Wellington Scoop

Covering the waterfront

by Patrick McCombs
Last month’s Environment Court hearing about a five-storey office building on the campervan park opposite the Post Office building has highlighted the potential for more buildings on the waterfront.

The District Plan sets a limit of 35 per cent for the area of buildings allowed across the waterfront. The city council included the limit in a plan change in 2001. Councillors took comfort in the thought that 65 per cent of the waterfront would remain public space, open to the sky.

But in an unusual quirk, the site coverage rule relates to the whole area of the planning zone rather than to individual land titles. Also unusually, the waterfront area as defined in the plan includes the adjacent Waterloo and Jervois Quays and Cable Street.

In the outer city and suburbs, the District Plan sets site coverage limits as a percentage of land title area, excluding streets and reserves. In outer residential areas, the maximum site coverage on a section without a resource consent is 35%, and on Mt Victoria the limit is 50%. On the same basis, excluding roads, the building coverage limit on the waterfront allowed in the plan is 45%.

The Environment Court heard that the proposed new building would bring the site coverage to 23%, well short of the allowed 35%. The planner representing the applicants – the building developer who applied with the support of the council – emphasised that the district plan meant that the proposed building was entitled to be considered on its merits. Waterfront Watch asked the court to consider the impacts of the building and not to simply assume that it is acceptable, just because it was within the limit laid down in the plan.

covering waterfront
Click here for larger version

Within the 35% building coverage limit, there is in fact room to accommodate the footprint of two more Te Papas or over 16 more of the office building proposed for Kumutoto. Though 65% of the area would still be open, including the area of the Quays, if the building footprint is stamped 16 times across a plan of the waterfront it is plain that it is time to shout “stop building on the waterfront”.

A line has to be drawn well before the 35% limit is reached. Waterfront Watch believes that each proposed building must be critically examined and should be approved only if it serves the needs of people enjoying the recreational values of the waterfront.

There was a similar message in evidence to the Environment Court by Graham McIndoe, a designer who as chair of the council’s independent Technical Advisory Group has contributed much to the high design standards of waterfront developments. He said “the issue of ‘should there be another building’ comes down to what is the benefit of that building to the waterfront, what is its impact on the waterfront, [and] how does it contribute to a high quality public environment on the waterfront”.

The decision of the Environment Court on the application for the new office building at Kumutoto is expected before the end of the year.

Dr McCombs is president of Waterfront Watch.


  1. Guy, 3. September 2015, 10:28

    It is plain to see that Dr McCombs is set on continuing in the track of his predecessors, by sensationalising and creating fiction over potential future buildings on the waterfront. While the graphic published here in Scoop is too small and pixelated to really see what is proposed, it seems that a little red rectangle has been applied numerous times all over the waterfront, to give the impression that another 16 or so buildings could be built. That is plainly untrue. [You can now click and see a large, clear version of the graphic.]

    There are no plans for building office buildings on either Waitangi Park or Frank Kitts Park. To show them covered with building footprints is just scare-mongering, and frankly, wrong. There is, on the other hand, an identified space next to Te Papa where a building has long been proposed, but for which no developer has been found, and nor has Te Papa indicated any interest in building themselves. This is the failed UN Studio project – which is now long dead and buried. And up at the other end of the waterfront, there are just two sites left to be built on – the one the Environment Court has just been considering, and one last building space to the south of that.

    So, putting the Te Papa site aside (as it doesn’t look like it will ever happen), and putting the present Site 10 building aside, that just leaves ONE potential building site, not sixteen. As Graham MacIndoe has rightly said, any such development will be closely scrutinised. But the scare-mongering should stop.

  2. CC, 3. September 2015, 11:54

    Guy – It seems irrelevant whether or not there are currently plans for more public or private buildings on the waterfront. The point that seems to be being made by the president of Waterfront Watch is that there are large areas of road (including the quays) and vehicle access on the waterfront that constitute public open space under the site coverage rules for the LHA. This means that under the 35% rule, this, or future councils could (will?) make a further 25220 sq m (over half of the current site coverage of 47262 sq m) of waterfront land available for building. It seems bizarre that if one is standing in the middle of Jervois Quay he or she is standing on the open space of the waterfront. This once again proves that the District Plan is only the plaything of ambitious developers, aided and abetted by current and former council planning staff. Incidentally, it seems the overhang (gantry) of the proposed Site 10 building was deemed by some to not be included as site coverage.

  3. Guy, 3. September 2015, 18:11

    CC – you’re seeing conspiracy theories where there are none. The Twin Towers were not blown up by secret CIA operatives, and the Wellington waterfront is not going to have a further 25220 m2 built over the parks. I speak from experience. Having been involved in the process, I can assure you that the checks and balances are in there. Yes, things may seem bizarre, but that is the way that the waterfront teams have been working, and I totally disagree that the area is the “plaything of ambitious developers, aided and abetted by current and former council planning staff” – that couldn’t be further from the truth. Developers have just about had it up to here (gestures above his head…) from the protest flotilla of veteran protesters in Waterfront Watch…. and most developers keep well away from the waterfront because it is now just all too damn hard.

  4. luke, 3. September 2015, 19:37

    there is far too much carparking on the waterfront. it is an eyesore in what should be a pedestrian haven.

  5. Hel, 3. September 2015, 20:14

    Isn’t Frank Kitts Park where the Chinese Garden is meant to be going and the playground expanded? The Chinese community will be a bit surprised about the 8 buildings Dr McCombs envisages. A bit mischievous really.

  6. Traveller, 3. September 2015, 20:59

    Guy: what have you got to say about Sites 1 to 3 and Site 5? If the council has really abandoned its intentions for more buildings on the waterfront then it should update its published plan – and amend the District Plan accordingly,

  7. CC, 3. September 2015, 22:21

    Sorry Guy but some people can read and interpret information and have sufficient experience in dealing with resource consent and plan change matters to make more informed comment than your attack warrants. There is no conspiracy theory involved in translating the 35% LHA rule, irrespective of your superior attitude and self-proclaimed experience. Did you happen to be in the Environment Court to hear the RC evidence? Have you reviewed the related documentation, in particular the evidence of A. Auburn etc. and have you worked through the various related calculations and implications of the LHA? If, as you imply, there is to be no more privatisation of public open space on the waterfront after Kumutoto sites 9 and 10, the public need something far more substantial than your say so.

    Yes Guy – some developers may have had it ‘up to here’ with the waterfront, but not sufficiently to deter at least one from eyeing profitable ticket clipping returns using extensive government agency funding and waterfront open space acquisitions. The ‘too damned hard’ descriptor should be for those who have, on occasion, fought with more than a modicum of success to retain public space on the waterfront and to constrain the magnitude of Council supported developments for future generations, not those with deep pockets and profit making aspirations.

    As for Hel and luke – sadly you have both once more provided unsubstantiated comments in response to informed opinion and the promulgation of feasible scenarios.

  8. Peter, 3. September 2015, 22:51

    For the benefit of Hel, Frank Kitts Park and the proposed Chinese Garden which has morphed from one site to another on the waterfront have all the permanence of the hillock beside the old Free Ambulance Building that has come and gone a few times over the last decade and a half. The Sites 9 and 10 buildings will be there for 125 years.

  9. Nora, 3. September 2015, 22:59

    It was not so long ago when a number of developers were “accusing Centreport of ripping the heart out of our city”. One developer was quoted as saying “building offices down there is just madness – they will kill the city” and another feared it would “suck” more life out of the central city that already has lots of vacant office space.

    With the new BP Building and the proposal to convert the Railway Station into apartments and offices, who needs an office block on public land. With an increase in cruise ships passengers walking past the logs, they would enjoy open recreational space to sit and enjoy the views across the harbour to the Monastery and they could even hire crocodile bikes, scooters etc to make their way to Te Papa.

  10. Guy, 3. September 2015, 23:38

    Traveller – which ones are they again?

  11. Traveller, 4. September 2015, 8:18

    Guy – Sites 1, 2 and 3 are between Chaffers Dock and the boat harbour,. They were all approved for buildings as part of the Waitangi Park design. Site 4 is the much-debated transition zone, disgracefully used for car parking when it ought to be part of Waitangi Park.

  12. Hel, 4. September 2015, 13:55

    Thanks CC, I think there is more substance to the Chinese Garden and the playground than your comments where you are simply scaremongering under the guise of feasible scenario and informed opinion. How does your reference to ticket-clipping developers qualify as informed opinion? It is the exact opposite.

  13. CC, 4. September 2015, 16:51

    Hel – is Willis Bond involved in Wellington waterfront site development as an altruistic venture? The company appears on the companies register and is not listed as a charitable trust. Are you able to prove that there will be no more building on the waterfront despite there being a further 25220 square metres of site coverage permitted under the 35% rule? Instead of making unsubstantiated accusations of ‘scaremongering,’ you should take up the challenge of working toward having the Council reduce the allowable site coverage (maybe 25%) before it is too late.

  14. City Lad, 5. September 2015, 7:52

    Dr McCombs is correct to include his red images of buildings that show how the council currently has the authority to allow development of this magnitude on the waterfront.

    Guy’s knowledge of council planning issues is amazing. But maths not good.

  15. Patrick McCombs, 9. September 2015, 9:42

    Guy is probably right that no-one is ever going to cover the waterfront with buildings up to the 35% limit set by the District Plan. But so long as that limit remains, it can be used to minimise concerns about each new building – “we’re only up to 23% compared to the agreed 35% limit”.

    We don’t know what the council’s plan is for the waterfront. So many ideas have been proposed, and design competitions held. The favourite schemes are then put in a bottom drawer. Some suddenly reappear with the claim that they have been agreed long ago. Others have stayed silent for longer.

    Now that the waterfront development is coming to an end, Waterfront Watch would like to see a plan developed (with full public involvement) to agree on how the waterfront is going to be completed; how the open spaces will be landscaped with seats and shelter, and what facilities would be needed for the enjoyment of waterfront visitors.

  16. City Lad, 9. September 2015, 11:00

    Waterfront Watch continues to be the good shepherd of the waterfront. A plaque should be erected in their honour.