Wellington Scoop

North Kumutoto – the push for more waterfront buildings (but 2, not 3)

Less than six months after its original plans were rejected by the Environment Court, the city council is being asked to approve the development of two new buildings on a controversial part of the waterfront – North Kumutoto, which is north of the Meridian Building.

The council’s first proposal for this area was three new buildings up to six storeys high, without public consultation. Waterfront Watch challenged these plans, and in April the Environment Court ruled against the council. It said heritage character on the waterfront wasn’t being protected. It found the potential for heritage buildings to be overwhelmed by new structures. The court found that in some cases the proposed new rules were “poorly drafted”. And more: “The deficiencies are numerous and some are fundamental.” The court also shared the concerns of Waterfront Watch about pedestrian access and open space.

A revised design brief for the area was released on Friday, giving councillors six days to consider it before they’re asked to approve it on Thursday. The draft document reflects instructions from the Court. Instead of three new buildings, there are to be only two. Instead of six storeys, the maximum height will be four storeys. The smallest of the three sites is to be kept as open space, with the design yet to be developed.

There’s also provision for a wider promenade on the seaward side of the bigger of the two new buildings. Again, this was required by the Court. (A wide promenade has been one of the core policies promoted by Waterfront Watch since it was established 17 years ago.)

At Thursday’s meeting, councillors will have to consider whether or not they should rush to approve the draft design brief. No doubt the council-owned waterfront company is anxious to be allowed to pursue discussions with potential developers. But the company has a record of showing an injudicious eagerness about building projects. Just before the start of the Environment Court hearing, with lamentable timing, it released drawings showing a new six-storey building on one of the North Kumutoto sites. The court noted that the company had been “enthusiastically endorsing” the building. Participants in the hearing found it strange that the drawings and the endorsement had been published before the Court had given its decision, which stopped the six storey building from being constructed.

A similar cart-before-horse process is emerging again. Though there hasn’t been public consultation on the revised design brief, councillors are being asked to instruct Wellington Waterfront Ltd to go ahead and select building projects.

Yet the court’s ruling agreed with Waterfront Watch that public participation in the planning process should continue, instead of being ended (which the council wanted to do.)

“Waterfront Watch holds that public participation should not be dispensed with in such a special environment. Underlying its position is an unspoken but readily discernible view that the council cannot be relied on to get it right, and that only public opinion and action, litigious or otherwise, has averted poor planning and design outcomes on the waterfront in the past.”

The council is clear that there must be public consultation on the building plans, once they’re selected. But with the background of criticism from the Environment Court, councillors would be wise to pause and offer time for public consultation on the revised design brief as well – before initiating another premature rush to approve new buildings on the controversial North Kumutoto land.

UPDATE October 4:
The council agrees, votes for consultation on the design brief


  1. Elaine Hampton, 2. October 2012, 10:30

    This is not the time to be building more office space on the waterfront when so many offices within the central city remain empty, – WWL working against the ratepayers.
    The Wellington waterfront is a treasure / taonga and should be developed, if at all, with proper consultation.
    Councillors must vote for genuine consultation as required by the Environment Court.

  2. Nick, 2. October 2012, 11:07

    If north kumutoto is so special, why has it been a car park for decades then? We’re not talking about building on the beach of Oriental Bay here are we? No, we’re talking about an area that already has large buildings to the north and south, wharves and large ships to the east. The important thing is that public access to the waterfront isn’t compromised, and this never appeared to be the plan. It might bring some life into this area. Auckland’s recently developed their Wynyard Quarter on the waterfront and it’s one of their most successful public spaces in the city.

  3. Russell Tregonning, 2. October 2012, 19:47

    Wellington Waterfront Ltd likes to keep its building sites (buildings which it knows will be unpopular with the public) looking tawdry. People (?you) then think “anything is better than this!” (It happened on Chaffers Park before it became Waitangi Park).
    As you say, it’s not access to the waterfront that’s the issue here. It’s the destruction of the wide panoramic views of Oriental Bay (an area which you obviously like) and the hills beyond from the city. The two new proposed high-rise buildings will destroy these views as well as create wind tunnels, shade and a canyon effect on Customhouse Quay. A park (with low rise cafes or the like) would bring the life that you want to the area.

  4. Mary Munro, 2. October 2012, 19:56

    Wellington Waterfront Ltd is behaving like a dog with a bone. Just what is the hurry about developing these sites in North Kumutoto? As the Mainland Cheese advertisement said: good things take time. Wellington has time to do this with full public participation. Some people don’t want any buildings; others would be happy with one or two smaller buildings in scale with the Meridian building. What I don’t want is another boring office block.

  5. Elaine Hampton, 2. October 2012, 22:23

    Do you want privatization of public land?
    That is what is happening by a failed company, $20 million in debt to us
    Why would you let them build a toilet ? Oh yes those!
    We could have low rise public buildings, a music school, a park.
    Buildings will create a wind tunnel, we want view shafts not ‘alleys’.

  6. Lee, 2. October 2012, 22:28

    So many people oppose Asset Sales, and this is another form of it and takes away some of the few bits of open land in the Wellington CBD. The whole world is in an economic crisis and developers and their bankers just don’t have the cash to pay top prices to lease and develop this; and the caravan park apparently pays well to WCC, so what’s the rush?

  7. Nick, 2. October 2012, 23:23

    Russell do you ever see people on the corner of Waterloo Quay and Whitmore St admiring the view of Wellington across 4 lanes of traffic and a carpark? I think you are imagining there is some superb view there, as if it was the Mt Vic lookout. Don’t you also think its a bit late to be worried about wind tunnels and shading on Customhouse Quay? If you want a view across the harbour, that’s what you go to the waterfront for, so buildings aren’t in the way of your view.

  8. Elaine, 3. October 2012, 11:41

    So Nick

    We can build the music school on Kumutoto Wharf?
    Public building on public land. We need a new music school

  9. Nick, 3. October 2012, 14:26

    If you think a music school has to go on the waterfront that’s up to you. I wonder what acitivity it would bring during holidays and evenings? But I have no issue with a privately owned building there, if its a good design and the ground level is full public space (cafe, seats, etc), and that’s what I thought was being proposed? Then it would be a vast improvement to the existent car park. It would be a whole lot nicer to look at than the hideous NZ Post building right next door. Maybe we should look at that one too, its probably blocking views, light and creating wind vortexes..

  10. Russell Tregonning, 3. October 2012, 22:37

    Thanks for your response to mine. Hundreds ( maybe thousands) of Wellingtonians, every day, see the superb panoramic views I refer to as they drive down Whitmore St towards the waterfront.They don’t even have to leave their cars! The proposed buildings will wreck that.
    It’s never too late to protect our citizens from wind & shade of high-rise office blocks like those proposed on Kumototo–we have a choice here. The open feel to Kumutoto, with these priceless views from city to sea & hills is what people like me value–surely we don’t have to transport the high-rise city onto our precious waterfront. Will we still be ” the coolest little capital” if we do?

  11. steve, 5. October 2012, 12:13

    Interesting thoughts, the view down Whitmore is a fantastic view and embodies a lot of what makes Wellington so dynamic, a dense CDB with defined street corridors, the harbour, Point Jerningham and beyond.
    It is worth noting the proposed buildings have never been located within the Whitmore St viewshaft. In fact this view shaft is actually a recent addition to Wellington, a quick google search on the former Customhouse shows it located smack bang at the end of Whitmore St.

    Do you think the existing setup is ok? a windswept carpark? For me, i find it is the worst part of the waterfront, it lacks any shelter, particularly during the often used procession toward the railway station. I have no objection to a high quality low rise building located around here, providing shelter from the wind, shade in the right place(on some days a good thing), keeping the viewshaft and a place to buy a soda. Not building, not providing amenity, not doing anything for the sake of 1,000 or so Wellingtonians panoramic views is abit hard for me to swallow. Next time i am getting soaked as i traverse the carpark on my way to the railway station i will think to myself, thank god we have preserved that panoramic view…

  12. jp, 5. October 2012, 14:45

    Protecting views from the car LOL. That and paddocks seem to be very high on the Waterfront Watch agenda. Fortunately this esoteric & bizarre view of urban utopia is simply not accepted by most younger Wellingtonians, who have a more mixed use, pedestrian focused, design-led conception of what makes a decent city. One day despite the intransigence of the grandad set this city will move forward and life will return to the waterfront!

  13. CC, 5. October 2012, 18:07

    Wonder if jp will do a bit of research then formulate some useful contributions to add to the design guide consultation process that is about to take place. That would make more sense than making ill-conceived comments based on incorrect information and perverse stereotypes.

  14. Alana, 6. October 2012, 0:34

    Actually, jp, after talking for months with the people who are real, live users of the waterfront and almost all of them younger than 50 (based only on looks, to be fair), all but 3 – yes, 3 of a couple of hundred people – wanted no more buildings on the waterfront. Skateboarders, lunchtime users, and young mothers were the most angry about the proposal that Waterfront Ltd wanted for those buildings. Go on down and talk to them. We have, and it’s fun. Have you done your own research that leads you to think that the “grandads” are out of touch?

  15. Pauline Swann, 6. October 2012, 10:49

    If the developer wants to destroy the Category 1 Listed Heritage building on Lambton Quay and replace it with a 25 storey glass tower, this makes it more imperative that there are more recreational facilities on our waterfront for what we are continually being told is our growing inner city population.

    There are many office workers who take part in lunch time sports on the waterfront, not only in Shed 1 but on Frank Kitts Park and Waitangi Park, and the growth of office space in the Capital, Railway and Centrepoint precinct indicates a future need for more open space.

    The increasing number of cruise ship passengers who walk from Aotea Quay would prefer to discover a recreation area with a variety of entertainment when they arrive at Kumutoto – as has been suggested, artisans’ workshops etc plus access to hiring cycles, scooters and crocodile bikes to continue on to Te Papa and Oriental Bay.

    Finally to quote American Architect, Cathy Simon when she presented two lectures here in 2008: she made the point what an asset our waterfront is and it should be the major “green” space in Wellington.

  16. Nick, 6. October 2012, 19:15

    So because the ghastly Shed 1 is already there and is used for lunchtime sports, it’s ok if it blocks everyone’s view during the day while walking along the waterfront. But a new good looking building at Kumototo that provides ground level public space and doesn’t obstruct the views of passing pedestrians is not ok?

  17. CC, 6. October 2012, 21:01

    Nick: please learn to read instead of assuming what you want from what is written, and stop making nonsensical ill-considered comments.

  18. Pauline, 7. October 2012, 8:49

    With regard to Shed 1, I refer Nick to the visionary concept for a nautical and maritime theme park for the Outer T of Queens Wharf by Martin Jenkins who was one of the finalists in the Blue Skies competition. His proposal would provide permanent and temporary maritime displays and serve as a venue for national and international events which would be a great attraction to New Zealanders and tourists.

    His vision would open up the view of the harbour and hills for patrons at Shed 5 and Dockside and would complement the listed Heritage Eastbourne Ferry terminal. However, this competition which attracted many entries has “died in the water”.

    The lunch time sports people could be accommodated at Shed 6 and the Events Centre, which of course was originally designed as a sports arena, where I watched the Harlem Globetrotters and top tennis players But now it appears most sports team prefer the Te Rauparaha stadium.

  19. Maximus, 7. October 2012, 10:38

    For those people talking about views at Kumutoto, there seems to be some real talking past each other.
    For a discussion on what the views really are in this area, I’d urge you to go to http://eyeofthefish.org/water-ship-down and look at the photos there – especially the top picture vs the 3rd picture down. Then come back to Wellington.Scoop and comment again.