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.



  1. City Lad, 1. September 2014, 11:03

    Willis Bond and Co Ltd, is a private company comprising just one director and shareholder. The Mayor and 10 councillors who rushed in and voted in favour of this developer’s proposal for an office block on Site 10, Kumutoto have proved they are incapable of running this city.

    Councillors Eagle, Pannett, Peek and Ritchie are to be congratulated for protecting our precious waterfront.

  2. CC, 1. September 2014, 12:49

    The city inherited the Harbour Board land and properties at no cost. In less than two decades, the private sector (the likes of Willis Bond, ACC, Government Superannuation etc) have swum in financial deals with ticket clipping and profits in the mega-million dollar realms. What have the ratepayers got? Some landscaped areas, a reduction of publicly owned and accessible waterfront space and a multi-million dollar debt incurred by Wellington Waterfront Limited. To add insult to injury, ratepayers will get somewhat less than $10m for the Kumutoto site and little more than the caravan park income in rates returns. The additional ironies are that there is a pathetic looking Site 8 landscaping proposal to appease the critics, and extra costs of leasing land and establishing an alternative waterfront caravan park to maintain the financial viability of hospitality outlets on the waterfront. Clearly, there has been some interesting behind the scenes action in addition to misleading and in some respects dishonest spin that surrounded the privatisation of Site 10. Only four Councillors will be able to walk away from this latest decision with any integrity.

  3. Ian Apperley, 1. September 2014, 14:36

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

    Putting aside the issue at hand, you’ve hit on the actual problem that we, the residents, have. Consultation is, in my opinion, pre-determined, part of a greater plan, leaning toward an outcome in the questions, poorly advertised to the wider population while well publicised to lobby groups owned by the committees, largely a motion to go through, rather than a robust engagement with the community. I.e. It’s basically a flawed outcome on the back of a good process designed to further the aims of the minority groups in the Council. The number of times this can be seen in the past two years is astounding.

  4. Nora, 1. September 2014, 16:08

    Back in November 2009 then Mayor Kerry Prendergast was quoted on Newswire.co.nz as saying “We don’t sell waterfront land because it is so valuable, we only lease it. All new buildings can only be given 10 year leases and these can only be renewed by coming back to the council.” There’d been a scandal when it was discovered that the failed Retail Centre (now offices) on Queens Wharf had been given a 999-year lease. The rebuilt OPT has 125 years. And here we are in 2014 looking at another 125 year lease.

  5. Trish, 1. September 2014, 16:22

    Perhaps the council could survey Wellington residents’ support for more buildings on the waterfront. I wonder why they have never done that? [The council did commission a survey by ACNeilsen in 2001, asking how the waterfront land east of Te Papa should be used. Eightysix per cent of respondents wanted landscaped open space. Councillors ignored the survey and decided that a transition building and a carparking building should be built on the space. But since then, the area, which should have been part of Waitangi Park, has been used as a car park.]

  6. Elaine Hampton, 2. September 2014, 11:24

    Again the Council working against the best interests of Wellingtonians, future Wellingtonians, ratepayers, owners of office buildings, and also ratepayers. The history of the land on Wellington’s publicly owned waterfront is worrying if we want to preserve our Town Belt. Here legislation allows land to be taken out as well as put in and commercialisation is not – oh no look further- yes it is allowed.
    A ‘future city’ doesn’t have to, shouldn’t look like a mini New York.
    We need our waterfront preserved from this ‘rentier class.’

  7. Betty Weeber, 2. September 2014, 11:49

    I am feeling very sad and angry over what has happened to our waterfront. It was originally to be used only for harbour board or residents’ use. Now it seems to be only used for commercial gain, blocking out all areas that were meant for open space. Our Harbour is one of the most beautiful in the world. We should be proud of it. Do not block it with buildings that are there only to make a profit. Why must the Council only think in terms of capital gain? Health, beauty of natural things etc as our harbour is should be treasured at all cost.

  8. Maximus, 3. September 2014, 1:04

    Betty Weeber, Elaine Hampton, and other moaning Minnie’s: what planet do you live on? The same one as me? The waterfront “only used for commercial gain, blocking out all areas that were meant for open space”? What the ….? Have you walked along there lately? A “future city doesn’t have to, shouldn’t look like a mini New York”? What the ….?

    I’m honestly flabbergasted by your perpetual moaning. Yes, we have a wonderful waterfront – and in case you haven’t noticed, it has become MORE wonderful over the years, as more and more businesses move there, and more and more people walk there, visit there, do activities there, eat there, drink there, ride bikes there, walk their dog there, have good fun there, etc etc. Where are they doing all this? In the vast wide open spaces of the prairie ? No – in the pleasant and well-proportioned promenades and open spaces of the waterfront, along the front edge, in the pubs and restaurants, in Mojo coffee bar, in PortoFino, in Wagamama, in Fergs, in Shed 5, in Dockside, in Shed 6, and Shed 11 and Shed 13, etc etc. the only reason it is wonderful is because there are people and spaces and buildings and all of them interacting and ….. You just don’t get it do you? That’s what a city is about. Not wide open spaces – we have the sea and the sky and the bush which are wide open and have no people in them. The city though is different – the city is for people, and people need to work, and drink, and eat, and rest, and play, and to do this they need buildings.

    New York is, quite honestly, the most amazing city on earth, and if we could ever attain even one tenth of that excitement we would be doing well. Wellington has for years – almost a century now, been known as a mini-Manhattan, so our need for urban buildup is not new. If you don’t like it, go and live in the country and grow radishes.

  9. City Lad, 3. September 2014, 9:38

    Maximus. You sound upset today. Go and enjoy the open space on the waterfront. Especially Kumutoto North!

  10. JC, 3. September 2014, 13:38

    Well said Maximus. Great to see a different perspective in these columns.

  11. CC, 3. September 2014, 14:28

    Is this misrepresentation Maximus? The issue which you have avoided is the continuing privatisation of a public asset and the risk of exclusion of the general public who either can’t afford, or choose not to indulge in restaurant/cafe culture which you seem to thrive on. The ‘Moaning Minnies’ don’t appear to object to the ‘pleasant and well-proportioned promenades and open spaces of the waterfront’. Perhaps you could more specifically explain what value the Site 10 proposal will have, how it has more public value than the vision outlined by the likes of Jan Gehl and how even more watering holes and offices will improve the remaining Kumutoto spaces?

  12. Hel, 3. September 2014, 20:22

    Needed saying and I think Maximus is spot on. The waterfront is fantastic and has benefitted from a mix of buildings and public spaces. The open space is the harbour and it is framed by the waterfront. As the waterfront has developed, the number of people enjoying it has increased along with the atmosphere. Rather than constantly slating the Council for this gem we should be celebrating a fantastic space that without the funds from developments would still be an eclectic bunch of run down structures only of use as a car park, eg imagine North Kumutoto.

  13. City Lad, 3. September 2014, 20:34

    Maximus. Trust you enjoyed your stroll along the waterfront as prescribed today. And you would have seen Mojo, Dockside , Wagamama, Dockside, Chicago Bar, Fox Glove, One Red Dog all trying their utmost to make a modest living. So instead of placing these businesses at financial risk through your support for a strange looking building on Kumutoto, repent and become a moaning Minnie. You’ll feel much better.

  14. CC, 3. September 2014, 22:42

    Hel – You have commented without a clue as to the history, financial realities (ratepayer funded) or personal costs to those who have fought to protect the public space that still exists on the waterfront. I suggest for a start that you find out what has previously been proposed for such spaces as the Outer Tee, Chaffers (six storeys of apartments and car parks) and Kumutoto (15 storeys on Site 8 for a start from memory). Had the developers and the Council had their way, the public space assets you erroneously attribute to the Council would been an urban jungle consisting of an even larger number of pretentious offices and multi-million dollar apartments than already exists. Good luck with your research.

  15. Maximus, 3. September 2014, 23:23

    CC – actually, sadly, the Moaning Minnies do still insist on moaning about every building on the waterfront that has been built there in the last decade, including the spaces in between them. They are, sadly, beyond hope for a sane conversation about urban life. But you, CC, my little crispy friend (I’m assuming you are named after the crunchy corn crisp treat?), I still have hope for.

    Did you go and see Jan Gehl when he came to Wellington? I’m sure, like me, you did, and that you also have bought one or more of his books. You’ll know therefore that Gehl does not advocate wide open spaces per se – he carefully uses buildings and pathways to analyse the way that people use a space, and then uses that knowledge to build up a series of layers of context to that space. He notes that people use a space by clustering around the edge of a space, rather than standing in the middle. Those edges are created with buildings – making lanes, making streets, making spaces.

    Copenhagen, where Gehl comes from, is densely packed with small streets, many of them pedestrian focused, most of them strongly supportive of cycles, and what the proposed Site 10 building does is to try and provide a new edge to what is currently an exceptionally unpleasant space (when it is windy). North Kumutoto area has some of the highest wind gusts in central Wellington, and in winter it is quite foul at times. The point of the Site 10 building is, or was when I last looked, that there are significant public areas on the ground floor (the public rooftop garden previously proposed has been removed in the latest guise, to lower the height). The public areas are an effort to control the wind, to provide spaces that allow views through, but still enclosed space.

    Hopefully that answers some of your questions?

  16. Nora, 4. September 2014, 8:59

    The Environment Court decision on Variation 11, Page 19 (57) said “There is a clear understanding that this area provides the main open space for the central city and is primarily a place for people”.

    Wellington has one of the most beautiful harbours in the world and the wharf area sits within a natural amphitheatre. With the increase in cruise ship passengers who walk along Aotea Quay, what a disappointment it will be for them to arrive at Kumutoto to be greeted by a 5 storey office block which will create shadows and the loss of views across the harbour. They would prefer a recreation area with a variety of green spaces, shelter, seats, artisans’ workshops and access to hiring cycles, scooters and crocodile bikes to continue on to Oriental Bay. The council wants to increase tourism, facilitate walking, cycling etc and this would meet their objectives. This would also be the case for Wellingtonians and visitors arriving by train or bus and tourists at the Youth Hostel in the old Waterloo Hotel.

    The Framework is often quoted but under Principles it says “Public Space development does not depend for funding on commercial development and the waterfront as a whole will remain a unique asset to the city that is a draw card in its own right.”

  17. CC, 4. September 2014, 10:44

    Maximus – Thanks for your response. The points about Jan Gehl’s philosophies are accepted but I’m not sure how a proportionately large footprint building of five or six storeys, along with the other two that were proposed (now one if the EC decision is followed) fit the theory. There were also questions regarding the public space aspect of the now scrapped roof garden; it’s obvious that the Herd Street lookout precedent made it clear this would never be a public space. Furthermore, the ground floor will only be public inasmuch as when one goes into any business premises. As for wind issues, are you aware of any testing to establish that the Willis Bond proposal will improve the situation, and that those results have been trialed against, say, smaller buildings or even the establishment of a wind taming small urban forest such as can be found in other windswept coastal urban areas? Also you haven’t addressed the issue of the increasing privatisation of public property. This has been a significant concern for many who have exercised an interest in the waterfront development.

  18. Maximus, 4. September 2014, 13:36

    CC – re the privatisation of public land. As far as I understand, everything is being driven by the Waterfront Framework which is the only official document as guidance on the waterfront at Kumutoto. Everyone follows it rigorously. It set out that there were several sites available, and stipulated the heights etc – it listed site 6 (Steamship wharf), site 7 (Meridian), and sites 8, 9, 10. The previous proposal on site 10 got knocked back by the Environment Court, primarily because it did not meet the Framework. Read the Framework, as it sets out what is, to me, quite a straightforward guide to the future development of this area. It’s followed by the WCC, the WWL, the local developers, the public et al .

  19. Polly, 4. September 2014, 14:56

    When Jan Gehl was invited out to Christchurch by ex Mayor Bob Parker in 2012, the Press had an interesting article under the heading “Design Guru puts people first.” Gehl believes city planning should start with people, followed by public spaces and buildings, instead of the other way round.

  20. CC, 4. September 2014, 16:28

    Maximus – it’s consistently been the ‘Moaning Minnies’ that have had to resort to Court action to reign in the excesses of the developers and the Council. You might point out where the Framework gives wholesale rights to privatisation, especially in light of Nora’s quote (above) from the document?

  21. Maximus, 4. September 2014, 19:33

    Polly – you’re exactly right. As Gehl says, Man likes to be with Man. In his lovely soft Danish lilt, he meant that humans like to conglomerate in areas with other humans. To do this, they need pleasant surroundings. Do you recall at his public talk, he showed a picture of the Palio in Sienna, one of the world’s greatest public spaces. Urban design at its finest. Tourists from round the world. Love that space…. But interestingly, people don’t stand or sit so much in the middle of the space – as Gehl showed in his slides, they cluster around the edge, leaning on lamposts, sitting on steps and bollards, at tables and chairs outside buildings. Yep, the world famous Palio is completely surrounded by buildings – and it forms a great space for people.

    That is what the designers at Kumutoto have done – and these people who designed Kumutoto are some of the finest designers in the country, with world-class architects such as Studio Pacific and international landscape architects such as Isthmus. If you look at the spaces in Kumutoto, there is an incredible amount of thought and energy put into the landscaping – ledges, edges, sittable bollards, lighting, seating, cafes, planting, textured landscaped paving, etc etc. From what I can see of their work, the space was completely planned around people. The buildings are there to frame the spaces, to give them the backing, to make the spaces work.

  22. City Lad, 5. September 2014, 8:56

    Maximus. With your obvious architectural background, it’s a pity you support this proposed office block disguised as a toy horse float. Children would toss this toy into the rubbish bin.

  23. Nora, 8. September 2014, 16:53

    On the 28th September 2012, the Dompost asked councillors if they agreed with the Environment Court’s decision on Variation 11. Of interest are the replies from the Mayor and now Deputy Mayor:

    Mayor Celia Wade-Brown – “There will be implications for the future development of the waterfront in terms of built form, public spaces and financial issues. Pleased that the decision will lead to more public space and not dwarf the historic Ferry building. The decision would encourage more ‘modest’ development on the waterfront, but the council will have to consider the judgment during long-term plan discussions.”

    Justin Lester (now Deputy Mayor) – “I’m not averse to the idea of having commercial offices, but it has to be interspersed with accessible public space on the ground floor. The decision may not have been what was expected, but it will be a good outcome for Wellington. The waterfront isn’t anything without people, so we need to make sure it is welcoming.”

    They both voted in favour of a 125 year ground lease for Site 10 and the public was excluded from their discussions. We’ve now learnt of the timeline – a full page advertisement in the Dompost calls for registrations of interest in the retail or office spaces , with the design to be finalised and resource consent lodged in October.

  24. City Lad, 8. September 2014, 18:07

    What remarkable comments from the mayor and her deputy. Pity they both have short memories. Yes, another full page advertisement – I trust the mayor and her deputy have told the developer that this is unacceptable as no resource consent has been issued. But who knows what deals were made in secret on 27 August behind closed doors.

    The mayor and her deputy should give their assurances to the ratepayers that the council has not paid anything for the developer’s hyped up advertising.


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