by Lindsay Shelton
The Wellington City Council is facing a substantial rebuff from public submissions about its Variation 11 plan to change the rules controlling new buildings on the waterfront. It has received 49 submissions. But only one supports the changes: from the council’s own waterfront company.
It may not be surprising to learn that Waterfront Watch opposes the council’s wish to reduce public input into new waterfront building plans. Or that Action for the Environment says it’s wrong to exclude the public and leave decision-making to a few officials.
But the Civic Trust – rightly known as a conservative organization – is among the critics. It says the proposed new policies, rules and guidelines for new buildings in the Kumutoto area (north of Queens Wharf) are too broad and imprecise and provide no assurance that public space quality will be honoured. The Trust questions the maximum heights for new buildings and opposes the plan to allow the maximum to be exceeded by 15 per cent.
The Architectural Centre agrees that 15 per cent flexibility is “far too high” and says such good intentions have given developers an expectation that they can build to “the maximum plus.” That certainly puts into clear words the suspicions that many of us have had for years.
Altogether eighteen of the submissions oppose the council’s idea that new waterfront buildings should be allowed to rise 15 per cent above the already-high maximums. Only one submission supports it – no prizes for guessing that it’s from the council-owned waterfront company.
The Architectural Centre lines up with Waterfront Watch in opposing the council’s wish to restrict public involvement in decision-making about new buildings. “We consider the role of public input into the waterfront has been a productive one,” say the architects.
They are scathing about the value of design guides, saying “they provide a utopian and woolly wish list which has little, if any, legal clout…. crude instruments to assist designers lacking the skill to produce even average standards of design.”
The Historic Places Trust is another organisation which is against the planning changes. It says present controls should remain in order to protect historic heritage, viewshafts and public open space.
It also has concerns about heights – it says the proposed height and positioning of the new Kumutoto buildings has the potential to adversely effect the heritage values of historic buildings in the neighbourhood. It’s specially concerned about the size and height of two new buildings which the council wants to build near the old Eastbourne ferry terminal, and it says Sheds 11, 13 and 21 should be given more open space.
The council’s plan changes include cutting back the amount of public access into ground floor space. This isn’t good enough for the owners of the ground floor of the Odlins Building (now known as the NZX Centre) who oppose “constraints on non-public use of ground floor premises” which they say will restrict the potential for their building to contribute to economic activity on the waterfront.
The owners of the former Retail Centre (now private offices) are in the same camp. They are concerned by the possibility of an over-supply of public space. (Others might think this was a great prospect). There’s more: through a fog of legalese they want the right to increase the height of their enormous building to the same maximums planned for the new Kumutoto buildings.
Just another reason to bring down the maximums. As everyone can see, allowing new buildings to overshadow the 19th Century wharf sheds brings dire results.
Anyway, the council now has a second chance. It’s calling for further submissions “supporting or opposing the submissions” already received. In extending the date till June 15, perhaps it’ll try to find people who might support what it wants to do.
The fact that it’s embarrassed (annoyed might be a better word) by all the opposition seems evident when you try to find the 65-page summary of submissions on the council’s website.
“It is nothing short of appalling that none of us could find this on the WCC website, despite our familiarity with planning issues,” writes a colleague who’d been advised that the summary had been released. “I couldn’t find it by looking under Plan, District Plan, Have Your Say, Participation, or Public Notices. It is not even in the alphabetical listing under Plan. I only found it by searching my incoming emails for the email advice.”
If you want to see the individual submissions, here’s the elusive link: