Wellington Scoop

An alternative for Shelly Bay

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by Russell Tregonning
Shelly Bay is a priceless Wellington asset, but its future continues to be mired in controversy. The public are confused, and so are councillors at the Wellington City Council.

Councillors who voted for the sale of the public land stressed that the development would benefit the iwi. But how could that be? The Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust (PNBST) had already sold its land. Is there a secret deal? Were the councillors misinformed – or, worse, dissembling? And if so, for what purpose? A significant part of the iwi, Mau Whenua, are steadfastly opposed — they now occupy the WCC land. Could Shelly Bay become Wellington’s Ihumātao?

The 11th of November 2020 was Armistice Day. But the fighting over Shelly Bay didn’t stop. The WCC meeting that day started badly. Councillor Jenny Condie stood up, announced a personal spat with Mayor Andy Foster, who then took lengthy advice on how to handle the issue. Several protesters were ejected from the meeting.

shelly bay vote wideshot

At the late-night vote, the WCC voted by 9:6 to sell and lease Council-owned land to private developer Ian Cassels of the Wellington Company (TWC). This will enable a huge private building development at the Bay. Three councillors — Diane Calvert, Jenny Condie and Teri O’Neil — changed their pre-election pledges to oppose it. Had they honoured their publicly-signalled intention, the ‘No’ vote would have triumphed.

How legal were the economic and valuation shenanigans? Why did the city council help Shelly Bay to end up in the hands of a developer who intends to alter Shelly Bay beyond recognition. It could be made into an exciting and spectacular place.

PNBST is the legal entity for the local Wellington iwi, confusingly called Taranaki Whānui. ‘Taranaki’ because a number of Taranaki iwi’s ancestors migrated to Wellington in the 1820s and 30s. In the 1840s the New Zealand Company fleeced this iwi of their land around Wellington including Shelly Bay. In 2009, after closure of the military base there, PNBST bought four parcels of land from the government for $15million. Its board then sold three of those parcels – the lion’s share of its land — to Ian Cassels’ development company for a paltry $2million. The Trust’s deed required sales like this to be approved by 75 per cent of the voting members. Despite PNBST electoral roll irregularities, the iwi members twice voted against the sale and wrote to Cassels to stop negotiations. The WCC staff knew of the ‘no sale’ vote but helped TWC to get a Special Housing Area deal which cut out public input. The PNBST board then defied their membership and sold the land anyway. In 2018, PNBST sold the vital fourth parcel of public land at Shelly Bay for $10million. All the land except a coastal strip owned by the WCC was now owned by TWC — the iwi owned none.

Mau Whenua — meaning land-holders rather than land-sellers — see PNBST as a small captured group, and they contest the Trust’s right to act on their behalf. Mau Whenua prefer joint ventures where they can retain the land. Recently, the funder for their High Court case pulled out, leaving them unable to pay the $2.2m required to make their High Court challenge, which was due next month. Another funder is rumoured to have fronted up and Mau Whenua are approaching the Māori Land Court. Another legal challenge to come is from Enterprise Miramar who are contesting the Resource Consent in the Court of Appeal.

Many Wellingtonians support Mau Whenua’s occupation — they see huge problems, including building at the water’s edge threatened with sea-level rise, and difficulties with the winding, narrow access road.

What could be the exciting alternative to a large build-up at Shelly Bay?

Far-sighted Wellingtonians want the whole of the adjacent Watt’s Peninsula to become an historic reserve. Even the WCC supports that idea, but its support of a car-dependent luxury housing development denies any Reserve an entry at Shelly Bay.

Vancouver’s Stanley urban park is on a peninsula very like our own Miramar Peninsula. It celebrates its early indigenous settlements. In 2014, this rainforest oasis was named the top park in the world by TripAdvisor. A similar park with an enhanced entrance at Shelly Bay, planted in our own magnificent native forest, could be its equal. Later, when sea level rise is upon us, the portal could be via the abandoned Mt Crawford prison land above. Joint ventures with the local iwi could give profit to them and provide real meaning to the spirit of the Treaty settlements.

I think we should be supporting the iwi ending up with ownership of this land, providing a magnificent place of beauty and recreation for everyone, at the same time as a “place to stand” for iwi in Wellington. Who will take up this transformative vision and run with it?


  1. Pauline, 27. January 2021, 10:48

    Thank you Russell. I was at the council meeting which was such a shock …. and when like many I questioned sea level rising I was told they would put the apartments up on stilts and as I said their cars would wash away!

  2. yimby, 27. January 2021, 11:18

    Wellington doesn’t need more parks. We have plenty of parks. We need housing.

  3. Claire, 27. January 2021, 11:23

    Anything is better than jamming housing onto an unsuitable site. All in the name of more housing at all costs. Certainly a park is a great use for the land.

  4. michael, 27. January 2021, 14:11

    As far as I am concerned WCC went well beyond its remit in actively supporting Cassells to gain resource consent without transparent and proper public consultation. The big question remains as to why our elected representatives did not vigorously and openly question many of the dubious actions taken by the council throughout this saga, or seriously listen to iwi concerns. Is it merely incompetence, lack of accurate advice, or simply an effort to justify WCC actions?

  5. Toni, 27. January 2021, 16:25

    For far too long our elected representatives have allowed the relationship between council officers and developers to take precedence over the right for Wellingtonians to be consulted in a transparent and open manner, and Shelly Bay is a prime example. This has cost the council and ratepayers far more than any benefit from it will be worth. It has resulted in intensifying public distrust and disrespect for both councillors and council officers.

  6. Tim Jones, 27. January 2021, 16:39

    Thank you for writing this article, Russell! Ian Cassells is a well-connected operator who knows how to work the system to get what he wants – such as private profit at iwi and public expense – and has cleverly hitched his wagon to the current housing crisis. But that doesn’t make what he’s trying to do right.

  7. Ron Beernink, 27. January 2021, 17:46

    There is clearly a significant issue for Mau Whenua that needs to be addressed. But in addition we need to look at the future.
    – Building housing along the coast is no longer viable. We need to build up within our city centres, not out into suburbs or outlying coastal or rural areas that do not have the infrastructure.
    – Increased transport demand on Shelly Bay road and the Miramar peninsula is no longer sustainable.
    – What we want to leave for future generations is open and safe access to the coastline around our harbour.

    This Shelly Bay development ticks all the wrong boxes and for the benefit of only a few.

  8. Michael Barnett, 27. January 2021, 20:55

    The current occupation of Shelly Bay and the counter claims of the Mau Whenua Collective expose issues that should be of concern to Wellingtonians. Two understated aspects of the proposed up-market housing development are the impact of climate change, specifically sea level rise, and the issue of road access.

    A review of the Resource Management Act carried out by a panel led by Tony Randerson QC gives a significant focus on managing the effects of climate change. In considering the impact of sea level rise, the panel acknowledged the complexities of protecting threatened coastal areas and the process of managed retreat, which it considered requires new and discrete legislation. Currently, Territorial Authorities are only required to identify areas in their communities likely to be affected by sea level rise. Sea level rise is an undisputed fact and to its credit the Wellington City Council is doing much work to address climate issues along Wellington’s south coast. Sadly, there are no strong messages being applied to the inner harbour and the impact sea level rise may have on shoreline development. Protecting existing development will be fraught with problems, supporting new development in threatened areas would seem to be outright folly. In voting to support the proposed development at Shelly Bay, the council is remiss in allowing it to proceed.

    The issue of road access to support the proposed development is another thorny issue. Currently, Shelly Bay can only be reached by a narrow windy road, insufficient to support the proposed housing development. WCC know this and have acknowledged that it will cost many millions to widen the road to which it has accepted a capped contribution from the developer of $10 million. To minimise costs, WCC has made a decision to accept a bare minimum road width, accepting that in the longer term this will not be adequate leaving the Council and its ratepayers to pay for any future road widening.  If road widening were to proceed it will completely change the dynamic of a route, which is a popular and well supported asset for cyclists and other recreational users. It will add to an already congested area at the north end of the airport and along Cobham Drive, and goes counter to proposals of Let’s Get Wellington Moving, with its focus on mass rapid transit, walking and cycling.

  9. One of the TW Hapu, 27. January 2021, 22:52

    All who enjoy NZ do so based on a founding document between 2 parties. Actions in breach of this agreement resulted in this group of tribes (Te Atiawa etc. here called “Taranaki Whanui”) losing 680K acres (all) of their land. After 21 years of proof and $5M expense for us, in 2009 NZ’s court ruled that among other injustices all our land was taken unlawfully, made a formal apology and asked us to consider a settlement for all in NZ to go forward in peace. So as not to bankrupt NZ by accepting proper redress now, we were asked to accept token redress now and further redress over decades as NZ became able to afford to pay. ONLY due to the presence of SOME land in the form of Shelly Bay did we who felt the offer was somewhat paltry finally decide to accept. What happened next is well documented and is now the responsibility of all New Zealanders, who wish to live in NZ honourably under the terms of the country’s founding document, to LEARN and PUT RIGHT. The previous issue was with our tupuna (ancestors). This new issue is direct with the living on both sides of the treaty partnership, so cannot be ignored by any of us.

  10. Toni, 28. January 2021, 1:10

    One galling issue about this mess is it is doubtful there will be any investigation into how things went so terribly wrong to ensure it does not happen again. Unfortunately it becomes difficult to believe the city council would consider accepting that they should constantly be re-evaluating their decisions and processes; instead they appear to only focus on justifying themselves or blaming others.

  11. Alf the Aspirational Apterxy, 28. January 2021, 15:14

    The dispute over land at Shelly Bay appears to be between two factions among the former owners, one of whom strongly disagrees with the land’s sale to a new owner. Perhaps the parties with a direct interest in the issue can meet and talk it through?

  12. Alana, 28. January 2021, 15:30

    Residents of Wellington are too often cut out of the consulting process and when it does occur public preferences are too often ignored by Councillors. The role of. Council staff should be examined since they appear to be acting in the interests of developers and against the preferences of Wellington and its residents. In this instance the development will create increased traffic around what should be a protected area. And Council, again, ignores climate change for a short sighted project to house the wealthy and not the many needing affordable housing in Wellington.

  13. Judith Palmer, 28. January 2021, 15:48

    Thank you for this very clear explanation of the Shelly Bay story and the opportunity for readers to add their numerous useful comments. Very much appreciated.

  14. One of the TW Hapu, 28. January 2021, 22:21

    To be clear – the “faction” placed in control of the corrupted vehicle the Crown required us to receive the land (PNBST) made a “paper sale” under Crown Law to the developer, ostensibly for an amount of money way below market value. This was done with years of prior warnings to WCC and the developer that the land would never be for sale (only this .0002% of our stolen land was ever returned so it is precious beyond money to us). This tale, which should be fully investigated, is why the owners have run out of options and had to occupy their land to protect it as is required of us as kaitiaki.

  15. K, 29. January 2021, 11:37

    Sounds like Mau Whenua got screwed over. But Wellington needs more housing and as long as it’s future proofed against sea level rise and has appropriate infrastructure at the cost to the developer – then build the housing.

  16. Mutt, 29. January 2021, 13:58

    K – this isn’t the sort of housing Wellington needs. Building them on stilts is hardly future proofing for climate change. What are they going to do? Provide everyone with a gondola and create the Venice of the South Pacific?

  17. HR, 29. January 2021, 15:27

    But K this development doesn’t have either of those things. It goes against all commonsense and the fact the councillors did not speak out against it makes me wonder who they are representing. Or do they just not understand the issues? My trust in the Council is low. I voted for Teri O’Neil based on her promise to vote no on this issue and feel betrayed. I will not forget.

  18. Mike Mellor, 29. January 2021, 22:20

    Russell is correct that the model should be more like Stanley Park than Sausalito (with which the development won’t have much in common, anyway) – Shelly Bay is not a good place for housing, for the many stated reasons. The northern end of Te Motu Kairangi is an excellent place for recreation – but the question is, how do we get there? A park has been talked about for years (including, I think, by the Mayor), but with little to show for it. Let’s at least make some progress on that front.

  19. Benoit Pette, 30. January 2021, 10:35

    So PBNST sold the land against the will of the iwi, and WCC sold its land against the will of Wellingtonians. We should remember the latter was made possible by the swing around by councillors who voted in contradiction to what they said as candidates. The only hope left sits in court, which could turn around the resource consent. But even if it is successful, it’ll still have a bitter taste as all democratic systems failed and favoured the developer.
    Let’s hope things are eventually put right, and we can all, as a community, come together around a beautiful alternative for Shelly Bay and for Wellington. Let it be a park, or mixed with some gentle-density housing.

  20. D'Esterre, 2. February 2021, 15:53

    Benoit Pette: “So PBNST sold the land against the will of the iwi, and WCC sold its land against the will of Wellingtonians.” Indeed. Which, unfortunately, doesn’t make those sales illegal. I note that Ian Cassels has challenged Nicky Hager’s account.
    At the time of the PNBST sale, I read that the Trust’s conditions allowed it to sell the land in smaller parcels, without requiring a vote in favour by a majority of members. So that is what it had done. As to Councillors voting in contradiction to how they campaigned: we’ve seen it all before.

    Those occupying the land do not own it; they are trespassing on privately-owned land. Note that, were there to be a court ruling that land must be returned to the previous owners, all that land formerly owned by WCC must be returned to it. That land was owned by the ratepayers.

    “The only hope left sits in court, which could turn around the resource consent.” The family member who’s worked in local authorities believes that’s a long shot, though not impossible. In any event, that wouldn’t change the ownership of the land.

    “Let it be a park…” Certainly my preference. Though I’m also partial to the Chocolate Fish café, and would like it to remain, whatever else happens there. However, as things stand, I think that we may be stuck with the status quo.