Highpoint: Into the belly of the beast …

16 Comments

Part of the current cooling system at Highpoint shopping centre.

 

Coming from a mechanical engineering and airconditioning background, centre manager Scott Crellin is happy to confess that the Highpoint cooling system is his kind of “thing”. He says that while the existing system is about 15 years old, it’s still significantly more efficient than rows of single-unit rooftop units, as still seen in many smaller and older shopping centres. He tells me the system servicing the $300 million extensions will be significantly better again.

Western suburbs musicians and artists – Scott Crellin is interested in hearing from you.

Scott is centre manager of Highpoint.

His phone number is 9319 3320.

This invitation comes near the end of a wide-ranging conversation I have with Scott and centre development manager Mark Pheely.

While they have stressed at every opportunity the commitment of the centre and parent company GPT to community engagement and sustainability, they are happy to confess they are largely unaware of the depth and breadth of western suburbs arts culture and that there is plenty of scope for new ideas and new people.

“We’d love to be looking at more live performance events,” Mark says.

Our meeting is the result of a letter I sent to Highpoint lamenting the colossal wastage inherent in centre food courts’ use of plastic cutlery and crockery.

Scott, as centre manager, sent a nice reply detailing the centre’s efforts to be good guys and issuing an invitation of a meeting and tour.

Centre manager Scott Crellin and development manager Mark Pheely with the Highpoint development plans.

Of course, no amount of sincere talking or a close-up look at the inner workings of the centre are ever likely to turn myself or anyone else – including several Consider The Sauce visitors who posted rather caustic comments – into paid-up members of the Highpoint fan club.

Nevertheless, I enjoy hearing the two men talk about the challenges the centre faces and their pride in working for GPT.

I may never be an outright Highpoint lover, but it is a significant institution in my community, one that won’t go away if I pretend it isn’t there.

And my engagement with Highpoint could well go deeper if some of the many musicians I know live in the west were to start providing some cool sounds there and gain some paying work in the process.

How about a Highpoint Music Festival?

For many people, I suspect that what they tell me will fall firmly into the “Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?” category. But all I can do is report what I am told.

I am fascinated talking to these two blokes about their work and the often competing demands – consumer, shareholder, legislative – they confront on an almost daily basis.

They both firmly believe their company is far advanced in terms of sustainability of rivals such as Westfield.

The Highpoint development project.

 

Regarding the existing centre, they find themselves mostly looking at areas where they can have an impact in an establishment that has been around since the mid-’70s and a business that was formulated many decades ago when cars were big, petrol was cheap and recycling was unheard of.

They feel hampered, too, by the absence of local recycling infrastructure.

Regarding the specific issue of plastic implements and plates in the food courts, I put to them a question posted by Consider The Sauce visitor Janet: Have they done both a life-cycle analysis and a benefit-cost analysis of real crockery and collective washing?

The answer is yes – about five or six years ago.

At that time such a move was deemed unviable but they concede that perhaps it’s time to address the issue again.

As with so many other things – car safety and pharmaceuticals, for instance – it seems the existence of technology and processes is by itself not sufficient. The tipping point only comes when a move forward becomes firmly viable and, indeed, necessary in a business sense.

“There are limits to what we can do,” Mark says. “The Trade Practices Act means we can’t actually force tenants to use proper crockery. The tenants that do so, that’s their decision.

“A change like this would involve decisions about who pays. And with the fast-food market being super price sensitive, the difference between a $10 meal and a $11.50 meal is really significant.”

Centre management has some oversight jurisdiction over menus, but other than that the individual food court tenants run their own businesses as they see fit.

I am a little surprised and somewhat heartened to learn that despite the “same-iness” of food offerings from centre to centre, almost no pre-prepared food is brought in to Highpoint.

I tell them that from a perception point of view, the departure of Borders and Angus & Robertson has made – for myself and many others – Highpoint seem like a much more unpleasant place.

(There is, by the way, a new but very small bookshop called The Last Page in the same wing as Target.)

They rue the departure of Borders, but rightly say it was out of their hands.

They concede, too, that any replacement on a significant scale is unlikely given the turbulence the publishing industry is experiencing.

As in hospitals and the like, the lines are used to delineate different kinds of recycling.

Highpoint is one of about 18 centres run by GPT around Australia.

On site there 30 or so GPT staff, about 300 service staff covering areas such as security, cleaning, pest control and landscaping. The centre has about 400 stores.

A $300 million development project is currently underway.

This will see stores under the David Jones and Woolworths banners, 100 more individual traders and extra parking for 100 cars.

Stage 1 – comprising a full-line Woolworth’s supermarket,  Fresh Food Market, community spaces and carparking with Park Assist technology – is scheduled for completion late this year.

Stage 2 – two-level David Jones, 100 retailers including premium fashion, children’s precinct and 1000 new car spaces – is scheduled for completion in early 2013.

Development manager Mark becomes noticeably more animated when talking about the opportunities presented by the new project.

He says that on every level – electricity usage, recycling, airconditioning and ventilation, lighting and more – the new development will be a vast improvement on the existing structures.

A customer survey discovered that overwhelmingly people want the new developments to be something that “reflects the west”.

To that end, Mark is overseeing the use of more natural materials, including bluestone, timber, artwork and furnishings.

I finish my Highpoint visit with a Highpoint lunch – non-plastic variety, of course – before elbowing a couple of kids aside to have my photo taken with Homer.

16 thoughts on “Highpoint: Into the belly of the beast …

  1. They seem pretty up front about the crux of the issue. Cost.

    With similar products elbow to elbow even a $0.50 price difference is going to differentiate them. It would be nice to think that conscientious folks would be prepared to pay the extra to use crockery but there just aren’t enough of them.

    • Yep. I liked them and found them real sincere. I even have a sneaking suspicion that in a candid moment they might even confess that whole concept needs rethinking from the ground up. But I reckon you’re right – none of the good stuff will happen until it’s profitable or at least break even.

  2. The issue of cost of course is that it’s not a level playing field. Who pays the real costs of the carbon and other pollution from the production of the plastic; the pollution and social impacts of the transport of the plastic; the pollution and social impacts of the transport of the waste even if it is recycled? The answer is that we and the planet do. And what is the end use of the recycled plastic? Is this an economic operation or is it subsided?

    • Fair comment, Janet. What is “this” in “Is this an economic operation or is it subsided?”? I don’t quite follow.

      I’m prepared to believe these guys are trying harder than their competitors. Or that they believe they are. Is it enough? Probably not. Is that good reason to stop doing what they’re doing? I don’t think so.

      Is there any course of action they could take that would satisfy you AND allow them to stay in business? Or, as I tend to feel, is the business itself beyond redemption?

      • It’s the issue of whether the recycling of the plastic is actually economically viable. I know that there have been issues over the years with there being no markets for recycled product because the cost of recycling makes it too expensive, unless it is subsidised by the state in some way. I’d be interested to know where the plastic ends up.
        I’m also happy to believe they are trying harder than their competitors, but that’s not necessarily a high enough benchmark. However, there’s no doubt that what they are doing is worthwhile, and they should keep on doing it.
        I’ll believe highpoint is really serious about its environmental impact when it starts charging people for parking, actively encourages bike riding and gives bikes safe priority access through their car parks and is willing to contribute the money raised towards improving public transport access. The cost of parking is a major cost for them – it costs about $25 000 a space for each new car park; and this cost is just passed onto everyone who leases shops there, and hence everyone who shops there, regardless of whether they drive and park or not.

      • Yes, well, my understanding of the situation is that precious little of the stuff we all put in our recycle bins ends up being recycled. And maybe it should be subsidised. Actually, it should definitely be subsidised, given that the auto industry and all sorts of other nasties are subsidised.

  3. Hi Kenny, a lot of food for thought there (no pun intended).

    A couple of observations… I work in advertising/design and I’ve worked for shopping mall clients. These companies demand a huge amount of agreements from tenants, down to the type of shopfitting they can use. For them to say that they are constrained in asking food tenants to use washable crockery is just disingenuous. I’ve seen templates for shopping mall leases and I just don’t believe what those guys said. Unless they are saying that they are the only ones who are white hats!

    Secondly, Mr Gandel (who controls GPT) owns a number of very large and very expensive private aeroplanes. I’ll leave CTS readers to decide how these machines demonstrate sustainability.

    • Hi Juz! As I say in the piece, I simply relayed what was said to me. I tend to agree, though – if they wanted it, they could make it happen pretty quick smart. Shopping mall leases, of course, have an aura of notoriety. I’d be interested to know how they differ – and in which ways – between companies.

      Yes, well, the rich will be rich. I’m not sure it makes much of a difference one way or the other. Beyond being naff from a perception point of view.

      BTW, you may be interested in this site I found that catalogues dead malls in the US!

  4. Hi Kenny,

    First comment: new to the western suburbs; love your blog.

    A suggestion for those of us who object to disposable cutlery. I bring my own. I travel with a “Spork”, it fits in my pocket and comes out when needed. Mine is a couple of years old now. It is wiped/washed regularly and so far … no food poisoning issues ;-). Sporks come from camping shops for a few dollars. They have a spoon at one end and a combo fork/knife at the other. A Spork won’t cut a tough steak, but they can handle most other food related processes (my son uses it to flick food unless he is closely supervised). And no, I don’t own shares in the company.

    “You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.” (Jim Rohn)

    • Thanks, Andrew!

      New to the west, eh! Coming from where? How’s our tucker treating you? Found any favourites yet?

      Spork! Spork! Such a neat word I just had to use it twice. What a great idea – I’m going to buy one tomorrow.

      Yeah, I’m down with the Jim Rohn quote. If you think too hard about places like Highpoint, and places and practices even worse, you can get a bit messed up in yer head.

      • No worries Kenny,

        We moved in from the Peninsula for the kid’s education. Uni for the food flicker, and selective entry high school for the little princess.

        The West’s food has been a delight. No favourites, we are having too much fun trying them all out.

        You were elevated to “Legend” status in our household for introducing us to Mishras Kitchen.

      • Sorry, the Mornington Peninsula. The Butter Chicken; Chicken Vindaloo; and Aloo Paratha are regular orders (ho hum). Mum and dad are working their way through the rest of the vego menu.

  5. Definitely a cost issue. However Australia on Collins in the CBD has a very successful food court and if you eat in there, you get plates and cutlery. Also I think the comment about it raising food prices is a bit naff: Highpoint is a bit of a closed organism and doesn’t really interact with any other food precincts nearby; people shopping for apparel are a bit of a food court captive market so if it added, say, 50c to the cost of every dish at the food court (like a levy) then I think the hungry punters would suck it up and pay it.

    Regarding leases, you could definitely specify this to happen. I’ve heard Westfield are the most hard-ass on leases but it depends on the popularity of the centre of course. Highpoint is currently the only regional shopping centre in the West (although Waterg’s is catching up!) so they’d definitely have some negotiating power.

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