At a packed community meeting in Sandringham last night before Auckland Supermayor Les Brown (and his band of renown councillors), the property developer Luigi Whitebucks of Melbourne and Dubai outlined plans for the development and expansion of the Westfield St Lukes shopping mall.
The plan for the suburban mall on the intersection of two crowded roads will make the make it the largest in the country, a fact Mr Whitebucks said the local community “should be very proud to take ownership of”.
Prior to the meeting Mr Whitebucks greeted local residents at the door with gifts of a $50 bill for each person attending, “just a little acknowledgment of them coming out for such an important meeting to discuss how this development will be taking over their neighbourhood”.
Mr Whitebucks outlined the case for the massive expansion (“it's an environmental and fiscal synergy out of which all retailers will become beneficial stakeholders”) and offered surveys and anecdotal evidence of widespread community support around Sandringham and Kingsland for the project which, he suggested, may have already received planning permission.
“We wouldn't be spending this much money, and I wouldn't be here, if we weren't persuaded this project will be going ahead as we have planned,” he said to loud shouts of disapproval from the audience of 350.
“The other day I had my driver stop just up the road and I got out and asked an old lady in her garden if she ever went shopping at St Lukes. She said that it was too far away for her to carry her shopping back.
“I was able to reassure her that rather than her go to St Lukes it was now coming to her. And she was delighted, if a little bewildered. But she did appreciate the $20.”
Mr Whitebucks also said criticism the railway stations are too far away to be of any appreciable use for shoppers carrying purchases was ill-founded.
“I have had a couple of people walk to Morningside and Kingsland stations and they reassure me that any match-fit young man carrying a bag of apples, a large bag mind you, and some biscuits could make that walk easily.”
He also noted that during autumn leaves falling from trees in the avenues nearby could cause a hazard to those walking “and so in the interests of public safety and with the backing of an OSH report which I have in this briefcase, we will be removing all those offending trees and replacing them with fresh tarmac for the expected 5000 new vehicles a day which will be coming into this area.”
A spokesperson for Westfield St Lukes -- who preferred not to be named but admitted that, like the attending councillors he didn't live in or even near the area -- said he was delighted to announce that a whole new range of fast food outlets would bring dining diversity to the expanded mall, and that on recent surveys people in the mall had indicated they wanted more and "better food outlets in the foodcourt”.
"So we are going to bring an increasingly ethnic diversity to our foodcourts to respond to the changing cultural and racial demographic of Aotearoa New Zealand. We see that as being in the nature of a responsible retailer and in line with some Treaty obligation or Human Rights thing.
“And I remind you that St Luke was the patron saint of butchers, so we will be expanding our meat department by way of tribute to a great Catholic. And I'm sure all Catholics, lapsed or otherwise, could not in all conscience object to that.”
At the end of the meeting Mr Whitebucks thanked the volatile crowd and before he was escorted out by his security personnel for his flight back to Australia he said “this has been a useful, robust, thought-provoking and worthwhile discussion with people in the affected areas”.
“I have taken on board their concerns and will think about them carefully in the next few minutes. . but this project is going to go ahead, no matter what these shits say. This isn't about neighbourhoods, it's about money. These pricks need to get real.”
Mr Brown was not available for comment afterwards but a spokesperson said he didn't take the $50 “although I can't speak for some of the others, or those in the planning and approvals departments who were unable to attend tonight because, frankly, this is just far too far from where they live.”
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