Wellington Scoop

Ten years’ planning to block harbour views (1)


If anyone has wondered how Wellington allowed a bleak canyon to be created on Waterloo Quay, a look back at the first months of Wellington.Scoop shows that the plans first emerged at the end of 2008, when the city council began an attempt to restrict public involvement in planning for new buildings on the Kumutoto site. This was the first step in a process that would result – ten years later – in construction of the enormous new building that has replaced the panoramic views.

by Lindsay Shelton – December 2, 2008
Just days before councillors are due to debate major amendments to the city’s District Plan, the Wellington City Council has released 79 pages of documents about the proposed changes. The proposals appear to have been given impetus by the council’s defeat in the Environment Court, which stopped its plan – approved by council officers – to allow a Hilton Hotel to be built on the Outer T of Queens Wharf.

An immediate effect of the proposed changes would be to allow council officers to approve new buildings in the Kumutoto area of the Wellington waterfront without notifying the public of the individual plans and thereby removing any right to object.

Observers who have studied the council documents believe that this power could also stop the possibility of appeals to the Environment Court against any specific new buildings, such as the appeal which stopped the Hilton. Councillors are to debate the changes at a meeting on Thursday (December 4.) The documents appeared on the council’s website the previous Friday, before copies had been received by councillors themselves.

The changes – by which the council would grant itself powers to give the go-ahead to new buildings without any public scrutiny – have been named Variation 11.

Page 10 of the 34-page Appendix 1 (which is part of the proposal for change) provides a map showing where the council proposes to allow three new buildings in the Kumutoto area. Site 10, the biggest site, will allow a building which is six storeys high.

Page 12 of the Appendix provides an aerial view of the footprints of the three new buildings.

A design guide for the area is proposed, but the council says that developers would have “an infinite range of design solutions” for new buildings, subject only to the design guide. One immediate effect would be to reduce views of Wellington harbour.

The current vistas on both sides of the Whitmore Street gates would be replaced by “space framed by buildings on either side.” The preference of the council’s planners: that “buildings … should frame the views.”

The proposed changes would not completely remove the public’s ability to oppose the council’s enthusiasm for big new buildings on the edge of the harbour. But public input will be restricted to involvement “at the initial plan variation stage.”

After this initial planning period, states the council, “there may not be the opportunity for further challenge and possible appeals when subsequent resource consent hearings are made.”

For the council, this will “greatly simplify the process.”

For the citizens of Wellington, any ability to oppose specific new buildings on the waterfront will have been ended.

The council doesn’t deny that there has been opposition in the past. Attachment 1 of its proposal bravely acknowledges two major examples (in 1989 and 1998) of public opposition to large new buildings on the waterfront, opposition which was so strong that planning regimes were replaced.

It now appears to have invented a strategy which would ensure that any future opposition wouldn’t be given a chance.

What happens next?

If the proposals are approved by councillors on Thursday night, the public can scrutinise the 79 pages of documents and decide whether to object to the overall plan for Kumutoto. If specific plans for individual buildings are to be removed from public scrutiny, then the initial planning process – including the new design guide – will be the only chance for the public to be heard.

And what’s in store for the rest of the waterfront? There’s a general expectation that the same policy is likely to be applied to other areas including Waitangi Park, where the council has kept four sites which it specifies are for big new buildings.

Tomorrow: how councillors voted on the proposal


  1. Concerned Wellingtonian, 14. January 2020, 10:26

    What are Councillors been doing with their $111,000 a year? There are no meetings at all scheduled for January which means that they have picked up over $20,000 each for doing nothing between meetings. Surely some of the young (very young) new Councillors are bright enough to be doing something for this money? Why not try to save the waterfront? At the very least they could find out what developers are doing to block more views.

  2. michael, 14. January 2020, 10:31

    It is so distressing to see our beautiful harbour disappear behind massive buildings when many other city councils are trying to reclaim their waterfront for parks and reserves. The irony of this is lately there have been ‘noises’ from the council that fixing Civic Square needs to be done in consideration of flooding! It seems like building right on the waterfront is OK when it suits the council, but fixing Civic Square and the Library (set back from the waterfront) means – we have other plans for it.

  3. Concerned Wellingtonian, 14. January 2020, 11:55

    Thank you, michael, for your very fine point.

  4. michael, 14. January 2020, 12:30

    Concerned Wellingtonian: I agree. I don’t think the new councillors will be able to say anything, even if they do oppose what is going on, as the council seems to have a “you are not allowed to talk” policy while they get on behind the scenes doing whatever they want, and “consult” when it is too late.

  5. Concerned Wellingtonian, 14. January 2020, 14:39

    michael, of course new councillors can speak out. That is their job (at $111,000 a year).
    The pressure will naturally be getting exerted behind the scenes to “play the game” and “develop a team approach” but that is not what our elected representatives should be kow-towing to.
    Especially when something like our precious waterfront is at stake.

  6. michael, 14. January 2020, 17:55

    Concerned Wellingtonian: I agree with you regarding councillors speaking out. But if the past few years are anything to go by, they have been discouraged by the CEO and the Mayor not to speak out on contentious issues. Most of them kow-towed to this directive and thereby failed to represent their constituents. As far as new councillors go, I expect they will be pressured to behave in the same manner. So far there doesn’t seem to be any indication that things are going to change much.

  7. CC, 15. January 2020, 8:40

    There are two changes that might make a difference to Councillors being able to air their views. The first is that the new Mayor has never been too slow in expressing his opinions or working around administrative ‘blocks’. He would no doubt want to avoid the accusation of hypocrisy. The second, and possibly more germane, is that the new CEO takes over in March. She is not a somewhat dictatorial import and no doubt knows where the grenades and bodies are hidden.

  8. michael, 15. January 2020, 9:50

    CC: I really hope you are right but our new Mayor may find it a different story now he is in power, and we have yet to see the approach our new CEO is going to take. Since expecting great changes with the last “new” council and not getting them, I am not holding my breath with the current “new” council which is mainly the “old” council anyway. So far, getting their free lunches back and spending money on speakers and a retreat has been the focus.

  9. Dubert Line, 17. January 2020, 11:21

    I see this completely differently. The harbour views are now protected. Why would one want harbour views from a car? This makes traffic rather unsafe. Now people who walk or cycle can enjoy the harbour views whilst protected from loud street noise and car engine pollution by the new building. Well done Wellington Council and design team.

  10. michael, 17. January 2020, 13:24

    Dubert, protecting harbour views is about making them available to as many people as possible in the city, not restricting them to a limited amount of people. Why should walkers, cyclists and people who work in the buildings on the waterfront be the privileged few who gain the enjoyment and well-being associated with being able to experience the open spaces and harbour views. It should be all about enhancing our city with a feeling of openness and stunning views of the waterfront wherever possible.

  11. Mike Mellor, 17. January 2020, 14:46

    Dubert, I’m not sure that I agree with you fully, but you certainly have a valid point about buildings screening the waterfront from the adverse effects of traffic. Of course, if the promises made at the time of the construction of Karo Drive had been kept and the number of vehicle lanes along the waterfront reduced, traffic wouldn’t be such a problem. Heavy traffic and the waterfront are a very poor mix!

    Reducing car parking on the waterfront makes it a much more pleasant place to be, too. Car parks are not the sort of open spaces that anyone really wants to experience.

  12. Morris Oxford, 17. January 2020, 16:18

    Dubert, any decent modern-thinking car-driver should have at least three passengers. Do they have to look straight ahead? Can’t they enjoy a view of the harbour?

  13. Ian Smith, 18. January 2020, 12:54

    Some cars are 5 seaters and so that’s even more people looking at the view on an annual basis