Pak’n’Save Highland Park in the pipeline

Demolition has begun at Highland Park. Times photo Wayne Martin

Is glacial progress still progress?

In February 2018, Foodstuffs North Island heralded the purchase of Highland Park Shopping Centre and its intention to bring a new shopping option to that area.

Fast forward more than four years and little, if anything, appears to have changed at the once-popular Highland Park site.

Foodstuffs, the 100 per cent New Zealand-owned and operated grocery chain, would have known the road ahead would be bumpy given that the only remaining outlet at the site is a Countdown supermarket which comes under the very large wing of Woolworths New Zealand, a subsidiary which is ultimately owned by Australia’s Woolworths Group.

Foodstuffs is the larger grocery retailer.

In March 2019 Foodstuffs said it had lodged resource consent with Auckland Council for Pak’n’Save Highland Park.

At the time Foodstuffs said, “We’ve submitted plans to council for a fantastic shopping precinct which will include a state-of-the-art supermarket and room for other businesses and food service outlets. It’s important to us we provide a superior place to shop, be entertained and to work. That’s what we’re going to deliver.”

The site of the old mall has become a boarded-off development zone.

So what’s happening now?

Well Pak’nSave is still going ahead but there is still no date for start or completion.

Emma Wooster, head of public relations at Foodstuffs NZ, told the Times, “We’re really looking forward to building a brand new Pak’nSave at Highland Park and bringing New Zealand’s lowest food prices to the locality.

“When the brand new store is built and open, the store will be owned and operated by a local and the offer will be tailored to meet the needs of the community.

“We’ve applied for resource consent and once council has given us the go-ahead, we will get on with building of the brand new store. In the meantime, we have some demolition planned for the site. When the store opens at Highland Park, it will create up to 300 new roles and provide meaningful careers.”

Foodstuffs could not confirm any specific timelines “at this stage”.

It will not have escaped either of these two major retailers that the regulatory landscape in New Zealand is changing.

The Government announced a few weeks ago new laws which will pave the way for greater supermarket competition.

Legislation was introduced in June banning major supermarkets from blocking their competitors’ access to land to set up new stores.

Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs David Clark said on June 28 the Commerce (Grocery Sector Covenants) Amendment Bill amends the Commerce Act 1986, banning restrictive covenants on land, and exclusive covenants on leases. It also makes existing covenants unenforceable.

Limiting the supermarket options on offer for consumers “severely restricts” their ability to shop around for a better range of products and a better price, he said.

“We have officially put an end to the anti-competitive land wars which have been silently hampering competition in the grocery sector for years,” said Clark.

“This is great news for the would-be competitors of the established supermarkets – especially those who’ve found it difficult in the past to find suitable sites to set up new stores.”

And Clark also announced a new supermarket watchdog to be in the Commerce Commission aimed at helping to keep pressure on the grocery sector, by providing annual state-of-competition reviews.

Ultimately, it is supposed to give Kiwis a fairer deal. A new Grocery Commissioner will be appointed “to hold industry to account” and a draft Code of conduct released for consultation which aims to ensure suppliers get a fair deal.

A Countdown spokesperson told the Times, “The covenant relating to Highland Park has been removed from the title and we’re currently in discussions with our landlord around the future of the site.  We support the government’s proposed changes around restrictive covenants and we support the clarity that a law change will bring.  Nothing more to add at this point.”