Wellington Scoop

No plans, but they love it anyway

by Lindsay Shelton
There was a night of magical thinking last Thursday when Wellington City Councillors debated the proposal to support a new building on the open green waterfront lawn of Frank Kitts Park.

It was led by mayor Andy Foster, who said the fale maele proposal was “a magical concept, with the potential to be a great meeting place.” But it’s impossible to understand how he knows this, because there are no plans – not even a concept drawing – for anyone to see. Nothing. Perhaps Andy was looking into a crystal ball.

It may be the same crystal ball that Fleur Fitzimons was looking into. Her enthusiasm for the as-yet unseen and unplanned new building is, she says, because it will be be “a wonderful opportunity for Wellington… it will be loved by Wellingtonians and will change the city for the better.”

In spite of plans being non-existent, a majority of councillors including the Mayor and Councillor Fitzsimons voted to support the new building, regardless.

Writing in eyeofthefish, Nemo was as bemused as I was:

Despite the Council agreeing to it, there is virtually no information out in the public domain … It is not just me who is unsure what or where, with regards to the Fale. I’ve been watching the WCC committee meeting online (hours of my life exhausted) and find that the Council don’t know either, and even the applicant (the Fale Trust) don’t know, with Dame Winnie Laban presenting, and someone called Sophie at the meeting stating that they had engaged architects Jasmax to prepare designs and some engineers to look at ground conditions, and that they would report back in November on the process for Resource Consent.

The debate failed to acknowledge that the council’s Waterfront Framework, which has been in force since 2001, specifies that Frank Kitts Park is not a building site, but is a large green park, a major green open space, and a centre for outdoor activities.

Only two councillors went on record as always having opposed buildings on the waterfront. But then they magically reached opposite conclusions.

Iona Pannett said that as an ex member of Waterfront Watch she had never supported buildings on the waterfront … But she changed her mind – with no explanation – at Thursday’s meeting and said: “I think we need to give this a go.” Contradictorily, she then insisted that she was still passionate about open space and (magical thinking?) “we will provide extra space – somewhere else … a large space.” Somewhere, somehow, someday.

Like Iona Pannett, Nicola Young has long been opposed to buildings on the waterfront. But she didn’t change her stance on Thursday. She said that the waterfront was the city’s most precious public area and Wellingtonians had long fought to keep its open space. She said she had been consistent in opposing buildings on Frank Kitts Park. “We’ll be buying into a battle if this goes ahead. The fale is a great idea, but not the location.” She was one of only four councillors who voted against the proposal.

Then there was Rebecca Matthews who said Frank Kitts Park was “not that well used” and was not a beautiful place. Sean Rush didn’t agree with her. He said the park was used by hundreds of people. “I’m a regular down there with my kids.” He was even aware of the Waterfront Framework specifying that park is green open space and he therefore voted against the project. But the Framework was ignored by almost all other councillors, as they sang praises of a building which has not yet been designed.

Staff gave misleading advice about the Framework:

Although there are policy and planning frameworks that provide development controls for the broader waterfront site, they do not focus on the Frank Kitts Park area and how the individual elements of the site work together to deliver a high quality and cohesive user experience …

They chose to forget that the Framework contains a full page about Frank Kitts Park, with nothing allowing new buildings.

And they were unconvincing when they told councillors that “any loss of open space in the park, such as a building, will be accounted for and compensated in future developments elsewhere in the city.” No one could believe that open space on the waterfront could be replaced by open space somewhere in the city. Well, not quite anyone. Councillors believed the promise, which was repeated by Iona Pannett. The resolution which they passed at the meeting says:

“Compensatory open space will be created elsewhere in the city designed with water sensitive urban design principles.”

To which a Wellington.Scoop reader responded: Water sensitive urban design principles … storm water drains? And another reader said: Usually it’s code for gravel beds and tussock.

The staff report does however provide a few more pieces of information about the Fale Maele:

Jasmax Architects has been engaged by the Trust to progress the design proposal that includes two key components; the fale (a structure that acts as a meeting house for communal activities) which will integrate with the malae (a large open space).

And how about the clash of architectural styles, if a Fale Maele is built next to a Chinese Garden? Staff say that Thursday’s decision “supports iconic and recognisable Pasifika architecture on the capital city’s waterfront, and the aspirations of the Pasifika community.” No mention that Chinese architecture on the site has already been approved. But perhaps there’s some slight concern about design matters:

Wraight Associates, who undertook the design of Frank Kitts Park in the 2018 consented development, have been commissioned. Their brief will be to prepare a development plan for the park based on the demolition of the car park building, and considering the Chinese Garden and, if approved in principle, the Fale Malae.

The Fale Maele Trust seems to be more aware of the Framework than councillors themselves. A council officer told the meeting that the Trust expected the building on Frank Kitts Park would include significant open space.

“The footprint will be as small as they can manage. They’re very aware of the need for public open space. The more green space and open space, the more chance they’ll have of getting it through the waterfront approval process.”

Time, it seems, for a third decade of the battle to retain public open space on the waterfront.


  1. Helene Ritchie, 27. September 2021, 17:10

    Mayor Foster was right when he said in the debate “we are completely flying blind.” He also said when questioned by Councillor Calvert that the Framework was reviewed in about 2015/2016 by the Council and found to be “fit for purpose.” And he also said: “The fale malae may not stack up, or there could be issues with the resource consent”, before going ahead to vote for it. As for Councillor Pannett’s idea to buy a building to provide 20,000 square metres of compensatory open space somewhere (not at all near ‘the moana’) what do we think of that idea?

    I leave the last word to Councillors Calvert and Young, the former saying “there will be so much opposition it may well be better for the them (The Trust) to look at another site”, and Councillor Young, “We are buying into a battle royal. Wellingtonians will rise up.”

    You are right, a third decade of the battle to save public open green space on the waterfront is looming.

  2. Wendy, 27. September 2021, 17:12

    It was a confusing shambles to watch. From the unclear advice to councillors regarding the proposal and the Waterfront Framework, to the incredulous statements by councillors that this would change the city “for the better” and how it will be “loved by Wellingtonians”, the alarming lack of factual information was astonishing. It was also concerning that there was no substantial discussion regarding the impact of losing Frank Kitts Park on the critical shortage of green space for the huge inner-city community.

    And, without any clear plan in place, Cr Pannett’s pledge that “we will provide extra space – somewhere else … a large space,” resulted in a vague resolution that “Compensatory open space will be created elsewhere in the city.” Really? When? Where? and at what cost to replace 20,000sqm of large open space? The Oxford dictionary got it bang on with an explanation that compensatory is about “Reducing or offsetting the unpleasant or unwelcome effects of something”.

  3. Jim the Yimby, 27. September 2021, 17:17

    I don’t necessarily support the Fale Maele on the site, as I have yet to see the concept. But the framework notes that the carpark area is a potential site for the wharewaka (now elsewhere) so isn’t that the mention of a building which you say “doesn’t exist”? It’s fair to critise proposals, but don’t misinform people.

  4. Claire, 27. September 2021, 17:56

    Wendy the article has it right talking about magical thinking. Add naive and superficial ideology.

  5. JAB, 27. September 2021, 18:33

    Why has the council even contemplated putting ratepayers on the hook for the financial costs of providing the land for a national project? Nothing against the Fale Maele project as I think it’s a generally good idea, but if it is a national project then why does the concept not include the purchase of suitable land from government funds?

  6. Peter B, 27. September 2021, 21:11

    My understanding is that the purpose of the meeting was to approve in principle the demolition of the car parks. That given, but the development of a building be it a Fale Malae or otherwise on the site is in clear breach of the Waterfront Framework in that the Council has acknowledged that the framework is “fit for purpose”. If the plan is to house more people in higher density buildings within the inner city, then clearly more open space is required not less.

  7. Henry Filth, 28. September 2021, 7:29

    Will there be consultation about what to tear down to work out where to use the free, green, open space to be “… accounted for and compensated in future developments elsewhere in the city.” ?Perhaps there could be a competition?
    Maybe the council could sell the naming rights.

  8. pedge, 28. September 2021, 8:14

    Henry Filth. The Oaks would be my first choice to tear down. It was supposed to be temporary, and is now in pretty awful condition. It would be a great spot for some green space and currently wouldn’t be shaded much to the north and west. Landscape architects could extend and redesign Aro Park, creating a much larger useable green space in a well used area. Anyone know who owns the Oaks?

  9. Smug Hermit, 28. September 2021, 8:55

    According to a stuff report from 2015: “The Oaks building was on council land, and the owner would have a right-of-renewal on the lease coming up in the next five years. That could provide an opportunity to discuss ways to adapt the building to better utilise it and revitalise the area.” In that report, Andy Foster suggests precisely what you have mentioned amongst other suggestions.

  10. Jamie, 28. September 2021, 11:02

    Maybe they’ll just shut the quays and re grass them.

  11. David G, 28. September 2021, 17:01

    I have noticed quite a few articles in wellington.scoop from those who really love Frank Kitts Park. I am not one of those people! I never stop there; I far prefer the nearby Waitangi Park, where I love the planting of traditional wetland plants that clean the mouth of the incoming streams as well as the planting of my favorite local trees like nikau and ti kouka. Frank Kitts Park, in contrast, is a dated design – basically a playground with extra grass featuring an amphitheater facing the wrong way. Although I totally support public green space on the waterfront, nothing that has been proposed threatens the actual waterfront. Compared to the excellent recent development of other Wgtn waterfront areas like the Cobham Drive beach, the existing Kitts Park waterfront is sad. Bring on the changes!

  12. Claire, 28. September 2021, 21:35

    David: it’s the unimpeded view to the sea that’s important. Priceless really.

  13. Jim the Yimby, 29. September 2021, 8:27

    Claire – but you don’t have unimpeded views of the sea now in the areas for the proposed garden and Fale Maele. You get glimpses from the first half of the park around TSB Arena but then it’s obstructed by the arena seating and carparking building. Those views also happen to be from a 6-lane road.

    David – Wellington.Scoop is negative about any proposals in this city (spatial plan, new buildings, cycleways etc) pretty sad that they can’t get any balance on here and refuse to publish any comments that are critical of them.

  14. Conor, 29. September 2021, 12:41

    Democratically elected councillors should be able to overrule a framework created by unelected bureaucrats. Regardless of what you think of this specific decision.

  15. Ben Schrader, 29. September 2021, 20:35

    I agree that Frank Kitts Park needs a revamp. It’s aways struck me as odd that’s it’s largely shut off from the harbour edge, caused by the wall required for the former car race I suppose. It makes more sense to open the space up to the harbour.

    I wouldn’t mind if the Chinese garden goes there because it will create new interest in the area and still leave room for a relatively large lawn and playground. I also wouldn’t mind if the Fale Malae goes at its southern end. I think the Whare Waka is a great asset to the waterfront. I really like its close relationship with Whairepo Lagoon and I think the Fale Malae could be designed to do same on the other side.

    What I would mind is if this all went ahead without the council providing an equal amount of green space elsewhere in the central city. The Oaks is certainly one site that could work. Others include the carparks in Cuba and Leed streets. The redevelopment of Frank Kitts Park should only happen once these or other sites are secured for public use.

  16. Michael Gibson, 29. September 2021, 22:10

    Ben – last week I sent an O. I. query asking: please let me know the sites ‘elsewhere in the city’ which any officers have considered as ‘compensation'”. Obviously I’m unlikely to get any answer for at least three weeks.

  17. Hel, 29. September 2021, 23:07

    Conor, the Waterfront Framework was developed through a significant public process and adopted by democratically elected councillors, precisely to stop off the cuff decision making like this.

  18. Ben Schrader, 30. September 2021, 11:59

    Good on you Michael. The compensatory green space must be locked in before anything happens at Frank Kitts Park. Strips of shrubs and trees, as in southern Victoria Street, is insufficient. It needs to be on a similar scale as Glover Park (preferably bigger) and include lawns to sit on and playgrounds for the families of inner city residents.

  19. Traveller, 30. September 2021, 13:11

    If the Fale gets built, who will pay the overheads and the annual running costs? Will staff be needed? If so, where will their salaries come from? Will there be a daily programme of activities? Or will it be empty and unused for much of the time?

  20. Hel, 30. September 2021, 17:42

    Traveller. The Council will be asked to put their hand in their pocket and provide operational funding support. Hope to be pleasantly surprised but not holding my breath.

  21. Toni, 1. October 2021, 0:14

    Why is it ever acceptable to lose a large open park in the inner-city for any reason? Wellington must be one of the few cities in the developed world that has not accepted how cities need more green spaces not less. We have had several years now of the council telling us we all want more green space, while repeatedly kowtowing to the wishes of groups and developers who come along and expect to build where ever they want.

    And why should the wishes of the Pasifika community be deemed far more important than the critical shortage of inner-city green spaces, and the wishes of the Wellington public who want Frank Kitts Park to stay?

    Since council is not really committed to providing appropriate open green spaces for the inner-city residents to ensure their physical and mental well-being, they should not be planning to double the population in the future.

  22. Michael, 1. October 2021, 9:23

    I am staggered that the Pasifica community is not against the destruction of Frank Kitts Park, as they are generally a community in touch with the environment and nature.

  23. Peter, 1. October 2021, 14:43

    Michael. Has there been a survey or any other means of assessing the views of the Pacifica community (or communities??). It is apparent that working class Pacifica are not the planners or participants, as the Fale project is being spearheaded by interests such as the Victoria University. Interestingly, the committee is led by Adrian Orr who doesn’t seem to be of Pacific Island descent. Cynicism is well fuelled with the Victoria University’s statement, “As well as hosting corporate and cultural events and strengthening the pathway to higher education, the fale has the potential to be a catalyst for encouraging the development and growth of Pacific-owned businesses.”

    Finally, let’s not forget that Chinese in Wellington, apart from the Garden Society, don’t seem to have demonstrated much enthusiasm for ‘their’ Chinese garden. I understand there has been little progress toward raising the proposed contribution of the local Chinese community. By the same token, it is presumed that the various Pacific communities (like Maori in respect of their waterfront ‘cultural centre’ Te Wharewaka o Pōneke) will have little benefit from the project, and even less involvement.

  24. Michael, 1. October 2021, 16:26

    Peter I very much doubt the community has been surveyed, and I agree it is being spearheaded by the interests of the university. I am at a loss to understand how it got to this stage. It seems that projects like this do not have to stack up against the best interests of the whole community before they are considered by councillors.
    Councillors are fully aware the inner-city is critically short of green space, but none of them gave this any real consideration when agreeing to destroy most of Frank Kitts Park, apart from a waffly statement the inner-city will be compensated elsewhere. This statement was just thrown out with no idea where or when this green space would be provided, or if it is even possible.

  25. Greenwelly, 1. October 2021, 16:42

    Peter, Adrian Orr is descended from the Cook Islands. Kia orana, Dale. Our Cook Islands connection is through the George whānau. My grandfather, No’oroa George, was born on the island of Atiu in the southern Cook Islands and came out to Aotearoa in the early 1930s. Mum Shona was born here soon after he arrived, I think. And 12 of his brothers and sisters also turned up.

  26. Wendy, 1. October 2021, 18:17

    Since Adrian Orr is descended from the Cook Islands I respectfully ask him and his committee to act on behalf of his community and seriously reconsider the request to build on Frank Kitts Park when so many Wellingtonians are against it, and when the huge inner-city community is so desperately short of large open green space. Thank you.