Wellington Scoop

Council planning another waterfront building, but it can’t explain why


by Lindsay Shelton
The city council is proposing another big new building on the Wellington waterfront – without being able to explain why it is needed.

In this week’s announcement, Cr Andy Foster said

The proposed use of the floors above ground is still to be determined but options are likely to be commercial office space, residential apartments or a boutique serviced apartment hotel.

Not only does the council not know why the building is needed. It is asking for suggestions. Cr Foster again:

“We are particularly interested in feedback on uses which people consider will best interact with the surrounding public space and improve public safety at all times.”

Offices, apartments or a hotel are uninspired ideas that in no way justify another new building taking over more of the city’s open waterfront space.

Mayor Lester is trying to pretend, unconvincingly, that the privately-owned and mostly privately-occupied building will have benefits for the community:

“We want this building to best suit Wellingtonians, and what we as a community need to help improve our daily lives and boost our economic performance.”

Let’s remind Justin that more offices, apartments or a hotel on the waterfront will do nothing to improve our daily lives.

I recall that during the prolonged Waterfront Leadership consultation there was a lengthy debate about whether or not there should be any new buildings on this part of the waterfront. There were substantial arguments for retaining all the publically-owned open space and saving the great views. But pro-building decisions were made by a committee, at closed meetings.


As a consequence, the broad harbour views at this end of the waterfront will be narrowed to a space between two new buildings – both projects of Willis Bond.

The consultation announced this week avoids asking whether Wellingtonians support the idea of having another new privately-owned waterfront building on this public land. It also avoids asking whether private developers should continue to be empowered to make money from privately-owned buildings on public land – there’s a report that Willis Bond sold its PwC building on Kumutoto for $90m, two years before it was due to be completed. No indication that the city, as owner of the leased land, had any share in this profit.

And there are more issues – notably what’s being paid by Willis Bond for leasing more public land. Cr Iona Pannett is concerned about this, as the DomPost reported:

Committee chairwoman Iona Pannett voiced her concerns about accountability and ratepayer money. She warned the project would end up in court, and could be contentious. . .”It’s publicly known that, when a building is developed on the waterfront, we get money for it. I am unclear how this constitutes public engagement if we are not talking about that [money] aspect of the project. I find that really problematic and think it is critical information.” She asked if the commercial terms could be put in public consultation. Council waterfront project director Michael Faherty​ told councillors it would set a precedent. “The terms of the development are confidential.” A further discussion about the terms was then held in a session from which the public were excluded.

It would be an excellent precedent for ratepayers to know about the amount of money being paid by private developers when they take over public land. But the council doesn’t agree with openness. There have however some clues about the secret deals that the council has negotiated.

We reported in 2015 that the PwC deal – a lease for 125 years – was another bargain for Willis Bond. And in 2012 it was revealed that Willis Bond was paying a lease of only one dollar a year for the Overseas Passenger Terminal Wharf which it has since redeveloped.

Confidentiality is a poor excuse for not allowing ratepayers to know what is being paid for priceless public land on the waterfront when it is being taken over for private development and private profit.


  1. Lindsay, 5. July 2017, 10:18

    Though the council claims not to know how the new building will be used, the developer has no such doubts. The DomPost quotes Mark McGuinness of Willis Bond as saying “lhere are issues in Wellington after the earthquake with displaced offices, and we see this as filling that niche.”

  2. Traveller, 5. July 2017, 10:20

    Surely on such a key site, the city should first decide on an iconic public use for any new building. Only then – with the assurance that the public will have full use of the new building – should the project be put forward for approval. Private offices on public land on the waterfront – that’s not a reason for handing over open space to a developer.

  3. Picky?, 5. July 2017, 10:23

    We know that Wellington has a shortage of housing/accommodation and a shortage of good quality commercial premises. Given it’s going to be used for one of those purposes does it matter that the final purpose hasn’t been decided?

  4. CC, 5. July 2017, 11:18

    The Council, and Cr Foster in particular, seem to have replaced institutional memory with a convenient black hole. Why a building? In part to replace unsightly carparks that the Council were happy to maintain as part of the WCC/developer long game to alienate waterfront land from its public owners. What is the purpose of the Site 9 building? Apart from lining the developer’s pocket on the back of a cheap land deal, there was a need for additional rates income as the returns derived from the PwC building are reputed to be less than the income from the former motorhome/and car parking on Kumutoto. Additionally, the waterfront has to have at least a chimera of profitability, even if only for the short term, to satisfy the vociferous elements of the business sector.
    Iona Pannett’s concerns regarding accountability and ratepayer money ended up being ground into the dust with the usual ‘commercial sensitivity’ ploy. Besides, there is not much point in the public being informed of a poor deal after the event. In any case, even if the return on the Site 10 privatisation of the waterfront was/is disclosed, it is certain that the usual developer friendly WCC/WB contra deals will be hidden. That hasn’t changed since WWL who were masters at increasing public debt were doing the deals. How a Council owned outfit could preside over ‘sales’ of public land that was acquired at no cost and loose many millions of dollars still needs to be explained. As a final query, would the ‘secrecy’, as required by Willis Bond, have existed if, for example, PrimeProperty or the Chow Brothers had won an honestly contested public tender process?

  5. Peter, 5. July 2017, 11:33

    Picky: 7.8% vacant office space (post quake – Colliers International) doesn’t sound like a shortage of good quality commercial premises, especially when new projects are progressively coming on stream, ‘the market’ is incentivising the upgrading of existing stock and some damaged good quality buildings will be reinstated.

  6. Concerned Wellingtonian, 5. July 2017, 17:09

    The space would be ideal for a Chinese Garden.

  7. Rumpole, 5. July 2017, 18:50

    More common-sense from CC. The Council’s cosy private arrangement with their favoured developer needs immediate scrutiny by a Judge.

  8. Traveller, 6. July 2017, 0:15

    The council is stubbornly lining up those new buildings to create a wall, having forgotten the huge public opposition (2000 people in the Town Hall) against walling off the city from its harbour …

  9. TrevorH, 6. July 2017, 13:42

    Same developer again? “Commercial sensitivity” again? Alienation of public land for private profit? This needs to be judicially reviewed.

  10. JC, 6. July 2017, 16:01

    “No indication that the city, as owner of the leased land, had any share in this profit.” What a ridiculous statement! The council has leased the land. If the lessee transfers its interest, why should the landlord get to clip the ticket again?! It still has its lease – just a different counterparty. It’s fair enough to have some debate over whether public land should be leased in the first place, but you undermine your arguments by making comments like this.

  11. Elaine Hampton, 7. July 2017, 11:15

    Again more dealings in closed session. I expect more exhortations to remember how much rates will be gained as income! Always overstated for some reason. This is walling off our waterfront; the land wasn’t handed over to the Council to flog off and exclude real people. What fate awaits the Town Belt? And this is on the waterfront – a quick look at projected sea level rise in 25 years is alarming. No doubt the Council – ie ratepayers – would be liable.

  12. Groundedkiwi, 7. July 2017, 12:03

    Mmm waterfront development…..rising sea levels. Makes one a cynic.

  13. Marion Leader, 7. July 2017, 15:40

    I take JC’s point. However the fear is that the WCC succumbs to developers who wheedle away at inexperienced local body representatives in order to get a bargain. A bit of “Public-Excluded” of course helps the developer’s cause by depriving more sensible and knowledgable Wellingtonians of the opportunity to give proper advice to the more naive of their elected representatives.

  14. CC, 7. July 2017, 22:14

    At a dollar a year, the lease is a distraction Marion and JC. The bottom line is that if/when the uninspiring Site 9 building eventuates and is sold, Willis Bond will put a premium on the location at the expense of the ratepayers, to pocket a tidy sum, all done with the collusion of the Council.
    As for Mayor Lester’s comments about another building best suiting Wellingtonians, improving our daily lives and boosting our economic performance, one could reasonably assume his former role with the Property Council has skewed his appreciation of reality. So far, the tenancies for the Site 10 building are only for relocating occupants, no doubt to serve the ego needs of senior executives and their controlling boards. Site 9 would probably be no different, so what does the average Wellingtonian get out if it? Lester’s line, “….best interact with the surrounding public space and improve public safety at all times.” has to be a passing attempt at humour. The building will provide a screen for the nefarious behaviours he fears in a Quixotic rush of blood to the brain. How does one interact with a sterile structure that is either a day-time office space for worker ants or a night-time exclusive private residence? If the Mayor’s fantasies had a passing contact with reality, the ‘public areas’ of the Clyde Quay Wharf building would be a vibrant, actively appreciated space. Instead, it is predominantly a dead zone that gives every impression of being a care facility for geriatric 1%ers, apart from the featured dining establishment for the better off.
    Once Site 9 is done and dusted, the next step will be for Willis Bond, with the help of City Shaper, to acquire another waterfront site – probably a chunk of Waitangi Park or Frank Kitts Park. (That site will be a sitter once it has been flattened and the play area has been compromised by a ‘designer’ who obviously has no knowledge of what makes a quality play-space for children and young people. Hey, hey, Cr Day, take a trip to the Avalon playscape today! It only cost $3M not $5M). The butchered Frank Kitts Park will be the grassed equivalent of the despised car parks that those with a vested interest believe will only be improved by being replaced with buildings.

  15. Michael, 11. July 2017, 19:52

    Well the Auckland city council seems to have learnt by their mistakes and are now tearing down as many buildings as possible by the waterfront to open it up and develop attractive public green spaces.

    In contrast, the WCC is hell bent on destroying Wellington’s greatest asset – the openness to our waterfront. If this and the Chinese Garden goes ahead the waterfront will become even more cut off from the city, and Wellington will become just another built up concrete jungle. Great legacy for our future generations.

    We need more green space not more buildings, especially when the council want to attract people to live in the inner city.

  16. CC, 11. July 2017, 22:43

    Ah yes Michael, other waterfronts like Auckland, and other progressive cities around the world, discovered that once mercantile sheds and wharves for the processing of shipped goods were no longer required, waterfronts could be resurrected and reconnected to adjoining cities for public enjoyment. Wellington is an exception. It has obvious impediments like an acquisitive developer, the ludicrously titled City Shaper with a role appearing to be that of a reverse Robin Hood, and successive councils that have been led by the nose and mesmerised by disingenuous lobbyists and a small clique of self serving groups with vested interests.
    By the way, the Chinese Garden is not likely to be a sincere replication of the traditional concept. It will not provide peace and solitude, being too limited space wise and jammed next to six lanes of noisy roadway. It will also be interesting to see if there will be traditional vegetation, and if so, if the trees and blossoms will survive the onslaught of the wind driven salt spray it will be subjected to.

  17. Leviathan, 12. July 2017, 7:35

    The right choice of occupant will be an important thing. This building is going to be situated for the best views in town. It is also going to need to have the best tenants in town too. Somebody that will add vibrancy, activity, and interest to the resulting public square in the site 8 in front of them. Someone like a School of Dance perhaps, a Fame Academy so to speak, or a troupe of vaudeville mime artists who could practice in the windows. Hmmm, I wonder which company in Wellington advertises themselves as Theatre and Vaudeville? [from EyeoftheFish.]

  18. Nora, 18. July 2017, 17:30

    Would like to refer to page 20 of the Framework with regard to North Queens Wharf (Kumutoto) which states that important Views and Vistas from the city to sea will be protected and important new ones will be created. What a farce as Page 8 of the North Kumutoto Development proposal for Site 9 shows the views from Customhouse Quay along with the construction on Site 10 will almost block out the Harbour, Eastbourne Ferry terminal, and the Mt Victoria Monastery.
    Page 32 of the Framework states “the character of the area will be of squares, lanes and new buildings in scale with the heritage buildings, such as Shed 21 at the northern end and the Queens Wharf apartments and Sheds 11 and 13 at the other end.” During a visit from Jan Gehl in February 2002 at a public meeting he said any new buildings should be only 2/3 storeys high and he would favour low rise cafe and craft style buildings similar in height to the boatsheds but with plenty of clear views from the city to the sea.
    In 2008 a report from a local Conservation Architect on Heritage values said the old waterfront buildings in the Kumutoto area have high architectural values and interest. The views enabled appreciation of the area and its features from many different parts of the waterfront and the city. Sadly with the Meridian Building, Sheds 11 and 13 are now blocked from the sea and all that remains is a delivery lane!
    Finally would like to quote from a USA Planning commissioners journal in 2001 – small scale, inexpensive improvements can be more effective for drawing people into spaces than BIG BUCK projects. .

  19. Michael, 23. July 2017, 22:39

    @ CC: I totally agree. It is disturbing the way the WCC seems to be all about supporting developers and their plans – not about protecting our city. Developers don’t care if the Wellington waterfront becomes a concrete jungle as long as they make their profits.