Wellington Scoop

A vision from the past

centreport building plans

by Lindsay Shelton
CentrePort’s new “vision” for its land on the edge of Wellington harbour is an unhappy reminder of the city council’s vision back in the 1990s. Each vision enthuses about an overload of unnecessary new buildings on public land. And the council’s vision was defeated by unprecedented opposition from the public.

CentrePort, apparently aiming to expand its activities into property development, is planning to build nine new buildings on the water’s edge. The city council’s 1990s plan – till it was defeated – was for twenty new buildings.

Two of the nine new Centreport buildings are described as “low rise.” There’s no indication of the height of the other seven. And one of them has an enormous footprint. Two areas are shown as open space, but these are minimal compared with all the new buildings that are being proposed.

Opposition to the council’s plans at the end of the 1990s was focussed on the belief that waterfront land was too precious to be sold for private development, and that it should be kept as open space for the use of everyone. Campaigners (I was one of them) stressed the importance of the unique panoramic views from the city to the harbour and from the harbour to the city, which would be blocked by new buildings.

If the city council had got its way, Chaffers Park would have been cut off from the harbour by six new buildings. Frank Kitts Park would have been cut off from the city by a five-storey building. The views from Queens Wharf would have been blocked by new buildings on its outer edge. There would have been two 12-storey buildings on either side of the Taranaki Street gates. The Free Ambulance building would have been replaced by a new structure twice as high and twice as wide.

As the Evening Post wrote on October 29, 1999:

“The harbour is Wellington’s jewel and the last thing it needs is a hodge-podge of ill considered boxes plonked on the waterfront.”

And as City Voice wrote about the future of the waterfront in January 2000:

Ordinary Wellingtonians are hugely frustrated by the … continuing wastage of public funds on grandiose development schemes that are not wanted.

The council did, however, manage to achieve some of its aims. It made Waterloo Quay into a dark and bleak canyon by approving a big new building on the harbour side, with a second similar building under way. And the height of the Overseas Passenger Terminal was increased when it was rebuilt for apartments.

No one can disagree with Centreport’s plans to

regenerate the port and deliver a 21st century logistics asset which will deliver the best for our people, our customers, our community, and our environment.

And we’ll all no doubt be happy with

A revamped commercial port layout utilising new technology that will significantly increase cargo volumes, providing greater prosperity to the central New Zealand economy.

The aim of opening up more of the waterfront to the public will also be welcome. But not the idea of nine new buildings. And why are they needed? The Centrepoint vision has no explanation of the purpose of any of the new structures.

There is of course another issue about this part of the waterfront. The port company has already encouraged development, but one of its new buildings was demolished because of earthquake damage. The land will always be vulnerable to the next quake. But if they allow buildings there again, they’ll need to find different foundation solutions – raft foundations, extra deep bunched piles, and of course, mandatory base-isolation. All this may not, however, be enough to give comfort to potential occupants. The occupants of the new-demolished Statistics House were grateful that they weren’t at work when their building was damaged.

And finally a reminder of the official view of the waterfront, as stated in the Waterfront Framework that was adopted in 2001, after the council had abandoned its building plans:

Wellington’s bejewelled harbour is one of the city’s outstanding features. The harbour provides a stunning and beautiful setting for our city, with the hills behind, the suburbs, the buildings, and finally the waterfront at sea level – all of these provide a natural ampitheatre. The lure of the harbour is magical and timeless. Access to the water is about supporting a healthy Wellington for future generations, while understanding and acknowledging the past.


  1. Claire, 30. November 2020, 13:13

    If these were residential buildings and low rise with substantial foundations, it could work well. Including green space and protection of views.
    After all the mantra at present is housing housing housing.

  2. Henry Filth, 30. November 2020, 15:31

    G*d knows Wellington needs open space, free space, new space, any d*mn space. Put it into grass! And maybe with a block of Hunterwasser toilets.

  3. David Mackenzie, 1. December 2020, 9:02

    If they are so advanced in their planning, can’t they give a clearer idea of what these buildings are and how they fit in with Centre Port’s mission of sending and receiving goods by sea?

    I did not realise cargo shipment was likely to need such a proliferation of facilities in the foreseeable future.

  4. K, 1. December 2020, 11:47

    How does this tie in for the previous plans for a new indoor arena on port land? Has that idea been scrapped for good?

  5. Kerry, 2. December 2020, 9:13

    How does this tie in with requiring the ferries to berth on a site that will clearly need more space, right on top of Wellington’s most dangerous fault-line?
    Kaiwharawhara is already set up to sever all access to Wellington except walking. Where is the sense in ignoring an opportunity to move the ferries to a safer site with a much better chance of keeping them serviceable after a large quake?
    Of course, there has already been earthquake damage in the port area. Doing the job properly will be difficult enough at Kings Wharf, and impractical at Kaiwharawhara. How many lives are likely to be saved if evacuating Wellington residents can begin a few days after a big earthquake, instead of a few weeks, or months.

  6. michael, 2. December 2020, 9:32

    How does this tie in with keeping Wellington City the coolest little capital in the world when the entrance to the city and the harbour will not only end up being an eyesore, but the harbour will not be able to be used for recreational sailing etc.

  7. Leviathan, 2. December 2020, 16:35

    Lindsay – “one of its new buildings was demolished because of earthquake damage” – last time I checked there were 7 buildings demolished, and I think the total is even more than that. More to the point perhaps, there is really only one building that remains: the Customhouse.

    What would be good to know is: what exactly are the new buildings proposed to be, who are they proposed to be for, and how tall would they be proposed to be? Some of the buildings in the optimistic pic above are labelled “low rise new build” which leads me to think that the other buildings noted just as “new build” may in fact end up as “high rise new build”. So that is, as you say, potentially, 7 high-rise buildings on that site.

    The largest “new build” site there is also on / near the area that the Council had previously indicated that may one day be an Arena, and is also near the indicated preferred site for a new Ferry Terminal. I would venture to say that perhaps the appetite (and necessity) for new office buildings down there no longer exists, especially as so many office buildings now sit empty amongst us, with keyboard warriors staying at home.

    Much as it would be fun for some to be beside the seaside, being alongside the two new mega-ferries as they load and unload all through the night does not bode well for them to be apartments either. So …. probably not offices. Also probably not apartments. Not an arena? Light industrial, for port workers perhaps? Accommodation for essential workers? Stevedores? Music venues? Or is it really just a plan for a new Ferry terminal, despite being one that the InterIslander and the Regional Council cannot agree on a site for … so, maybe, would CentrePort like to tell the world what it thinks may be the eventual purpose of those building sites?