Winners and losers on the waterfront

kumutoto bldg

by David Lee
With regard to the waterfront, when is the Wellington City Council ever going to learn? It must have spent at least $200,000 on its failed attempt to exclude the public from the resource consent process on North Kumutoto with Variation 11. Now it is seriously considering a proposal for a building that exceeds the height limit permitted by the Environment Court.

And who is to be the developer? It’s Willis Bond, again. Willis Bond has also been given an option on site 9.

In December, Ian Pike, CEO of the 100% council owned Wellington Waterfront, told the Wellington City Council’s Transport and Urban Development Committee that the proposed building would bring in $1million in rates. That figure is grossly exaggerated, as an examination of the rates paid by other buildings in this part of Wellington shows. According to WWL’s own report, the revenue from the motor home site, which the proposed building would cover, exceeds any rates the new building might generate.

Also at the December meeting, Cr Lester, dismissing public concerns over Willis Bond getting so many deals on the waterfront, likened the developer to the All Blacks. [Presumably because they always win]. Using this analogy, it needs to be pointed out that the referee doesn’t play for the All Blacks. This is not a game of rugby.

There will, however, be winners and losers: more of the waterfront’s finite open space will be lost. Public ownership will be lost. Views of the harbour from the city will be lost. The open character of that part of Waterloo Quay will be lost by the building’s ‘canyon’ effect. Visitors to Wellington will lose a unique motor home site, right in the city and alongside the harbour. Businesses in the central city will lose their patronage. Also lost will be the priceless publicity for Wellington internationally, generated by motor home site visitors. Ratepayers will lose the site’s $400,000 revenue.

If this proposed building is approved, fairness will also be lost, in that the council is providing a cheap site for one developer when other developers in the city have to pay market rates. It is also unfair (and inappropriate) for a council to be facilitating a private office building in competition with existing building owners who are ratepayers in the central city, at a time when businesses requiring office space are leaving Wellington. And finally the next generation will lose one of the last remaining options they would have for deciding use of waterfront land.

There is only one winner in this proposal, and that is Willis Bond.

David Lee is vice-president of Waterfront Watch.

City Councillors on the Transport and Urban Development Committee will be making a decision on the Kumutoto building proposal at a meeting on 8 April

Read also:
Willis Bond pushing the limits, again
Willis Bond’s dollar a year deal with the council



  1. nato, 21. March 2014, 9:13

    Personally I think the motorhomes are an eyesore. As is the vast carparking, i’d much rather see some buildings in there place.

  2. Robert Scott, 21. March 2014, 10:52

    It is irrefutable that this building will bring various benefits to the waterfront that a parking lot used by holidaymakers will not. (It’s merely a council placeholder until the right use comes along.) This debate is about whether this is the right use. From my understanding, at the moment the site is a place to park camper vans, generally taking public ownership away from the ground plane on this site.

    The proposed development for site 10 will give back public space to the waterfront and increase usability. It will provide shelter at the popular pedestrian crossing to the railway station and the developer will be increasing the public amenity by good design. The building, in its size and shape, is reminiscent of the old sheds along the waterfront and may even act as a mediator of scale between the pedestrian scale of the waterfront and the hulking Post Office Building.

    From the images of the project that were displayed on the waterfront the other month, view shafts from parliament and the railway station look like they will remain unaffected and vehicle users travelling along the quay into the city can still take advantage of this sightline.

    You are right, there are parties that are set to gain from the development, and in my view, the general Wellington public, prospective tenants of the building are but some of them.

  3. CC, 21. March 2014, 11:11

    I also think the motorhomes are an eyesore. For that reason, vehicles should be excluded from the Kumutoto area. Then, Wellington could follow the leads of international harbour cities that know the true value of well developed open public spaces on their waterfronts. Of course, there would be a loss of the parking fees, but there are ways to remedy this. One thought is to sell off the ASB Indoor Sports Centre and ring-fence the annual revenue savings to cover the losses at Kumutoto. Another idea is to change the District Plan to allow Willis Bond to build an office tower on Oriental Parade. There is one problem there though – the developer would have to buy some land instead of privatising it on a $1 a year lease deal for the next hundred years.

  4. Peter Henderson, 21. March 2014, 13:17

    Robert Scott seems to have fallen into the trap of commenting without first reading what he is responding to. The issue is not whether there should be either a motorhome park or a building on Site 10, both of which compromise publicly owned land in almost equal measure.

    From that point, the proffered arguments appear to reflect the public relations lines from Willis Bond, Wellington Waterfront Limited, the Mayor and various Councillors who seem to think the city should be the plaything of big business. To start, a building will not give back public space, it permanently privatises it for the term of the lease deal. If providing shelter for pedestrians is an issue, that that could have been attended to in the same manner as on the opposite side of the road, but how much benefit is transitory shelter to a pedestrian anyway?

    A modicum of research shows that the proposed building has no similarity of size, shape or style and is certainly not reminiscent of the ‘old sheds’. Some might contend that it is an fact a poor knock-off of a Rem Koolhaus design, adopted to compromise the 60% rule that applies to the ground floor of the building. The ‘mediator of scale’ argument is also puzzling. The Athfield design is higher than the adjacent building and the set-back on the NZ Post building which already somewhat mediates its height. A building of the scale proposed would therefore more likely create a canyon, like others that are despised around the city.

    To rely on the illustrations that were displayed during the faux consultation period is shear folly. Some of the errors are very obvious and of course, had the purpose of putting the best gloss on the proposal to persuade the punters. It pays to hark back to the original image of the OPT building that was displayed by the Chaffers bridge. That showed a complex which appeared to be of the same size and scale as the Fowler designed building. Once construction started and the magnitude began to be obvious, it was replaced with an illustration from a different perspective.

    It can therefore be concluded that the general public are not likely to benefit from the motorhome park or the proposed building. As for the tenants Mr. Scott refers to, they could work in any number of office spaces around the city and then have access to an imaginative open space use of the Kumutoto site at other times.

    Clearly, Willis Bond is the big winner as they stand have a building that is larger than the Environment Court considered reasonable on a ‘freeby’ site. It will probably generate less net income than the motorhome park and will lock up the site for the next century. The last observation is that Willis Bond, probably with Council collusion, stand to bookend the waterfront with Athfield Architects buildings that are little short of opulent monuments to the wealthy. One wonders how long it will be before the residents of Wellington, the rightful owners of the waterfront, have to pay an entrance fee to promenade on the Willis Bond Waterfront.

  5. Elaine Hampton, 21. March 2014, 14:14

    Personally I like the motor homes on the waterfront, I think they give Wellington a human scale. The proposed new building spin is working on the principle of ‘fooling some of the people all of the time’. It is an ugly glass box, has no human scale and is less financially viable than a bunch of motor homes. Not a ‘high finance success’.
    Why is the Council so determined to block out the waterfront with massive erections? I would like my Lambton Ward councillors to know I am embarrassed that they voted for it. We can and should do better. Wellington is still a fabulous city, it doesn’t look like a mini New York.

  6. Alana, 23. March 2014, 19:15

    Why can’t the Wellington City Council stretch its thinking and require a better alternative to the Wellington Waterfront Ltd choices – either an office building or an office building? The waterfront and harbour define Wellington – why allow buildings on this very limited public space? Start over, require a creative reach, and come up with something that will draw people to that area, put people closer to the harbour, and send offices and apartments to the the other side of the quay.

  7. City Lad, 24. March 2014, 5:04

    Without prime public waterfront land being gifted to developers by the Wellington City Council, their building industry favourite son would struggle. His project managers would not be happy.

  8. CC, 24. March 2014, 7:41

    Alana – because Willis Bond call the shots?

  9. Michael, 24. March 2014, 9:05

    I have to agree with Alana – the best use for such a prime central city site would be to draw families and children into the area. Following the lead of the amazing development in Sydney’s Darling Harbour, the “Playground”, with its network of water features must be better for Wellington than another building.

  10. Catharine Underwood, 24. March 2014, 14:10

    I’ve heard someone approve of the building at Kumutoto as it is the windiest, bleakest spot in Wellington and on the waterfront. But that is no justification for putting a building on public land on the waterfront. To justify the privitisation of public land with a building because of the weather is just ridiculous. The waterfront is public land and was gifted to the people of Wellington and it should stay in public ownership with a welcoming 1 storey information centre for visitors. And the council could do well to beautify the campervan park so it can be enjoyed as a lunchtime spot when there are no vans. It is prepared to beautify other areas to accommodate the vans, so why not here. Development on the waterfront is not dependent upon commercial funding. Everyone loves the waterfront – how would they like it with another 10 buildings on it? Check out what was proposed some years ago. Due to a group of concerned people, we now have the wonderful Waitangi Park instead of 120 private apartments.

  11. JC, 24. March 2014, 20:52

    An information centre? Surely we can do better than that. The pictures of the playground in SDH look fantastic – I would support something like that, although it’s probably better placed at the Frank Kitts Park end of the waterfront. The Kumutoto end has a much closer connection to the CBD.

    Also – note that the playground in SDH is surrounded by buildings, which undoubtedly bring people to the area and support the playground activity.

  12. Peter, 25. March 2014, 6:21

    The propaganda line about buildings bringing people to the waterfront is tiresome and stupid. On any weekend, the number of people using waterfront buildings is minimal. During the week, apart from those working in offices that could be located anywhere in Wellington, there are even less people who are obviously attracted by the buildings. Last weekend, despite heavily subsidised and sponsored activities on the waterfront, the cafes and restaurants were almost as poorly patronised as usual, while those located elsewhere around the coast were alive and overflowing. One day there may be a councillor or two who will notice that the waterfront IS the attraction and that it needs imaginative and sensitive, human scale development. Expensive monuments to architects and ‘the big money’ do little but enhance the bank accounts of investors at the expense of the rest of us.

    Note to JC – check the Google satellite image of the SDH – that seems to tell a story that disproves the building/occupancy theory.

  13. City Lad, 25. March 2014, 12:49

    Peter’s comment is common-sense. However, Nato’s and Robert Scott’s comments are puzzling. Lack of support for the ugly building is clearly obvious.

  14. callum, 27. March 2014, 4:29

    All of the motor home users wrote negative comments on TripAdvisor, so i don’t think that would be much of a loss for them…

    Why can’t there be smaller building “pods” along the waterfront with cafes and small businesses? Wellington always gets stuck with box-like buildings that “relate” to shipping containers which is supposed to tie in with the maritime theme usually promoted. Can’t we have something with curves?

  15. CC, 27. March 2014, 10:20

    From TripAdvisor’s 32 reviewers (as at 27.03.14): Excellent (7), Very good (13), Average (7), Poor (1), Terrible (4). The ratings are up there with Wellington’s hotels, so I’m not sure what site Callum was looking at. The complaints could be easily sorted if WWL were committed to doing something about it. However, it seems the Council, through its agency, is more interested in gifting the site to Willis Bond for the next phase of waterfront privatisation.

  16. City Lad, 27. March 2014, 19:56

    CC has some realistic points. And there’s no doubt whatsoever that the motorhome facility could be retained on site 10 for many years and known to the ratepayers of Wellington as their “Golden Goose.”

  17. callum, 28. March 2014, 2:05

    My comments are based on the examples below. Most reviews note the good location but average/poor service. I don’t think motor home users should avail such a prime piece of CITY waterfront land.

    “Please guys, don’t support this place.”
    1 of 5 stars Reviewed January 26, 2014 via mobile

    1 of 5 stars Reviewed November 27, 2013

    “Avoid this if you can!”
    1 of 5 stars Reviewed January 14, 2013

    “Not worth the money.”
    3 of 5 stars Reviewed August 18, 2012

  18. CC, 28. March 2014, 8:31

    Callum – since when did citing the four worst reviews, and ignoring the remainder of the 32, justify your claim that “all of the motor home users wrote negative comments on TripAdvisor…” This is a sad case of ‘logic bypass’. Instead of clicking on ‘Terrible’ on the TripAdvisor site (, try ‘Excellent’. Even those who don’t support the concept of the motorhome park (such as this commenter) would be surprised by the enthusiasm of satisfied users.

  19. City Lad, 28. March 2014, 10:45

    Good that Callum has received a lesson from CC regarding the need for honesty when using statistics.

  20. Nora, 28. March 2014, 14:15

    As a regular visitor to the waterfront who has spoken with many motorhome visitors (the last two were from Auckland), they all love it. And many – like members of my husband’s south island family – have said that in the past they got off the ferry and either headed to Porirua or the Valley and ditto on their return south, so Wellington was losing out.

    As many of us have observed, there are plantings of hebes around the Whitmore Street entrance and some more plantings of flax and natives so that the birds will return as they have to Frank Kitts Park and Waitangi. With the addition of comfortable seats and play equipment (for adults as well as children) what a wonderful welcome could be created for visitors by train and bus and cruise ships and of course for backpackers at the old Waterloo Hotel. Certainly more welcoming than a 6 storey office block.

    In the city today I was speaking to an office worker who comes in from Tawa on the train. Rain or shine she walks to her workplace in Wakefield Street. She does not want to see any further privatisation of public space….

  21. Hel, 28. March 2014, 18:03

    I spoke to someone off one of the cruise boats last week who thought it was a shame this area of Kumutoto was not finished and loved the idea of a quality building and plaza there.

  22. CC, 28. March 2014, 20:42

    Yeah Hel – and I spoke to two wombles, six stray cats, a heavy metal singer, a gaggle of Phoenix strikers and a couple of seagulls. They all thought it would be a great idea if Willis Bond paid for a vacant site instead of bludging off the ratepayers, possibly somewhere like where the Boys Institute swimming pool used to be, and built something worth while there – like another swimming pool.

  23. Hel, 28. March 2014, 22:07

    CC – you know I actually do believe you talk to wombles, seagulls and stray cats but I cannot believe any self respecting Phoenix striker would indulge you.

  24. CC, 29. March 2014, 18:30

    Hel – it is wellknown that you wouldn’t have anything to do with anyone who strikes, so it is a wonder of wonders that you might consider indulging their self respect. Seems the other references went over your head as well! A bit of knowledge of the waterfront and environmental matters wouldn’t go amiss maybe.

  25. Nora, 31. March 2014, 14:54

    The following was sent to the Wellington City Council by a visitor from England.

    “As a traveller on holiday in a campervan, can I say how impressed we are by the campervan park/showers/toilet next to the ferry terminal. It has enabled us to enjoy your lovely city and have a hassle-free crossing to the South Island. If there is any chance of keeping a facility like this that would be brilliant for fellow travellers. Thank you”..

    This is further proof of the attraction of this facility so close to our very walkable city and the ease of departure/arrival of the ferries.

    And having today travelled by bus through our city, I lost count of the To Lease signs on so many office blocks.

  26. peter@east-welly, 31. March 2014, 19:07

    The Council’s “magnificent’ redevelopment and up-grade of Kilbirnie/Bay Road has resulted in another vacant shop – 3 now in total – and another block of two on the market..
    If this Council had a brain, it would truly be dangerous/lonely!!

  27. Mike, 31. March 2014, 21:45

    Not sure what Kilbirnie’s got to do with the waterfront, but just to balance that comment – the WCC’s upgrade of the Miramar town centre seems to be working very well. It’s now a much more pleasant place to be.

  28. peter@east-welly, 1. April 2014, 10:42

    Mike – have a look around the city, read this morning’s D.P., and Nora’s comments above. The Council’s preoccupation with building on the waterfront is having a detrimental effect on the rest of the Wellington economy. We need a vibrant economy across the whole city, not just in one sector, for Wellington to thrive.
    By the way, you’ve had at least one vacant shop in Miramar for over 4 months – not a good look.

  29. JC, 1. April 2014, 21:30

    Oh the irony – blaming development on the waterfront for wellington’s flagging economy! Priceless. Many readers out here would sooner believe that the real cause is the glut of naysayers like you peter!

  30. peter@east-welly, 2. April 2014, 9:47

    Take a trip to Auckland, as I did recently, their economy is booming as they have had a Council that is pro-active. We had a Council that sat on its hands for the previous trimester and did nothing, except give the bird to its constituents. Creswick Valley, the Waterfront, even in Kilbirnie – could a Council have been more dysfunctional?
    Now the Council wants to put in cycle-lanes everywhere, but at John Street, Bay Road, Brooklyn Road, and even on Willis Street/Manners Streets when they were doing their up-grades, and they had their opportunity to implement such improvements, the Council fudged. I’m not a naysayer, just a realist.


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