Wellington Scoop

It’s official: the OPT is to be demolished and replaced with something bigger


By Lindsay Shelton

It takes a judge to tell us that one of the city’s landmark buildings is to be demolished.

Others involved have used less specific words. But in the Environment Court decision about the Overseas Passenger Terminal, Judge C J Thompson uses strikingly plain language:

The OPT will be removed and will be replaced by a new and significantly larger building.

There is no question, writes the judge, that what is proposed will preserve or protect the OPT. “While some of its fabric might be reused, the building and its values will be lost.”

He politely describes as “quaint” the original application’s claim that the OPT is to be “refurbished.” The project “is much more than that,” writes the judge. Others might say the original wording was misleading.

The new building will be bigger than the 1960s structure which it’s replacing. The judge tells us how much bigger: it will be “wider along the eastern side of the wharf and will extend past the present northern and southern limits.” The upper levels will contain between 70 and 90 apartments and there’ll be under-wharf parking with space for 90 cars as well as parking on the wharf.

More on the size. The judge tells us that the new building will be “so much larger” than permitted in the regional coastal plan (which states that additions or replacements must not exceed the dimensions of the existing building by 5 metres in vertical projection or 5 per cent … whichever is the lesser). He further comments that the new building will “undoubtedly be substantially different in external appearance . . .”

He offers a judicial opinion on the soon–to-be-demolished Overseas Passenger Terminal: “much admired but now somewhat unloved.”

“There is obviously room for debate,” writes the judge about the historic value of the OPT, which is listed in the city’s District Plan and is one of 180 structures chosen for inclusion in a recently published book (edited by Julia Gatley) about New Zealand’s modernist buildings. But he rules that “the loss of the OPT is not an adverse effect of such magnitude that it would justify refusal of consent” to demolish and replace it.

Loss of a distinctive modernist building is only one of the consequences of the new plan. Public ownership will be lost as well. More information from the judge: “A subdivision given consent in 2006 broadly separated the envelope of the proposed building from the surrounding wharf structure … This will enable the building to be owned by the developer or its successors, and the wharf structure to remain in public ownership, thus providing for ongoing public access.”

Hopes of attracting shops and restaurants into the ground floor of the new building are countered by the judge’s comment that there have been a series of unsuccessful restaurants and cafes and that its distance from transport and the CBD has been a problem for such uses. However he notes the argument that bringing more residents into the area will bring with it “something closer to the critical mass required to give viability to the business established in and around the Chaffers Dock and Herd Street apartments” though “we are told that most of them have not so far been successful.” He doesn’t offer any opinion on the viability of adding to the number of such establishments.

He does however report that the wharf’s early history earned it a reputation as “cold and windy”, an attribute which buyers of all the new apartments will no doubt have to learn to live with.

The new residents will also have to get used to the fact that the public will have 24 hour access to the wharf below their new apartments. “While parts of the wharf might be narrower than presently exist,” writes the judge unjudgementally, “ that in no way poses any impediment for people wanting to walk on to and around the wharf.” Unless of course the residents want to shout from their balconies and tell midnight walkers (or fishermen) to keep quiet.

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