Wellington Scoop

Wellington’s wharewaka: how much did it cost, who paid for it, who owns it?

By John Warren, Co-Chair Te Tatau o Te Po Marae (Petone)
and Kura Moeahu, Chair, Te Arohanui ki Te Tangata Marae (Waiwhetu)

As Waitangi Day 2012 approaches, controversy continues to cloud Wellington waterfront’s Te Raukura Te Wharewaka o Poneke (wharewaka). Questions linger over how this building, whose original purpose was to house Wellington’s two magnificent ocean-going waka Te Raukura and Aniwaniwa, ended up becoming a conference centre, café and commercial kitchen with some Maori artistic style.

And then there are questions about how much this building cost, who paid for it and who owns it.

According to documents released under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act by the Wellington City Council, and the annual reports of the Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust (PNBST), the Wellington Tenths Trust and Palmerston North Reserve Trust, as at 31 March 2011 the wharewaka has received funding of $13.7m, as follows:

• $7m from the Crown, as a payment outside of the 2009 Port Nicholson Block settlement, but referred to in the settlement’s ratification process
• $1m from the Wellington City Council
• $1m loan from the PNBST
• $850k loan from the Wellington Tenths Trust
• $850k loan from the Palmerston North Reserve Trust
• $3m bank loan to the Wharewaka o Poneke Charitable Trust on 21 April 2011, for which the PNBST has acted as a guarantor and is therefore potentially exposed to financial liability.

Further, based on the unaudited financial statements of the Wharewaka o Poneke Charitable Trust for the year ended 31 March 2011, the cost of constructing the Wharewaka building was $11.6m.

The PNBST loan and guarantee are questionable use of Treaty settlement money, and are being investigated by our people. Especially as the PNBST posted an after tax loss of $3m for the year ended 31 March 2011 and its cash holdings have been significantly reduced ($6.9m as at 31 March 2011, with external bank debt of $5m).

However, the most contentious amount is the $7m aligned to the Port Nicholson Block settlement.

Te Puni Kokiri executives have said that this money was not settlement money. But the reality is the $7m came from Vote Maori – this is Maori money.

The Minister of Maori Affairs, Hon Dr Pita Sharples, wrote to Te Runanganui o Te Upoko o Te Ika CEO Dr Kara Puketapu on 27 April 2009 saying:

“…Te Puni Kokiri is awaiting receipt of the evidence it requires before any funds can be released to Wharewaka o Poneke Charitable Trust. One of the required pieces of evidence is confirmation from the relevant parties confirming that the Trust has the mandate to undertake the development. This would include a letter from Taranaki whanui.”

Under the Official Information Act, three letters were released by Te Puni Kokiri – one from PNBST executive chair Sir Ngatata Love, and two from Keith Hindle, executive officer of the Wellington Tenths and Palmerston North Reserve Trusts. These letters say that the Wharewaka o Poneke Charitable Trust (Wharewaka Trust) has the mandate to undertake the wharewaka development on behalf of the Taranaki whanui (Wellington Atiawa Maori) claimant communities.

In fact, these trusts did not have the mandate to make decisions for all Taranaki whanui, as two of the Wellington region’s three Atiawa-based marae: Te Arohanui ki Te Tangata Marae in Waiwhetu and Te Tatau o Te Po Marae in Petone, were not consulted.

If we had been consulted, we would not have agreed to what happened next.

And that was the setting up of the Wharewaka Trust, into which the wharewaka building has been vested.

What is the Wharewaka Trust and who manages the wharewaka?

The Wharewaka Trust is a hybrid trust. The four settlors are the Wellington City Council, PNBST, the Wellington Tenths Trust and the Palmerston North Maori Reserve Trust.

The Wharewaka Trust is chaired by Sir Ngatata Love, who is also chair of the three Maori trusts which have loaned money to build the wharewaka. Other trustees are Liz Mellish (a trustee representing the Palmerston North Maori Reserve Trust, and a cousin of Sir Ngatata), Mark Te One (a trustee representing the Wellington Tenths Trust) and two Wellington City Council employees: Wendy Walker and Stavros Michael.

The Wharewaka Trust has set up Wharewaka o Poneke Enterprises Limited, of which the four directors are Mark Te One, Matene Love (Sir Ngatata’s son), Euan Playle and Bruce Farquhar.

Their tenants include PKR Catering and the Karaka Café. This is a commercial operation, with no direct financial benefit for the PNBST, Wellington Tenths Trust, Palmerston North Maori Reserve Trust or Maori.

As illustrated above, the inter-relationship of entities and whanau groups involved with the Trust is complex. In our view, it is imperative that care is taken to ensure that this inter-relationship is not seen to affect the proper management of the wharewaka.

For some Taranaki whanui, the wharewaka has been a deep disappointment:

• Culturally, it has no connection with our people in terms of tikanga.
• It was named “Te Raukura” for the historic Wellington waka it was planned to house. Yet the Wellington City Council’s unwillingness to allow the waka Te Raukura to be under the kaitiaki (guardianship) of all the people of the harbour, meant Te Raukura remains at Waiwhetu.
• We have no commercial interest in the wharewaka (other than we have lent several million dollars for it to be built) and do not have any property rights. Its trust deed says it is for “the benefit of the people of New Zealand”. And if it is wound up, any remaining assets will go to Wellington charities.
• We were shocked to see the final design – it is not a “waka house” but a commercial conference centre and cafe, with a small glassed area tacked on the back for small waka.

The wharewaka was a success as part of the Rugby World Cup fanzone.

A recent Wellington Tenths Trust report said a brochure is being produced to recognise the role this trust played in initiating the project.

It could have been so much more. With our two historic waka proudly on the waterfront for all Wellingtonians to appreciate, and for Taranaki whanui it could have become our waterfront cultural home.

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  1. Pete, 1. February 2012, 12:41

    And another thing – the building is ugly. Its menacing bulk spoils the surrounding area and fills up a much-needed space ion an overcrowded waterfront. The type of glass used means you can hardly see through the canoe. The notices on the window are fixed with very visible blu-tak.

    It is claimed to have been a “success” as part of the Fanzone. What does that mean? That pissed rugby types had yet another outlet for drinking? Or that they were so in awe of Maori history that they lined up in wonder to see the impressive spectacle of a canoe in a overdressed shed? Come off it – tourists will look at anything and if there is one place in New Zealand that did not need anything else to look at, it was here. The waterfront needed that bit of space, the pretty rowing club is overshadowed by the brutal design of this building and in giving us yet another cafe (to go broke?) it does a disservice to an oversupplied city.

  2. Geoff C, 1. February 2012, 19:30

    If anything, the ratepayers of Wellington own it. It’s on public land. the whole thing was a lose lose situation. Another WCC fail. Councils around the country need to wake up.

  3. Maximus, 2. February 2012, 8:42

    It is interesting that this debate still rumbles on, and that the antagonism between Te Atiawa members in Wellington and Taranaki remains a core source of grievance. Reading into this confirms the rumours that the Taranaki branch of Te Atiawa really don’t like the Loves lording it up large in Wellington.

    However, leaving all that aside, what about the building? While I disagree with Pete’s comments that the building is ugly or that it spoils the surrounding area, I totally agree with John’s original commentary that it has evolved to become a corporate conference / piss-up venue with a small waka store attached.

    There’s a deeper story here that has still not yet been told, or perhaps uncovered, yet: someone knows. Why was the original proposal for two buildings (a wharewaka and a wharenui) amalgamated into one? Why then did one use consume the other? Why did the people in the Rowing and Boating clubs object so strongly to the building of the wharewaka – was it straight out boring old racism, or was it really that they could not be bothered to pick up their little darlings from Cable St and needed to drive directly to the door? They certainly fought hard against the building, and now sit uncomfortably close, sharing the waterfront.

    Yet the end result is still a win for Wellington. Yes, the conference facilities are great, and it is a fantastic venue for Wellington – one that we deserve as a city to have. For a city that is so centred around the harbour, we have so little opportunities to camp right on its edge. The cafe too is a boon. While the company running it may or may not succeed over time, this is largely irrelevant – it is the first time in Wellington history that we have managed to succeed in the holy grail of hospitality: a place to have a drink, facing west to maximise the sun, facing towards water, out of the wind, and away from car traffic. Have you any idea how hard that is to line all those factors up in a city that largely faces east to the water, and has non-stop wind? While the whaka storage area is a dismal failure, the cafe’s siting means that it will always be a roaring success in my eyes.

  4. Cynical, 2. February 2012, 8:56

    Haven’t we gone through all of this before?!?
    The WCC paid a huge amount of money in trying to secure the waka that was originally going to be housed there, and then commisioned a new waka when Waiwhetu refused to return the original one.
    Funny how we only hear about issues surrounding the waka and the wharewaka around the start of February each year isn’t it?

  5. Elaine Hampton, 2. February 2012, 13:05

    I agree with Jon Warren – there are issues of financial control and use of communal monies. I also agree with Maximus that there is a ‘deeper story’ – as stated above. Who made these changes?
    But I can’t agree that it is in any way a success. A function held there did not compare to one held in the Boat house, the cafe is not somewhere I would choose to go, and the building is UGLY.
    The Boat Club were right in my opinion.
    But very interesting to see who the respective trustees are. Haliburton couldn’t have organised that better.

  6. Maximus, 2. February 2012, 19:24

    Elaine, and Pete: I’m interested to find out what makes the building “ugly” to you. I find it… “interesting”. Is it because it is black, or a bit spikey, or that it has odd proportions, or whatever it is – anyway you can elucidate on why it appears ugly to you?

  7. Kent Duston, 3. February 2012, 12:53

    I agree with Maximus on this one – I think the wharewaka is a success in terms of its layout and architecture, and I the steps leading from it to the lagoon are an excellent piece of urban design, as evidenced by all the people who congregate there every time the slightest bit of watery summer sun peeks out between the scudding clouds.

    However I think the linkage between the wharewaka and St Johns – and the Odlins building – needs a big re-think. At the moment it’s a desolate concrete strip that looks as though the landscaping ideas (or the money) ran out before they’d figured out how to resolve the relationship between the buildings.

    And the same applies to a lesser extent between the front of the brewery and the ngaio grove, which seems to be set aside solely as Desolate Concrete Wasteland Where People Go To Get Pissed When There’s An Important Event On. Perhaps we need a courtyard space for this purpose, although I wonder why given the profusion of bars on Courtenay Place, but surely both the Odlins building and St Johns would benefit from a “softer” and more human-scaled northern edge facing towards the wharewaka.

  8. Elaine Hampton, 3. February 2012, 12:53

    Colour, shape, form, size, position – all are not visually pleasant, and it is bland inside. The waterfront is for people – it needs space, and I agree with Pete this crowds our waterfront.
    I didn’t even see a waka. Ocean going waka would be of interest but it even failed on that point

    What the waterfront does not need is another ‘watering hole.’

  9. Pauline Swann, 3. February 2012, 16:11

    For those interested in the history of the original plans for a wharewaka under the city to sea bridge near the lagoon, and a separate wharenui/wharekai with (as Maximus says) “a deeper story,” I refer you to wellingtonwaterfront.co.nz website starting with Issue 4 August 2004 under projects: concept designs are being presented to the public for feedback in Sep/Oct. Issue 5 Oct 2004 shows the concept designs. Issues 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 refer to public consultation and resource consent preparation. In June 2005, Issue 11 still shows separate buildings and says a resource consent is being lodged. In the August 2005 issue, hearing dates were set later in August when independent commissioners will consider a joint application from WWL and the Wellington Tenths Trust for a wharewaka and the Tenth’s trust for a wharenui. In Sept 2006 (Issue 23) the Waterfront Development sub-committee approved changes to the public spaces, one of the reasons being “the Wellington 10ths Trust decision not to proceed with the wharenui and revised location of the wharewaka.” Then design development continued till October 2007. The rest is history. I recall a question to the architect at this time about the need for a new resource consent; the answer was that because there was “so little change to the design” it would not be necessary. But the developers of Odlins, the Brewery and Ambulance did request that the new design was to stay close to the Boatsheds.

    I agree with Kent about the landscaping around the lagoon which has developed into a picnic area. But I also agree with Elaine and Pete re the design. Comment has been made many times that it does not reflect Maori culture and looks more like a Japanese Pagoda. And as for the waka accommodation, I recommend a visit to the Waiwhetu Marae Waka House.

    Re costs. In February I was told that legal costs associated with hearing and resource consents totalled $66,950 of which $21,000 was to be recovered from the Tenth’s Trust which left $45,950 incurred by the council’s Wellington Waterfront Ltd.

  10. Trish, 3. February 2012, 17:14

    Kent: The unresolved space between the wharewaka and the Ambulance building is reserved for yet another council boondoggle. Resource consent was granted ages ago for a new pedestrian bridge intended to make a straight line between the Occupy lawn and Te Papa. The skinny concrete bridge would be at an odd angle to the Firewood bridge, with lots of steps landing in front of Odlins. I would like to think the ratepayers had run out of money for nonsense like this, but such ideas never seem to die in the design team’s dreams.

  11. Bruce Stewart, 29. August 2015, 7:20

    It looks like a colony of bats were snapped frozen – caught short in the early morning sun because they were locked out their caves in the Old Odlins Building. By the new caretaker.
    The good news is that past colonies have been known to snap out of their long hibernation of up to 133 years on the extremely rare occasions when the moon appears to be double its size and bright pink. When all that comes together we’ll get our lovely old wharf back and our local bats will be free again to do what they’ve always done.