Mani and Sonia Rai have lived atop their Hardy St restaurant for almost 15 years. Photo: Charles Anderson.

CBD living ‘key’ to a vibrant Nelson

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Nelson City Council and local developers are looking to the Government’s newly-announced Kiwibuild programme to see if it could help develop affordable homes to encourage inner city living.

As part of the council’s latest Long Term Plan inner city living is earmarked for particular attention but has been on the radar for more than a decade.

Council’s group manager for strategy and environment Clare Barton says the council’s role is to help developers. “It is about offering different choices and price points and pursuing Kiwibuild, which might include the city centre as an option.”

The Government has committed $2 billion for KiwiBuild, an ambitious programme that aims to deliver 100,000 modest starter homes for first home buyers over the next decade.

Architect Jorgen Andersen of Arthouse Architects is behind the Betts Apartments close to the Church Steps. But he says the firm is also looking to Kiwibuild to see if they can be a part of creating a project for smaller budgets.

However, he says that it is all very well to build homes in the city but there has to be the amenity around those homes.

“People attract people … just building apartments is not the silver bullet solution but money time and energy needed to benefit smaller parts of the city where we actually do it.”

Jorgen says council have been doing some good work on policy and strategy but there needs to be more follow through.

The council’s Heart of Nelson strategy, for example, was adopted in almost a decade ago with an aims of the council is to encourage more people to live in, or close to, the central city.

He says even small steps are helpful. Melbourne worked towards its vision for a vibrant CBD in tiny increments but with a larger design vision always in play.

“It’s slow progress but it’s important. Everyone is aware of how to make it happen but you are never going to please everyone – it’s bigger than one person’s shop or building.”

Jorgen is speaking at Urban Awakening at the Suter Gallery next Saturday to discuss inner city living and what this could mean for Nelson.

For Mani and Sonia Rai it means convenience.

They have been living in the central city for almost 15 years and own perhaps the only apartment in Nelson with a trampoline on its balcony.

“A few years ago the kids were into it but it doesn’t get much use now,” says Sonia.

The couple own Little India on Hardy St and have lived atop the restaurant for about 15 years.

“It’s so easy we hardly use our car,” she says. “The kids are close to school and everything is so handy.”

Mani says the only downside is that while it’s a convenient commute, you never switch off from work.

Another central city resident decided a different angle and bought a commercial building on the city fringe and repurposed it. He is not totally sure about the legality of it but says council needs to be more creative with how it applies the rules.

“We always wanted to live in the city and this place came up which we loved.”

Banks wouldn’t lend him the money so he went through a finance company for a year before transferring to a bank.

The building is still pretty rough with no insulation and corrugated iron roof.

“People are happy enough to put up with those sort of conditions in normal houses. We are happy with it.”

He reckons his home is the worst kept secret in Nelson but hopes his experience might one day help the council figure out how to help creative locals reinvigorate the city.

“I think it’s essential if we get people living in the city the council know need presedents and examples of how you can apply the rules n creative ways … It’s very hard for someone at council to draft legislation when starting at plans and living in surbubia.”

One day he says he will get the required resource consent but right now he can’t afford it.

Nelson city councillor Matt Lawrey campaigned on inner city living in 2013 when he was elected and says he is frustrated with the lack of progress made.

“Since 2013 the council’s focus has largely been on encouraging people to build new apartments through the Special Housing Area legislation but a lot of those projects never got off the ground because the cost of building is too high.”

At the same time he says we’ve seen increasing numbers of vacant offices and retail spaces around the city.

“If we want the benefits that come with inner city living, we have to start turning existing commercial buildings into places to live and we have to make it easier and more attractive for landlords to make the switch.

“It can be done. Cities all over the world have done it successfully, including Wellington. Councillors simply have to make it more of a priority. In fact, I think we need to make it an urgent priority … more than anything councillors need to start getting serious about making things happen in the CBD.”