On the waterfront: another private building on public land

by Mary Munro
The Wellington City Council last week voted 11 to four in favour of allowing an office block to be built on Site 10 at North Kumutoto, and granting a 125-year land lease to Willis Bond and Co. Waterfront Watch remains deeply concerned about these decisions.

At no point has the city council given the people of Wellington an unencumbered opportunity to say what they want to happen in this area. When there has been so-called consultation, it has always been on the basis that there will be a building on Site 10 (and another on Site 9.)

This is wrong. This is public land and people have clear ideas about what they’d like to see there. But these ideas have not been considered because Wellington Waterfront Ltd with the support of the city council has chosen to interpret the Waterfront Framework (which is open to a mix of buildings and public spaces on North Kumutoto) as saying there will be buildings on both sites.

Consultation with a “there will be buildings” overlay has meant Wellingtonians have not been able to say what they want.

Wellingtonians are most assuredly not short of ideas, and Open Space has always been a priority. A green, attractively-landscaped, open space with full views of the waterfront and harbour would always be the preferred option if open consultation had been allowed – but it hasn’t been.

Wellington Waterfront Ltd, or City Shaper as it now seems to be called now that the council-controlled organization has been brought in-house, has justified buildings on Sites 9 and 10 on the basis of Framework wording which says the area “has a strong connection to the City’s CBD” and “this will be reflected …. through a higher proportion of buildings than on the rest of the waterfront”.

But, at no point does the Framework say buildings will be put up by private developers. In fact, the whole Framework document presupposes the development of public land, “open space” being the predominant use.

The waterfront is for the people of Wellington. It is there to be developed for their pleasure and enjoyment. Selling off any land in this unique part of our city (and a 125 year lease is the equivalent of selling land, land which belongs to the people) is quite wrong.

Sites 9 and 10 do not need buildings constructed by private developers. Sites 8, 9 and 10 could be developed as a unique high-quality open space with grass and trees – a place for people to relax and enjoy the beauty of the waterfront and the harbour.

What is now being offered to the people of Wellington is a hard-surfaced, dull area, where vehicles and people are thrown together, and the whole site will be dominated by (and significantly shadowed by) an office block.

If the Council is willing to trade off prime-site public land for money, should it not be very clear about how much money it is going to get? There are serious questions to be asked about the figures which have been given to the public about the finances in this deal:

For example, what is the basis for the estimated total value of “over $70 million” for the building on Site 10? Or the expected “$800k in annual rates for the Council”? These are the same sums presented when the original plan was for a building of 6 levels and 11,500m2 of lettable floor space. The building has now been reduced to 5 levels and 10,300m2 of lettable floor space, so how can the expected financial return be the same? We note that these figures are not at all consistent with other large buildings in the area and the rates they pay.

Waterfront Watch has consistently asked for information about the estimated rating value of the proposed building. The latest response from the Council is most informative:

“With regard to the estimated capital value of the proposed building, this was simply an estimate carried out by WWLtd based on the size of the proposed building and known building and material costs at that time. However, given that the building is still only a proposal, any final capital value may differ from this estimate”
– Letter from Ian Hunter, Issues Resolution Officer, 23 July 2014

The Report says that Site 10 “generates a net annual income (after deduction of all costs) of $430,000”. This is from the motor home park and car parking. That income stream could go on for years, and presumably increase, so why is it necessary to forego that and sell the land to a private developer? Additionally, such income could pay for the development of public space, specifically grass and trees.

In conclusion, it is very disappointing to see a proposal being pushed through by the Council that does not reflect open and unobstructed debate among Wellingtonians.

It is of great concern that one of Wellington’s finest assets, its publicly-owned waterfront, is being used to make money for the Council through the construction of a privately developed office block.

And it is astonishing that one of the meagre justifications for going ahead with this building is that it will stimulate the Wellington construction sector. How short-sighted is that?

Mary Munro is president of Waterfront Watch.


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