by Lindsay Shelton
Unnecessary expenditure of $500,000 is being recommended to a meeting of the Wellington City Council today. This would be the cost if the council decides to review the ten-year-old Framework which governs the development of the waterfront. The expenditure is not necessary.
A recommendation to review the council-owned waterfront company was signalled two weeks ago and it’s likely to be approved today. The work “will be funded from existing resources.” No argument with that, specially as the expected result is that the council will save money by closing the company.
But the cost of reviewing the 52-page Framework, involving lengthy public consultation (which was done meticulously ten years ago), isn’t in anyone’s budget. The idea is misconceived at a time when council finances are stretched. It isn’t necessary. It should be rejected.
One of the reasons that’s given is that the Framework is causing problems for developers: specifically the requirement that “ground floors of buildings will be predominantly accessible to the public.” This is not an unreasonable rule, given that all waterfront buildings are on public land. The consequences of breaching the rule are evident on Queens Wharf, where the ground floor of the enormous building originally known as the Retail Centre has been inaccessible to the public for years. Designed as a shopping centre and food hall, it never attracted enough customers. The council let the owners convert it into offices.
The developers of the Herd Street Building are having similar problems renting their ground floor space – the big atrium was briefly a deli, but not enough shoppers arrived, and the space is now empty except on Sundays when it’s a market. The owners of the heritage Odlins Building have also had problems finding a commercial tenant for their ground floor.
But a half-million-dollar review isn’t needed to solve such problems. Nor should the council allow the spaces to be turned into workplaces. The success of publically-accessible tenancies in the ground floors of heritage buildings – the National Portrait Gallery, Mojo, the Museum of Wellington are three examples – should encourage a more constructive search for activities which can enliven the waterfront, with a shortlist that does not include offices. Or shopping.
As well as saying no to a review of the Framework, councilors should be rejecting the recommendation that Variation 11 should be “parked.” The unpopularity of this planning document was clearly shown by the fact that all 48 public submissions opposed it. The Variation should be withdrawn.
It’s also clear that the new council must say no, firmly, to the old regime’s plans for new buildings on Waitangi Park. The new mayor is on record as opposing them. And the buildings are not required by the Framework, which specifies that there was no agreement on whether or not they would add to the quality of the park.
Now that the park has been successfully completed, everyone can see that new buildings would be detrimental to the openness that has been created. As well as saying no to a review of the Framework, councilors should also be saying no to any new buildings on the park.
Lindsay Shelton was a member of the council-appointed Leadership Group which held 23 meetings over seven months, starting in September 2000, to develop the Framework.