Using the rates to fight the ratepayers

There were two reminders last week of the Wellington City Council’s sad habit of using ratepayers’ money to fight the ratepayers.

The first reminder came on Thursday from the Creswick Valley Residents Association. Its members thought their battle was over after they won their case in the High Court which ruled that re-zoning a site at 55-85 Curtis Street from open space/residential to business 2 was illegal because it was not publicly notified. The council had spent $160,000 fighting the residents’ appeal.

“We took them to court and won, but now … we have to fight again to save our valley,” says Sarah Holden, the association’s chairperson, faced with council plans to allow 4500 truckloads of fill to be brought into their valley.

The second reminder came on Friday from David Lee, who recalled that the council spent at least $200,000 on its failed attempt to exclude the public from the resource consent process on North Kumutoto with Variation 11. Part of the case argued by Waterfront Watch in its successful appeal was that a new building proposed for the northernmost Kumutoto site was too large and too high. The court agreed. It ruled that the footprint had to be reduced, and it considered “a permissible height of 22m is appropriate.” (The council’s original plan was for 30m.)

But the council and its favoured developers Willis Bond didn’t give up. Ignoring the court ruling, the council is now supporting a building with a height of 25.7m.

It ought to be salutary for the council and its friends to note the judge’s comment on Waterfront Watch, which he said holds

“…an unspoken but readily discernable view that the council cannot be relied to get it right, and only public opinion and action, litigious or otherwise, has averted poor planning and design outcomes on the waterfront in the past.”

The first legal action by Waterfront Watch was in 2001 when it appealed against the city’s plan to move the Ambulance Building on to Taranaki Wharf. The successful appeal followed months of mediation when the council refused to accept any of its arguments about keeping the heritage building on its original site.

The Environment Court judge ruled that Waterfront Watch had presented a compelling case in terms of heritage and urban design. The council then withdrew its application to move the building. But by then its waterfront company had committed $500,000 of public money fighting its lost cause. It could have saved the money if it had been able to recognise the arguments which were accepted by the judge.

In 2008, Waterfront Watch and the Civic Trust were partners in the appeal against the city’s plan to allow a Hilton Hotel to be built on Queens Wharf. There were concerns about the building’s bulk and size, and its convoluted access. Again, the arguments against the council plan were upheld by the Environment Court.

Again, substantial legal costs could have been avoided had the council been able to listen to what its opponents of the hotel were saying.

Since the council’s defeat over its Hilton plans, development on Queens Wharf seems to come to a standstill. Not, however, on Taranaki Wharf, where the wharewaka was built on the site which had been intended for the ambulance building. But in its eagerness to approve the building, the council breached its own Design Brief, which stated that “the vista from the City-to-Sea bridge will be retained and enhanced. The design will pay special attention to maintaining a strong visual connection between the Civic Centre to Te Papa.”

And now, the council again seems to be intent on getting what it wants, in spite of losing legal battles in the Creswick Valley and on north Kumutoto. Its inability to hear what its ratepayers are telling it is continuing just as strongly as was the case in 2001.



  1. Elaine Hampton, Mt Victoria Residents Assn, 24. March 2014, 10:46

    A quick back-of-an-envelope addup. $160,000 +$200,000 + $500,000 = hmmm that’s close to a million dollars.
    The Mt Victoria Residents Association and the Historical Society asked for $60,000 to complete a heritage audit of a suburb which has huge value to a city that considers itself a destination. We were told there was no money! ‘Could we get locals to covenant their properties one by one’! No wonder there is no money for useful items.
    The choices that Wellingtonians are given: a big ugly building or a bigger ugly building. Every Councillor, except Iona Pannett, voted for the 27 m high glass box. Very sad.

  2. City Lad, 24. March 2014, 18:06

    The Mayor and councillors have ignored the Environment Court’s decision on site 10. None of them had the courage to interrupt Ian Pike, CEO of WWLtd, while he made his emotional presentation to them on behalf of the developer. Mr Pike should have been told to stop. Only Councillor Pannett questioned the integrity of the proposal. And rightly so.

    More ratepayer money must not be wasted fighting citizens again. This is not a planning issue. Compensation can be awarded.

  3. Just another ratepayer, 25. March 2014, 8:07

    Not to mention the Fish Zoo. Council funded two resource consent hearings and the Environment Court case for Mr Anderlini, plus gave money for plans, traffic studies et al. And now they want more (see today’s Dompost). In true form they wait until the Annual Plan has been notified to ask for yet more ratepayer money for a new resource consent application. Unbelievable. Why aren’t their backers, Sam Morgan and Co, putting up the money if they believe in the project’s economic viability as well as its sound environmental outcome rather than another ratepayer backed economically flawed natural attraction.

  4. CC, 25. March 2014, 8:45

    Thanks ‘Just another ratepayer’ – no doubt most people forgot about that case of using rates to fight ratepayers. Now let’s wait and see how much the Council throws at Mr. McIntyre who wants to indulge his shipwreck hobby on Site 9. His $14m could be jointly invested on the Lyall Bay site instead of being a drain on public funds and another crude ploy to further privatise public space at Kumutoto. This also makes sense as the South Coast is becoming the place to be because it has a protected waterfront thanks to the Fish Zoo appellants and the Environment Court.

  5. peter@east-welly, 26. March 2014, 18:30

    At the last election, none of the ‘real’ issues got debated. Just 2 – 5 minutes of lovey-dovey ‘speeches’, a couple of caged questions, but no real debate.
    To paraphrase that old warhorse “Wellington, the way you got it.” Democracy never stood a chance. As for the ratepayers’ funds, there to be abused by the Council.

  6. James, 26. March 2014, 20:44

    Could someone ask the councillors who voted for the 25.7m building to tell us why they thought it was a good idea?

  7. Lee, 26. March 2014, 22:56

    Where is the mayor on this?
    Didn’t she celebrate the Environment Court decision with the Waterfront Watch president in a picture in the Dominion Post?
    I thought we voted for Celia to be different from what John Morrison would do.


Write a comment: