarket is now in the final stages of gaining consent from council, with submissions closing at the end of this month.

Countdown plans to extend the store, one of its busiest in New Zealand, by about a third.

A council-owned art deco building and a pre-1940s apartment block would be demolished under the plans to create extra car parking. Two other houses would also need to be removed to make way for a service entrance.

However, some Auckland suburbs are welcoming the idea of a supermarket in their community.

Auckland Council Whau Ward councillor Ross Clow said Avondale was in a "very poor state".

Clow said the town centre had been "poorly neglected" and the best option would be to sell council land to a supermarket company and use the money to refurbish the town centre, he said.

"The only way to get action from the council is to come up with an Avondale plan that's cost-neutral."

Foodstuffs and Progressive Enterprises were aware of the possibility and would have to take part in the competitive tender process if the plan went ahead, Clow said.

If the council did sell the Avondale Highbury Triangle, the proceeds had the potential to provide two-thirds of the funding needed for the redevelopment and residents would get a much-needed supermarket, he said.

Foodstuffs' Bull said it was important to build new stores as Auckland grew.

The growth of Auckland had been projected for a while and the company worked closely with council to find out the rate of growth and the growth areas, Bull said.

People were choosing to live further out of Auckland so it made sense to build supermarkets there to meet their needs, she said.

"We want to make sure that we deliver a shopping experience that works for our customers. We want to make sure that we meet their needs in all respects."

Bull said Foodstuffs had received "incredibly positive" customer feedback and the company would not open a new store unless there were people ready and willing to use it.

Progressive Enterprises' Walker said the company served more than a million transactions a week across its Auckland stores and employed 7000 people in the region. The company had invested "significantly" in its two Auckland distribution centres to accommodate the region's growth, he said.

Walker said supermarkets were an essential part of communities and located close to the population catchments they intended to serve.

Progressive Enterprises had less market share than its competitor so was constantly looking for opportunities to open new stores where it was not represented, to offer that community a choice, Walker said.

Supermarkets were also a catalyst for other retail growth and helped to build services for communities in the long-term.

Planning for cities, towns and regional centres was constant and Countdown worked together with geographers and planners to identify opportunities for new stores, refurbishments and expansions, he said.

- Sunday Star Times

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