Wellington Scoop

Ten years planning to block harbour views (2)


Plans which led to the canyon that’s been created on Waterloo Quay were begun more than ten years ago, when the Wellington City Council started an attempt to restrict public consultation for new buildings on the Kumutoto site. The vote was the first step in a process that would result in the enormous new building that has replaced the panoramic views.

by Lindsay Shelton – December 5, 2008
Less than a week after releasing 79 pages of documents about proposed variations to the District Plan, the Wellington City Council has approved the changes. The council’s intention is clear. It wants to reduce the public’s right to challenge new buildings being planned for publicly-owned land on the city’s waterfront.

The proposals were debated and approved at a meeting on December 4, with opposition from only three councillors: Iona Pannett, Bryan Pepperell, Helene Ritchie.

The decision to curb public involvement seems to have been given impetus by the council’s defeat this year 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.

This was the second time that a council-approved plan had been defeated in the Environment Court. In 2001, the Ambulance Building was to be shifted on to the water’s edge at Taranaki Wharf so that it could be replaced by a newer, bigger building. As a result of an appeal to the Environment Court, this plan was cancelled.

And now there’s to be a third appeal in the Environment Court – arising from public opposition to council-approved plans for substantial redevelopment of the Overseas Passenger Terminal. Such a process would be stopped by the proposed variations to the District Plan. The council doesn’t want the public to see specific building plans or to challenge them. Approvals would be made behind closed doors.

The immediate effect would be to allow council officers to approve three new buildings in the northern Kumutoto area of the waterfront, without notifying the public of the individual plans and thereby removing any right to object.

These new powers would stop the possibility of appeals to the Environment Court against any specific buildings, such as the appeal which stopped the Hilton.

The changes – by which the council would authorize itself to give the go-ahead to new buildings without public notification – have been named Variation 11. The detail is spread across four documents: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. Part 4

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 the three new buildings in the Kumutoto area.

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

Site A, the biggest site, will allow a building which is six-storeys high, replacing open space with a new urban canyon opposite the Post Office Building and radically shrinking the harbour views for tourists staying in the most expensive rooms in the new Holiday Inn.

The current vistas at 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. Public input will be allowed “at the initial plan variation stage.” But when specific building plans are developed, the public will not be told about them.

After the initial planning period, in the council’s words, “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, the long-held ability to challenge specific new buildings on the waterfront will have been ended.

A design guide for the Kumutoto area is proposed, with public input permitted. But the design guide will give developers “an infinite range of design solutions” for new buildings. And the public won’t be allowed to know about them.

The council doesn’t deny that there has been strong concern in the past about new buildings on the waterfront. Attachment 1 of its proposal bravely acknowledges two major examples (in 1989 and 1998) of public opposition which was so strong that planning regimes were replaced. But it now appears to have invented a strategy which would ensure that any future opposition wouldn’t be given a chance, because new building plans could be approved without any public knowledge or input.

What happens next?

Now that a majority of councillors have approved the new plans, there will be a two-month period of public consultation starting in February.

If the consultation process fails to achieve any change, then specific plans for the three new buildings at Kumutoto can be approved without public scrutiny. The initial generalized planning process will have been the only chance for the public to be heard.

What’s in store for the rest of the waterfront?

It seems to be inevitable that the council will want to extend its public-excluded policy to Waitangi Park, where most people have forgotten that the council has kept four sites which it specifies are for big new buildings.

UPDATE: in 2012, Waterfront Watch won an Environment Court case against the proposals to stop public notification of development in the North Kumutoto area, and which would have allowed three buildings up to at least 6 storeys. The court allowed only two instead of three buildings, and specified lower heights.


  1. Henry Filth, 16. January 2020, 23:28

    What is it with the Wellington City Council? Do they have a phobic fear of water? In a city screamingly desperate for open space, the addiction to glass curtain-walling and industrial polished concrete enlivened by flashes of distressed Baltic pine . . . oh I don’t know. . . these people need help. . . is there a psychiatrist in the house?

  2. Guntao Stem, 17. January 2020, 8:42

    In recent history, poorly built buildings on or near the waterfront that fail to cope with earthquakes, get demolished and become car parks.

  3. michael, 17. January 2020, 11:37

    It’s all about money and no long term vision for creating a beautiful city. Cram in as many buildings as possible to get more rates, so more money to waste on vanity projects. Too bad about the public, the loss of green space and waterfront views etc, as long as the developers and the council are happy.

  4. Concerned Wellingtonian, 20. January 2020, 17:42

    Remember that the previous mayor had been prominent on the Property Council.

  5. CC, 20. January 2020, 23:04

    Kerry Prendergast, whose partner was a developer, had no qualms about getting her way with Variation 11. She was followed by “Green” Mayor Wade-Brown who employed a neo-liberal from the UK as CEO. Behind the scenes but calling the shots was Wellington Waterfront Ltd. That outfit was supposed to develop the waterfront for the benefit of the city but had to be bailed out by the ratepayers; it was responsible for converting open space into view blocking buildings. That entity should have been sacked but instead, it re-emerged under the broken wing of the Council in different guises, arranging deals that have effectively privatized swathes of the waterfront. One of its least sniff test failures was the ‘jump in the sewer’ structure near Te Papa. The National Museum is now one of the few parts of the waterfront that doesn’t have the tentacles of a particular developer written all over it.

  6. Trish, 22. January 2020, 12:24

    The final chapter will be the matching building on the other side of the waterfront gates at Whitmore St. Construction is likely to start soon closing off the last substantial view of the harbour. It’s likely to get a negative public reaction, but it’s already too late to stop. Let’s hope that Mayor Andy delays the rebuild of Frank Kitts Park long enough for that plan to be forgotten.

  7. Ron Oliver, 22. January 2020, 14:34

    Corporations like Willis Bond are very concerned about Wellington City’s development aren’t they? Surely they and corporations like them do not wish to hog prime sights on our waterfront at our expense? Or are people like me are just being a bit naive?