The Wellington City Council is having to listen to more strong public opposition to its plans for big new buildings on North Kumutoto. On Thursday, councillors will be hearing a second day of public submissions about the revised design brief for the waterfront site. At the first day of hearings last week, there seems to have been surprise at the strength of opposition to new buildings.
Documents released under the Local Government Official Information Act show that after the Environment Court’s rejection of Variation 11, council staff intended to have no significant reworking of the design brief, but only “minor tweaks.” Emails in September show that staff were expecting there wouldn’t be any public consultation.
But contrary to such expectations, when councillors were given the draft brief, they voted for consultation. It began on October 10 and closed last week, 25 days later. The consultation has provided a reminder that it’s not only Waterfront Watch which is against the council’s stubborn commitment to two new buildings.
The Civic Trust told councillors last week they are not compelled to allow 100 per cent coverage on the two building sites.
“Adopting the Environment Court decision doggedly … does not give proper consideration to the overall environmental effects in the area, and nor does it permit consideration of viable options. The Design Brief … could include alternative uses for Sites 9 and 10 … (or) low-level buildings which are sympathetic to surrounding architecture … There should be no undue haste in redeveloping the North Kumutoto area.”
Barrister Con Anastasiou, representing property owner Land Lease, also criticised the new brief:
“The footprint for Site 10 appears to remain unchanged from the footprint for the same site in Variation 11 and does not reflect either the spirit or the intend of the court’s decision.
“The massive size of the unbroken and unmodulated footprint is exacerbated by the proposed site coverage of 100 per cent… The prospect of 100 per cent site coverage … will form an unacceptable visual and physical barrier between the CBD and the waterfront and will not relieve the canyon effect between site 10 and the Post Office building…
“In Land Lease’s view, if there is to be a building on Site 10 at all, it is critical for the preservation of important viewshafts and vistas from the city to the sea that the southern end of the site be adjusted to align with an axis no further south than a line along the southwest face of the NZ Post Building.
“However the first question that has to be asked is whether there should be a building on site 10 at all. This question is best addressed by a comprehensive space needs assessment and not by a presumption that there will be a building on site 10 which underpins the design brief…
“The proposition that ‘buildings can help provide more sheltered, comfortable higher quality public spaces that attract people to the area’ overlooks the fact that shelter, comfort and high quality public spaces can be designed in the absence of buildings. There is still too much emphasis in the design brief on built form and active building edges as the defining factors in the design of open spaces.
“There is no reason why open space design should not come first, with built form responding to the design of open spaces… There remains a strong suggestion in the design brief that the architecture of buildings will come first and open space will be designed in the area left over. This was a significant defect in Variation 11 and remains unremedied in the design brief.”
The Historic Places Trust was another organisation which told the council it does not support the proposal for 100 per cent coverage for new buildings on site 10. Its general manager Central Region Ann Neill said:
“A building built to the maximum site coverage and height is likely to have adverse effects on the [historic Eastbourne] ferry building particularly in terms of dominance, shading and scale. The Trust therefore seeks that the footprint of Site 10 should be determined in terms of responding to the Ferry Building, particularly in terms of dominance and protecting views to and from the building.”
Con Anastasiou referred to the Site 10 footprint as “monolithic and unrelenting…” Then he focused on some of the detail: “The 9 metre setback from the wharf edge is totally inadequate. There is no urban design reason why this setback should not be greater than nine metres.”
On this subject, the LGOIMA documents show a surprising exchange between the council and its waterfront company. As the draft design brief was being finalised, a company staff member emailed a council officer on September 24:
“I note you have deftly dodged the Env Court direction for a greater than 9m setback from waters edge by requiring ‘…a setback of at least 9m.’ Cleverly done.”
Dodging a direction from the court – the incriminating email starts to shed some light on why there is continuing public dissatisfaction about the latest design brief. “Minor tweaks” to the plan have not been enough.