It’s official. A report to the Wellington City Council this week tells councillors that they should close their Wellington Waterfront company and move its activities inside the council.
The report also recommends a second major change. It says that waterfront income and spending should be separated. No longer should the development of public space be dependent on income from buildings and leases. Instead, the cost of developing public spaces should be paid from the rates. And any income from waterfront buildings and leases should be used as income to offset the rates.
This isn’t the first time that there’s been a move from the city council to close its waterfront company. Last time, the company lobbied behind the scenes to ensure its survival.
This time, the company is again fighting to defend itself. Chief executive Ian Pike is quoted in the DomPost as saying the transition shouldn’t start next year, as the report recommends. He wants the company to continue unchanged till 2015 before it’s closed down. But it’s not his job to criticise the plans of his employers. He shouldn’t be trying to influence tomorrow’s decision.
The council established Wellington Waterfront Ltd in 2000, to carry out development as specified in the Framework. The work was supposed to be finished five years ago but things didn’t go as had been intended. The main reason: continuing substantial public opposition to the waterfront plans.
The plans have three times been overruled by the Environment Court, at considerable expense to the city council which has had to pay the legal bills.
The first defeat (when the company was called Lambton Harbour Management) came in 2001 when it wanted to move the Ambulance Building on to Taranaki Wharf. Waterfront Watch appealed, and the Environment Court ruled that Waterfront Watch had presented a compelling case against the move. The company gave up its plans to move the building, after spending over $500,000 of public money to fight the case.
Its second defeat came after it announced a plan for a Hilton Hotel to be built on the Outer T of Queens Wharf. Waterfront Watch and the Civic Trust appealed in 2007. Again, the Court ruled against the waterfront company. The Court said the hotel would destroy many of the qualities which make the site special and unique.
The third defeat involved Variation 11, which was created with the aim of allowing waterfront development to move faster, with less public scrutiny. The council called for public submissions and discovered the Variation was supported by nobody except the waterfront company. But it pushed ahead, ignoring public opinion (as it had done many times before). The result: another appeal, and a third Environment Court ruling against what was being planned for the waterfront. Variation 11 would have enabled three new buildings to be erected on North Kumutoto without public notification. The council had to follow the Court’s ruling. It reduced the number of buildings from three to two, and released a new design brief.
But North Kumutoto continues to be controversial. The council asked the public to comment on its revised design brief, and it organised a seminar where it seems to have been surprised by a turnout of more than 60 people – there weren’t enough chairs, and some participants had to sit on the floor. The council and its waterfront company also seemed to be surprised, even annoyed, when speakers at the seminar talked passionately about wanting more open space instead of the two new buildings.
Submissions closed on Monday. Councillors are to consider them today, leaving submitters startled and dubious about the speed of the process. Then tomorrow, councillors must draw a breath and decide on the future of their costly waterfront company.
For a third time, Wellington Waterfront Ltd succeeded in persuading councillors not to close it down. The committee vote was tied. Theh chairman Andy Foster’s casting vote resulted in survival for the company.