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Design, scale, traffic, and cost – some of the concerns about Shelly Bay plans

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by Andy Foster
Some people seem to think the Wellington City Council is committed to the proposed development of Shelly Bay and all the consultation is window dressing. I suspect those people have missed the real concerns that have been publicly raised over several months by some councillors, notably myself, Chris Calvi-Freeman and Sarah Free.

Public submissions have raised many valuable issues which we had possibly not thought of, or have added to our knowledge. That is an important part of any consultation process, as are ideas about alternatives, and indeed reasons for supporting the proposal. Some issues which didn’t feature in debates in council, or have got that extra input, have included concerns about loss of parking on the side of the road, valued to get to the small beaches along the way, risk to penguins (korora), and greater emphasis on sea level rise risks.

There have also been concerns about the scale, intensity and design of the development. There has also been support. I’d fully expected significant concerns about traffic, infrastructure and funding, and there certainly have been.

A huge issue is the April resource consent. Many people have asked why something of this scale and impact was not notified. The reason is that the last Council chose on 8 April 2015 by 10 votes to 5 to make Shelly Bay a Special Housing Area (SHA) under the Housing Accords and Special Housing Areas Act (HASHAA). The five councillors voting against Shelly Bay being a SHA were David Lee, Sarah Free, Iona Pannett, Helene Ritchie and Andy Foster.

The size of the SHA was then extended to include Open Space zoned land on 28 October 2015 by the same 10 votes to 5.

Right from the outset, HASHAA seemed to me an abhorrent piece of legislation, backed by implicit threats of Ministerial intervention. It is designed to cut across the rules of the District Plan by making the provision of housing more important than any other environmental (in its widest sense) consideration. In a situation where there has been extensive engagement already about what should happen on a site or area and the District Plan rules reflect that housing is the objective in the area in question, that’s possibly not a big deal. In areas with no particular special values that can also be fine.

However when the land has special values which are not about just providing housing that is not fine. Where there has been no engagement beyond the landowner that is also not fine. Both are clearly the case with Shelly Bay, and all the more so given much of the land in question (ie the sloped part of the land) is zoned Open Space B, which is clearly not intended for residential purposes. Pulling some words from the Open Space Chapter of the District Plan:

“Open space is characterised by the fact that it has few buildings. It can be enjoyed and experienced from a distance as a visual distinction between built and unbuilt areas of the city. This enjoyment of open space from a distance also needs to be taken into account when activities in open space areas are being considered.”

And

“Open Space B land is valued for its natural character and informal open spaces. It involves areas that are used for types of recreation that, in the broadest sense, do not involve buildings or structures. The intention is to keep such areas in an unbuilt or natural state. This type of open space encompasses both formal and informal open space elements. It includes walkways, scenic areas and open grassed areas where buildings are inappropriate. Its characteristics are minimal structures, largely undeveloped areas and open expanses of land.”

And from the Objectives 16.5.2.1

“Identify and protect from development and visual obstruction landforms and landscape elements that are significant in the context of the Wellington landscape, and in particular significant escarpments and coastal cliffs.”

The flat part of the site is zoned Business 1, which allows for a range of activities, within a set of height and design parameters. That’s where most of the proposed development is intended to go.

Shelly Bay has its own special Design Guide in the District Plan. The maximum permitted height in the Design Guide is 11 metres at the back of the site. Beyond that, resource consent would normally be required.

The tallest proposed buildings are 27 metres. That is so far above the 11 metres that it is incomprehensible such a scale would have been permitted without notification were it not an SHA.

Design and scale of development are major issues raised by submitters. It’s also been pointed out that having just one designer, however good, limits diversity and creativity. It has been pointed out that there is also a lack of certainty about what we will ultimately get. Many submitters called the designs ‘pedestrian/plastic, basically uninspiring’.

Reading the non-notified Resource Consent decision for Shelly Bay, it is clear that officers did not put much weight on the District Plan at all. Their decision says:

‘The provisions of the Operative District Plan (ODP) are a matter that regard must be had to under S34(1)(d)(i) of the HASHAA. However less weight will be given to those provisions than to the matters specified in S34 as carrying greater weight. Particularly relevant matters of the ODP have been identified and commented on where appropriate but relatively little weight has been given to these provisions due to the weighting specified in HASHAA.’

When it comes to the decision’s comments on the scale of development, it says the proposed development ‘will be enabling the purpose of HASHAA by increasing housing yield that would otherwise by limited by the District Plan bulk and location regulations.’

Translation? The District Plan objectives, policies and rules will be looked at but the main consideration will be the provision of housing. HASHAA Section 34 does say that the greatest weight should be placed on provision of housing, and the Purposes and Principles of the RMA, and the District Plan should receive lesser weight. However the language used in the decision seems to indicate that they received almost no weight. That merits scrutiny.

I’ve had more involvement than all my current colleagues put together in developing the District Plan. Its policies and rules may not always be perfect and the current Government in particular has made constant changes to the Resource Management Act. The intent of most of the Government’s changes is to reduce public participation, which is a huge concern to me.

The District Plan and its zonings has been through an extensive engagement process, in many cases through the Environment Court, to become what it is. It is designed to reflect the special character of Wellington’s many diverse features. That’s also why I think more resource consents which breach the District Plan should be exposed to the notification process. However HASHAA – at the stroke of a political pen – pretty much sweeps all of this engagement and detailed consideration aside.

HASHAA specifically forbids notification to anyone beyond the landowner, the Council, infrastructure providers and immediate neighbours.

Housing provision is really important. New Zealand’s and Wellington’s populations are growing at a rapid (and ultimately unsustainable) rate (don’t get me on to the lack of long term planning around population levels and distribution by successive Governments) so we have to provide more housing. However in providing for population increase we must not destroy the very things we love about Wellington. That danger is very real and exacerbated by the speed of growth. Big and better are not the same things.

As several submitters have noted, the fact that the resource consent has not gone through a notified consent has meant only the most cursory examination of key issues of design, scale and traffic impacts. Given the feedback on the proposal to sell and lease some of Council’s land, I am sure there would have been a lot of input into a publicly notified consent.

The road between Shelly Bay and the Miramar Cutting has always been critical. Even the limited transport assessment says the current 1000 vehicles per day is expected to go to 4700. There’s precious little consideration of construction traffic over many years.

As several of us pointed out very strongly, the initial proposal that an unsealed 1 ½ metre wide ‘shared path’ would somehow cater for cycling and walking was patently absurd. Living Streets’ submission pointed out this width is below the absolute minimum for a footpath alone. The proposal then shifted to cyclists being on the road. The problem is that the traffic volumes will increase dramatically and this is probably the most popular (flat, scenic, currently relatively undeveloped) recreational cycling place in the city. The safety risk is obvious.

That leaves the question of whether a road and shared path design can be created that is safe. The ideal transport option is widening the road or more likely a wider shared path. Problem is: can such a path fit? Would it be acceptable? Would it be able to get resource consent? I think that is challenging to say the least. I want to see a high level design to show what can – and cannot be done. I suspect it simply cannot fit and be consented.

Other options are one way travel only (not a likely prospect), further reduced speed limits, or much more traffic calming of some sort. We’ve heard some creative thinking about this too. I think the road is the potential Achilles heel of the proposal. This would undoubtedly have been thoroughly scrutinized during a notified consent hearing – if there had been one. We can’t leave this unresolved as part of any decision.

Then there is the question of infrastructure and who pays for it. In the normal course of events developers pay for all of the infrastructure on their site, and they pay an appropriate contribution towards infrastructure (roads, pipes) beyond their site. That contribution should reflect the degree to which infrastructure needs upgrading because of their development. Any other approach is asking ratepayers to subsidise the development. As a matter of principle Council should only be paying for things that are of public good, not private benefit to the developer.

So if Shelly Bay Road was not going to be upgraded at all without development at Shelly Bay, and it required upgrade only as a result of a new development, then the development should pay the lot. If a road upgrade was proposed then the cost might be shared, or if the road was to be upgraded anyway and the development didn’t make any difference then Council would pay. It’s pretty obvious that there are no Council plans to upgrade Shelly Bay Road, so any work that needed to be done would be as a result of development. Exactly the same is true of water/stormwater/sewer infrastructure. The argument that the existing pipes are run down is irrelevant. In greenfields situations there are no existing pipes – so having something there, even if old, at least gives the developers a head start – free.

To make all this worse, under the current proposal where the Council would pay a significant portion of the infrastructure costs, the Council’s liabilities are uncapped, while the developer’s liabilities are capped.

Clearly I am not happy with the financial arrangements around infrastructure cost allocation. We have been told the developer cannot pay any more towards this. I struggle to think the $500million development is that marginal, and would need to see their numbers to be convinced. Developer margins are usually in the 15-20% range. Submitters have also questioned the valuation of land owned by the Council, saying it is worth more than stated in the consultation document. That may or may not be so.

The final issue I want to comment on – which was raised by several submitters – is sea level rise. There is a Ministry for the Environment report now in the media discussing approximately 70,000 properties across New Zealand under threat from rising sea levels and greater frequency of storms. We need to be confident that Shelly Bay will be safe and if there is doubt take appropriate legal steps to be clear that ownership there comes with that risk. In my view in those circumstances it should be very clear that future ratepayers will not be taking any responsibility if Sausilito becomes Venice – or Atlanta.

Some councillors might think that inclusion of some affordable housing somewhere else in the city is an attractive tradeoff. Some councillors will be persuaded that a deal is important to allow the Port Nicholson Settlement Block Trust to extract its money and be able to move on to something else, to help their beneficiaries. Both issues are very important. It’s worth noting, given some of the things that have been said during submissions, that the SHA and consent decisions have resulted in a very large increase in the value of the land owned by the Trust.

Now to the hard part. I think many councillors thought when approving the SHA that the private land could not be developed without the Council’s land being involved – so the Council would be able to govern/veto the nature of any development as a landowner. The 10 votes that made Shelly Bay a SHA, and the subsequent resource consent, means the Port Nicholson Settlement Block Trust and The Wellington Company may well be able to develop their land without the Council’s land, though they may have to make some modifications. That’s the view that has emerged over the last few months and is clearly PNSBT and TWC’s view. This has to be clarified.

So for the Council it may well be a decision between a development in which we participate, and one in which we do not, rather than whether the proposal proceeds or not.

Finally four points.

I always want to see the numbers in anything. In this case, what are the costs and benefits – financial and non-financial – of being part of the development versus not being part of it ? This analysis must be public.

I want detailed information about how we can make Shelly Bay road safer. It is clear the road will need some changes if the development goes ahead. Any changes must retain it as an attractive recreational walking and cycling route, and not undermine its character. In my view that should be done with community representative groups and the developer. Works should be costed and included in Council’s upcoming Asset Management Plans and subsequent Long Term (10 year) Plan. Then we could charge Development Contributions on this work against the development in Shelly Bay which has necessitated the work. That is exactly what Development Contributions are for.

We also need to have open eyes about future risk. Given the threat of sea level rise I would suggest that notations be put on all titles to make clear that if there is a future risk of inundation, future Councils /ratepayers will not be liable for protection or compensation.

We all know the need for affordable housing. Several submitters asked for some affordable housing in Shelly Bay. I think PNSBT and TWC should consider making some available if the development proceeds as proposed. That is up to them. PNSBT will be around for a long time, and it would be perfectly sensible to provide some form of accommodation for their beneficiaries on a site which clearly holds a lot of value to the iwi.

15 comments:

  1. Stan Andis, 10. September 2017, 12:31

    Thanks Andy for this comprehensive explanation. The question is why the Council decided to undergo a non notified Resource Consent. Let’s face it: you have been in the coal face for a while, but the general public have not had access to the inside wheeling and dealing. Can you place a final sum of money that the Council would be obligated to spend once this project is signed and sealed? It is my understanding that the quality of the houses will be in excess of $1 million each which in anyone’s language is up-market and far from catering for first time home owners. So why would the Council be involved in dealings that the average person in the street cannot afford?

     
  2. andy foster, 10. September 2017, 13:42

    Thanks Stan – you’ve asked three questions
    1 – Why a non notified consent? That was a key part of my article. Once Shelly Bay became a Special Housing Area, non notification was essentially a certainty. I know the SHA at Mein Street has been notified – but that can only be to immediate neighbours – and there are none for Shelly Bay.
    2 – Can I place a final sum on the deal? We don’t have a deal until Council agrees it, and as I have said in my article, for several councillors there are some real concerns about the deal as currently structured, so we need to get something we are ok with if development proceeds.
    3 – You are correct that the proposal is not about affordable housing. Council’s Housing Accord with Government is not about affordable housing either, but increasing the supply of housing. Housing across all the various SHAs we have will be of a variety of pricing levels. Fundamentally we do need more housing – made worse by population growth – and any housing built will help by freeing up other houses and by reducing the imbalance between supply and demand. With Shelly Bay we are involved because we are a landowner within the SHA.
    I hope that helps Stan.
    Kind regards, Andy

     
  3. Michael Gibson, 10. September 2017, 14:40

    I congratulate Andy!
    He was the only one to oppose the officers’ suggestion that the public were kicked out when all this was considered by the Council in April.
    He now reports views of various Councillors which we hear for the very first time.
    The lack of debate is unacceptable – a public body is meant to debate such things publicly so we can hear what the arguments (if any!) are and so that we can assess their merits, or as in this case, non-merits. The lack of scene-setting by agreeing the whole thing in secret has been SO unhelpful.
    During the Hearings last week, I tabled the Council’s letter rejecting my O.I. request for the reports which they had discussed over two months earlier. I got the impression that Councillors did not know what their officers were doing with O.I. requests. It’s time they found out and took some responsibility for deciding not to share the truth about Shelly Bay with the public.
    And I haven’t even got to my objections to the project yet, let alone my objections to forking out any ratepayers’ money on the infrastructure etc.

     
  4. Stan Andis, 10. September 2017, 17:33

    Hi Andy, the fact that the Council is entering into an agreement without a final cost is beyond understanding. Surely the best business practice would determine the level of financial commitment. What has yet to be made public is why there has been such a high level of secrecy to the extent where extensive requests for official information were required.

     
  5. andy foster, 10. September 2017, 17:52

    Hi Stan – if and when an agreement is reached, then we will absolutely need to know the final cost and details of the agreement. That was one of the key issues I was referring to in my article.

     
  6. CC, 10. September 2017, 19:19

    Hopefully you ‘mis-spoke,’ Cr Foster. Surely you meant to say “before an agreement is reached”.

     
  7. Citizen Joe, 10. September 2017, 19:26

    “We all know the need for affordable housing” But we can’t afford renovating 87 dwellings at Gordon Wilson Flats in a perfect location on the Terrace where people can walk to work/study/shop etc?

     
  8. Andy Foster, 10. September 2017, 20:29

    CC – absolutely – can’t agree anything without that information and that information being satisfactory. That’s what ‘if’ means.
    Citizen Joe – the problem with Gordon Wilson building is that on the extensive engineering and economic evidence we were presented with it would cost roughly $200,000 more per dwelling to fix the existing building than to demolish and build the same number of units new.

     
  9. Stan Andis, 10. September 2017, 20:57

    Hi Andy. What the public will need to know is how the consultation process has influenced the final decision. What I mean by that is a vote by Councillors at a full council meeting is due. You don’t need any reminding that this process did not undergo a full transparent Resource Consent hearing, which means that the facts need to be made public, and not merely a personal opinion.

     
  10. Mike Mellor, 11. September 2017, 11:20

    Andy: the hat tip to Living Streets is much appreciated, but unfortunately this is not an isolated case of a substandard-width footpath being proposed by WCC. As well as Shelly Bay, the proposal to turn Wakely Rd into a shared path includes making the footpath along Centennial Highway, already below NZTA’s absolute minimum footpath width, into a shared path; and Island Bay Option D proposes reducing the west side footpath to below the absolute minimum (since one of Love the Bays principles was not to reduce facilities for pedestrians – let alone to below the bare minimum – this option should never have made the cut).

    What is also concerning is that in none of these proposals have these deficiencies been mentioned, let alone discussed (to be fair, the Island Bay proposal did note that the reduction in footpath width was significant, but not the absolute deficiency of the proposed width). The only conclusions that I can draw from this are that the proposals’ authors either didn’t think these significant deficiencies worth mentioning, or they weren’t aware of them: both conclusions have worrying implications.

     
  11. Michael Gibson, 11. September 2017, 12:04

    I’m still looking for any merits in the proposal. In the meantime I comment on the excellent sentiment of Stan Andis that “What the public will need to know is how the consultation process has influenced the final decision.” The report on this must include an answer to what I said (& tabled) during the Hearing last week:
    “I now strongly urge that 1/ formal legal advice is sought as to whether the ‘consultation’ re the Shelly Bay proposals has been adequate, and 2/ for the assurance of elected members and the public the formal legal advice is published.”
    How on earth did all this chaos happen? How much time and ratepayers’ money has been wasted?

     
  12. Stan Andis, 11. September 2017, 13:43

    Hi Michael Gibson, According to the report in the DomPost 6th Sept, $300,000 K has already been spent, which I daresay was gained under the OIA . this figure does not include Officers’ time. Why was it necessary for this information to be sought in the first place? To my mind all this hanky panky is typical of Council processes when going public.

     
  13. Citizen Joe, 11. September 2017, 14:07

    I don’t know who did the Gordon Wilson Flats costings, Andy, but they must have been having a joke. “VUW is not in the business of providing housing,” so how honest were their cost estimates? The Vice Chancellor wants to pull down GWF and land-bank the site for 20 years and create a car park for electronic vehicle charging in the meantime.

    Compare and contrast with the next door McLean Flats which are being renovated. Evidently where there is a will, there’s a way and an economic way at that. GWF needs to be put on the market and a sympathetic housing developer found. Sadly, given the lack of empathy for Wellington’s architectural heritage and a total lack of business acumen, the WCC should stay well clear.

     
  14. Concerned Wellingtonian, 11. September 2017, 15:33

    Is VUW responsible for rebuilding big blocks at the bottom of Bowen Street or is somebody else going to use them for housing?

     
  15. Many-faced God, 19. September 2017, 11:21

    Masterful piece Andy, thank you. It’s the daylighting this whole messy business needed, and that the mainstream media seem incapable of. The non-notified consent was an absolute travesty. Hopefully this will be the only development of this nature under HASSHA and other future housing-focussed legislation where the DP can be run roughshod over.

     

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