Apartments or supermarket: $40m Herne Bay Countdown project sparks debate

Property investor Ben Cook’s construction of a $40 million supermarket in New Zealand’s richest suburb has sparked strong debate, with critics saying they would far prefer apartments there instead.

Yesterday, the Cook Property chief said work had begun demolishing The Gables pub on the Herne Bay site where a 1800sq/m metro-sized Countdown will be built.

“Urgh, this was consented for 69 apartments over five storeys,” complained anti-car lobby group Greater Auckland of Cook’s scheme which made it clear it wants apartments there, now the Countdown.

“Now it’s going to be a boring low-density supermarket that will encourage more driving.”

But ex-Auckland councillor Mike Lee was strongly opposed to apartments once planned for the corner of Jervois Rd and Kelmarna Ave, fearing for the overloaded stormwater system and discharges into the harbour during storms.

“One thing the area doesn’t lack is Countdowns,” said one critic of the plans yesterday, citing two Countdowns in Williamson Ave nearby.

However, one of the two stores in Williamson Ave is no longer a supermarket but a delivery hub. People in the area said the store’s use was changed when Covid broke out last year and they now had to endure noise nuisance with pallets of goods being unloaded constantly on the site.

Cook and developer Kurt Gibbons own the 2342sq/m site through their joint company Kremlin Capital.

Other critics yesterday said Cook should build the supermarket but with apartments on top.

Asked why he wasn’t planning both, Cook said the best use of the land was a supermarket alone without apartments. He also emphasised that he usually bought finished projects, not developments.

Originally, he had envisaged a Ponsonby Central-style of development with a range of retail outlets but he said Covid had scuttled that scheme.

Instead, he struck a 12-lease with Woolworths, with rights of renewal on the two-level store which will have 54 car parks sleeved into the sloping site and accessed off Kelmarna Ave.

Cook said he lived in the area “so I was looking to do something that was going to work.
Apartments were viable but maybe it’s something my kids can do in the future.”

Locals worried yesterday about the fate of dairies in the area and pointed to both a Countdown and a Farro Fresh at the other end of Kelmarna Ave “so it’s like a 10-minute walk away. Apartments would have been so cool there”.

Another Greater Auckland follower mocked vehicles people in the area drive: “To be fair, it’ll probably mean fewer luxury SUVs being driven the 2km to Farro and, er, the other Countdown.”

A resident of Ardmore Rd off Jervois Rd who has lived in the area for many years worried about the new store’s wider effects.

“I couldn’t help think that Ben Cook’s new supermarket spells doom for the three or four dairy/grocery shops along the stretch of commerce from Ardmore Rd to Kelmarna Ave including the Ardmore Dairy which, hopefully, won’t become a restaurant, and the three other busy grocery- come flower shops that break up the eateries and odd clothes shop etc that line Jervois Rd,” he said.

On the Greater Auckland Twitter feed, commenters said the supermarket plan sounded like a holding scheme “with a view to doing something else with the site in future”.

Cook Property has investments here and in Australia and includes New Zealand’s biggest Bunnings at Westgate, the historic Ponsonby Post Office, Bunnings Warehouse in Grey Lynn, Shortland St’s General Building in the city centre, Placemakers at Westgate, Mitre 10 MEGA in New Lynn and Brew on Quay in the Britomart.

The Herald reported last September how Cook had spent more than $100m buying the 15,000sq m Bunnings Westgate and Countdowns in Wellington and Orewa.

Last winter, he also bought Howick’s Countdown, understood to be valued at around $25m. He already owns Bunnings stores in Grey Lynn and Sydney.

All up, the three Countdowns which Cook bought in Howick, Orewa and Wellington as well as Bunnings Westgate are valued at around $143m.

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