Wellington Scoop

Thinking differently, at no cost


by Helene Ritchie
As we deal with level 3, I urge the Wellington City Council to open up its collective and individual mind(s), to think laterally and differently and be nimble.

Wellington has wonderful but under-utilised assets. Today there is a cost-free opportunity to enhance our environment for the benefit of all, by fully and appropriately using the Canal Reserve and the Basin Reserve. I want the Council to open up these assets, at no extra cost, for the benefit of all citizens.

In 2016, city-wide consultation resulted in legislation to protect the Town Belt in perpetuity. As Chair of this action to protect the Town Belt for all, I was able to ensure that the Canal Reserve which runs along the middle of Kent and Cambridge Terrace was included in the Town Belt in law. It cannot become a road.

Today, the Canal Reserve is a footpath which few people walk on, simply because there are already footpaths on either side of Cambridge and Kent Terrace. The Canal Reserve could become two dedicated safe, separated (each one way) cycleways at no extra cost initially, if the Council is prepared to act nimbly and put some signs up indicating that this is a cycleway.

Stage two, a more costly project, would eventually see the canal stream opened up. Voila – tree lined, safe, dedicated cycleways, alongside a quiet canal- the Copenhagen of the Southern Hemisphere!

The Canal cycleway would then link up and into the Basin Reserve path, at no further cost. Just now, only half of the wide tarsealed area around the Basin Reserve has been reopened; the other half needs to be reopened too. We could have new cycleways there tomorrow, at no extra cost, if the Council were nimble, and recognised the opportunity. This is not a million dollar “shovel ready” project to be funded by the government or the ratepayers, it is a “ready” project, just waiting for a nimble Council to act.

I have a further idea which would use the green open space of the Basin Reserve itself, and which could have an income return to the ratepayers, but would take a little longer to organise (say a “nimble” three weeks). Let’s open up the Basin Reserve in the weekends, for starters, to any of the city’s small cafés and restaurants (without alcohol), to set up their businesses. Seating would have to observe the proper physical distancing, two metres apart. A small fee at the gate could be charged to offset costs (just like those charged for the occasional cricket matches). Numbers might need to be limited.

A small project team/subcommittee, made up of Councillors Diane Calvert, economic development portfolio, Tamatha Paul, Nicola Young Lambton Ward Councillors, and deputy mayor Sarah Free, cycling portfolio, could be nimble and go for it!

What do you reckon Mr Mayor – can you and the Council expedite the Basin Reserve-Canal cycleway, at no cost, for the benefit of “Post Covid Wellington.”

Can you and the Council support the Basin Reserve to welcome open-air restaurants and cafes, during levels 3 and 2, to help our small businesses and for the enjoyment of all?

Can you and the Council come up with a plan for opening up the canal stream alongside the Canal cycleway?

What do you reckon?

Helene Ritchie, a former deputy mayor of Wellington, held the Natural Environment portfolio and chaired the Town Belt protection project from 2010-2016 culminating in the Wellington Town Belt Act 2016.


  1. Andrew, 2. May 2020, 12:10

    I just walked around the point from Oriental Bay to Balleana Bay. With the current construction – and actually previously to that, so not really the fault of those activities – the footpaths are narrow in places, so narrow that physical distancing means walking in the road. Many people are walking and jogging along there but even with the government saying that they will pay for temporary footpath widening measures our dithering council have done absolutely nothing. They have proven themselves to be anything but nimble in all cases large and small. We cannot expect them to make the necessary changes and adjustments to cope with the current situation – not even to put out a few cones – let alone deal with anything so complex as to open an area for commerce or set up a bike lane. The time has come to lower expectations and wait either for being saved by having commissioners appointed or the next election.

  2. Eternal optimist, 2. May 2020, 12:35

    Great ideas Helene. It won’t happen though as there’s no money in it for the council’s pet consultants/designers/developers. What we need to get this over the line is a $200 million gold plated boulevard, it will need a Maori name though, not the ‘canal reserve.’ So that will take more consultation and if we’re lucky the ribbon will be cut in 2030.

  3. Mike Mellor, 2. May 2020, 14:34

    Good ideas in principle, Helene – but the last thing we need at the moment is to reduce the amount of pedestrian space in the city. At the Canal Reserve there are ten traffic lanes, by far the widest street in the city. Repurposing just two of those lanes for bikes makes much more sense than taking space from people who walk.

    But yes, let’s open up the stream, and close the slip lane in front of the Basin entrance while we’re about.

  4. Codger, 2. May 2020, 15:19

    Helene and her ideas are sorely missed on the Council. I think that the excellence of her approach to this has been slightly misinterpreted by some commentators.

  5. Helene Ritchie, 2. May 2020, 15:54

    Mike – the first principle is to try to keep people safe in the city. Here is one of the few oppotunities to separate cyclists from pedestrians without compromising any party (there is ample footpath availability on Kent and Cambridge Terrace) and at no extra cost.
    The second principle is to utilize existing assets where possible, at no or little extra cost. In this case the Basin and Canal Reserves. The Basin Reserve is a wasted opportunity just waiting to happen!
    The third principle is to encourage the Council to be “post covid nimble” and to think laterally. Your proposal re taking out carparks, car-lanes etc will never happen in the near future and is at great cost with further procrastination and nothing happening.
    The fourth principle is to enhance the environment where possible, with plantings and daylighting of streams and here the Canal.
    All these principles should be taken together – as one.
    Thanks for your contribution.

  6. P Barlow, 2. May 2020, 19:21

    There is a need to have temporary cycleways installed within the week to meet the needs of the social distancing under COVID-19 as the public transport on buses will be unable to cope.
    Install temporary cycleways on Kent Terrace, Adelaide Road and Thorndon Quay connected to existing cycle lanes. Build the cycleways and they will come providing safe healthy facilities that pollution free for a new city with people as the focus.

  7. Ellen, 2. May 2020, 23:36

    The Canal Reserve is indeed an underused bit of Wellington’s park network, largely because it is hard to get to across many lanes of traffic. Removing all the turn-around lanes and including pedestrian crossings along the reserve at Pirie St and Elizabeth St, would make this valuable green space much more popular with walkers. Covid19 has shown we need more green space to use in the inner city. Take car parking and car lanes for a cycleway – leave the reserve for recreation and people who live in this area.

  8. Kerry, 3. May 2020, 7:48

    An open river will be harder than it sounds. There are three stormwater culverts, none of them in the central reservation

  9. Leviathan, 3. May 2020, 13:43

    Interesting idea Helene Ritchie, but honestly: totally unnecessary. We already have existing shops and buildings and kitchens and approved hygienic cooking facilities. We just need to use them.

    Napier did exactly this after the 1931 earthquake because ALL their buildings were destroyed and unusable. This was Tin Town, in place in the centre of Clyde Square for 2 years while the city was rebuilt from scratch. This is not the case here and now. Setting up new shops and creating new facilities and hygienic cooking facilities and installing electricity and drainage will be an expensive nightmare.

    What is more relevant is to simply close off some of the street space and allow people to sit out on the street. Upper Cuba Street (say, between Karo Drive and Ghuznee St) would work perfectly well. Courtenay Place would work well as it is, and if they want more, there are parking bays that can be simply shut off and devoted to the pedestrian/restaurant diners. All at Zero cost, and doable in an afternoon, with just some road cones.


  10. Helene Ritchie, 3. May 2020, 14:38

    Interesting Leviathan and perhaps both could be considered? The vacant Green open space of the Basin Reserve appeals and no not for permanent shops and cafes, just some weekends … more along the lines of the Lower Cuba St Market but spread out, or the occasional food/coffee on the waterfront or the food outlets on Chaffers. Anyway it’s up to the Council to be nimble, not me!

    Ellen I am usually with you but not this time, because taking out carparks and car lanes will never happen in our lifetime (see Eternal Optimist above). We could have a safe separated cycleway tomorrow and still have ample safe Kent and Cambridge footpaths.

  11. Sean Rush, Eastern Ward City Councillor, 3. May 2020, 14:44

    Thanks Helene. And some good ideas above ‘Team Welly” – keep them coming.

    I like the idea of opening up the urban streams, and I have had enthusiastic discussion with some other Councillors about this, but it has challenges – residue from the roads, car brakes & tyres, storm-water over flow and iron roofing injects toxic heavy metals and other ‘nasties’ from cross connections into open streams so we need to ensure that if we open the stream it does not become contaminated. The Council agreed last Thursday to commence a review programme where the built network might be supported by utlising natural mechanisms, like wet lands, to eliminate these toxins from the ecosystem. We also agreed to fund roving crews to hunt down and minimise cross-connections. The success of both of these initiatives will give us the real prospect of opening up the old streams and keeping them clean.

    However, I am not sure that the cycle routes along Kent and Cambridge are a problem (although happy to hear otherwise). Bus lanes operate in both directions and cyclists should be able to use the bus lanes – if they are ‘buses only’ then this restriction should indeed be changed. I suspect the Canal Reserve footpath would be problematic for commuter cyclists because the gaps for turning traffic present a safety risk and the need to slow down to go up and down the kerbs would be a barrier to their uptake. Queuing at the lights might also result in crowding. Commuter cyclists would continue to use the bus lanes.

    On social distancing, there is a lot of talk about footpaths but I don’t think there is any practical way in which all office workers can return to work and maintain Level 2 social distancing. Elevators, stairwells, buses, trains, open plan offices – all of these have challenges to maintain 1 metre spacing and keep multi-user surfaces clean. We can do our best but there are practical limitations and these play out on our footpaths as well.

    The practical reality that we face, particularly as the winter weather sets in and public transport remains problematic under L2, is that people will drive to work and rely on their employer complying with its obligations under the Health & Safety at Work Act – so some might be able to have workers back at L2, others may not, still others may let workers chose to work from home – we need good data on how many people we can expect back in the CBD on L2 and how they plan to travel. How we balance the prospect of more cars with increasing walking room along The Terrace and Lambton Quay etc is the trick – do we remove the time-limited parking? Maybe – what’s the effect on retail? This week we will receive an ‘Innovating Streets’ paper on road changes so it’s timely that Helene raises these issues.

    Agree that the WCC needs to be agile as this crisis evolves – we need to recognise that we aren’t out of the woods, that there are tough times ahead and that our priority has to be on those families facing hardship. So keep your ideas coming. All the best.

  12. Helene Ritchie, 3. May 2020, 16:05

    Well said and thought through Sean. Just a couple of comments: yes the gaps for turning traffic would have cyclists stop or go slowly but that’s what CBD cycling is…genteel! Close those gaps! (They are closed sometimes to stop boyracers!)
    Great re streams…there is a Council policy re daylighting Wellington streams ( or was!) . Ask Myfanway. Have a look at the treatment that Waitangi Park stream has received with planting to take out the pollutants.
    Great to see your lateral thinking and prospective agile action…yes life will be different…Just do it!

  13. Mike Mellor, 4. May 2020, 12:53

    Helene: “taking out carparks and car lanes will never happen in our lifetime” – whyever not? It’s happening all over the world, and has already happened under level 3 in both Nelson and Auckland, so what makes Wellington an outlier?

    Sean: good rational comments, and I’m sure many people are eagerly awaiting the WCC Innovating Streets paper, which I believe will be a late item on the agenda for this Thursday’s Council meeting.

  14. Conor, 4. May 2020, 12:53

    Sean – mixing buses and bikes is a deeply unsafe approach for obvious reasons. The two lanes of car parks in the middle are a total waste of space. I’d also like to point out that central government actively wants to spend $100million on immediate walking and cycling initiatives. I hope all councillors are working together to access valuable money for our city.

  15. Sam Donald, 5. May 2020, 0:05

    Some good ideas and discussion here Helene. Of your three main suggestions, daylighting a stream seems the best one however this needs to be done properly, not rushed as a ‘Level 2’ requirement. Re. cycling down the centre island, I would much prefer to see parking and road space reduced instead, with pop-up protected cycle lanes adjacent the East and West footpaths with the central island retained and improved for pedestrians, with several of the vehicle turning areas closed off so that walkers and short term parkers can safely move North & South (which they can’t do at present). Retaining some parking here should allow for parking to be removed from the likes of Vivian St so that it too could have a pop-up protected cycle lane (on the North side). Re. using the Basin Reserve – I suspect that large crowd events sufficient to support the setup costs of hospitality businesses are some time off yet and I prefer the idea of the temporary closure of parts of Cuba St (and/or other non-bus-transport-spines) where restauranteurs could service well spaced tables from their existing kitchens during Levels 2 and 1 (when the weather comes to the party that is).

  16. Keith Flinders, 5. May 2020, 10:56

    Why stop at opening up the encased stream, let’s put it back to the canal it once was, and have gondolas paddling up and down it. “Wellington the Venice of the South Pacific.” All these things have a cost and it is due to the spending on nice to haves, over the past 30 years, that Wellington now finds itself needing to spend billions on infrastructure maintenance catchup and replacement.

    Thankyou Sean for pointing out the practicalities, the only WCC councillor ever likely to do so.

  17. Guy M, 6. May 2020, 19:27

    Daylighting, daylighting … it’s such a lovely concept to talk about but so tricky to do. OK – here’s the thing. The Canal Reserve going down to the Basin used to be a thing 162 years ago. A massive earthquake in 1858 raised the ground level up 2-3m above what it was, and hence we could no longer sail down the centre of Cambridge/Kent Tces to the Basin. So now, 150 years later, there is still water there, trickling along, and even complete with several species of fish living underground there, but it is all at least 2-3m down from street level. And the centre of the reserve is also full of some of Wellington’s nicest and biggest pohutukawa trees.

    The design team ran into this problem when they were creating Waitangi Park a couple of decades ago. They too wanted to have the water of the Waitangi stream visible at ground level in the park – but from what I understand, the water is honestly just too far down. I think they had to pump it up from down below, to bring it to the surface. In the Canal Reserve to daylight it you would need to build some 3m deep walls to expose the water, and then some pen pusher would make you stick a metre high balustrade on top of it. Or, alternatively, you would need to excavate out a wide area and bench it in a series of levels stepping down to the water’s edge. Which could take out a couple of lanes of traffic overall.

    You gotta remember that the east end of Courtenay Place was a swamp only 170 years ago, and geologically that was only a blink of an eye ago.

    There’s probably more scope for daylighting the Te Aro stream that goes under the Bristol Hotel. It’s closer to the surface. Generally, the pubs were built next to good water sources like fresh water streams, so they could brew their beer. Follow the line of old pubs and you’ll find the water flows below.

  18. Victor Davie, 9. May 2020, 15:00

    Helene’s ideas for the Basin Reserve and Kent/Cambridge Terraces are well intended and thought provoking. However, I believe the retention of the Basin Reserve as green open space for the enjoyment of all Wellingtonians must not be compromised. And Wellington’s weather would soon fill any proposed waterways for Kent and Cambridge Terraces with litter. Food outlets suggested for the Basin would place even more pressure on the cafe/takeaway businesses in the Courtenay Place and Cuba St areas. A walk-by survey on 6 May revealed at least 75 independent outlets, with many obviously struggling to make a living during the Covid-19 crisis. I hope they will survive. And we already have the popular weekly Sunday fruit, vegetable and food markets on the waterfront opposite Te Papa.