Wellington Scoop

Losing our heart

civic square from the air

by Helene Ritchie
Have I got this right? The Wellington City Council’s draft District Plan is proposing to remove the heritage listing protection of the heart of the city – Te Ngakau/Civic Centre, which is listed as a heritage area in the current District Plan. There’s also no regard for legal protection of the city’s two waterfront parks.

We’ve been given just five pre-Christmas weeks to submit on the Draft District Plan – which is the first full revision of the planning rulebook in more than 20 years. In addition, we’ve had Parliament’s RMA enabling Bill imposed on top of the District Plan, with three weeks to comment on a fait accompli bipartisan Act which proposes medium density in the suburbs.

Much of the public debate on the draft plan has been focussed on intensification, and loss of protection for ‘heritage’ homes. Both will significantly change our city, and won’t provide affordable housing for those who need it most. We still don’t have any precision on projected population growth for the next 30 years, other than the false initial figure of 80,000 which the spatial plan incorporated (according to the Council) into the draft District Plan. (I understand that councillors have recently been given revised projections.)

However, because of the ferocity of the intensification debate, much else of concern will have been missed. If I read it correctly, the Civic Centre/Te Ngakau will have only two heritage protected buildings from its present list of eight key buildings, structures and open spaces. (Two of them are the Municipal Office Building and the Civic Administration Building, both now listed by the council as being part of a consenting process for their removal.)

As far as I can tell, the Te Ngakau/ Civic Centre heritage area has now been excluded from the draft district plan without reason.

In 2020 I made an extensive submission to Heritage New Zealand in an endeavour to have the Council retain protection of this pre-eminent heritage area which is the civic heart of the city. Heritage New Zealand proposed that Ian Athfield’s Central Library (closed since March 2019) be given the highest possible protection: category 1. The Council’s draft plan is ignoring that, and the Central Library is not listed for protection.

civic square another look

The Council’s draft seems not only to be excluding this central heritage area as a totality, but also it’s going further by specifically declaring non heritage: the City to Sea Bridge and its associated structures, and Jack Ilott Green (with the foundations of the original Ilott building), as well as by inference, the Central Library.

The only buildings being given heritage status in the draft plan are the Town Hall, and the City Gallery.

This entire architectural entity – with a unique story of the history of architecture in Wellington since 1904 exemplified in the buildings and the important open space square – should be supported by being made a category 1 heritage area.

(And with regard to sea level rise and seismic issues: all of the Civic Centre land is on raised ground, and in some parts – the library especially – on rock.)

However the council plans to demolish, flatten, and lease for ever to private owners. The council’s “Our Wellington” booklet claims that the draft plan “proposes to strengthen the heart of our city.” But how is it possible to take away a body, including the guts, and still strengthen the heart?

I urge you to submit by 14 December, to protect the Te Ngakau/Civic Centre area as a whole, and to support all its individual parts.

Further, the council is not proposing to protect our two waterfront parks – Waitangi and Frank Kitts – in any way as open green space for future generations. These two parks are recognised as Destination Parks in the recent Council-approved Green Network plan and they are “a major green open space” in the Waterfront Framework. Yet the council is supporting a new building on the lawn of Frank Kitts Park. Both parks should be protected in the District Plan.

The draft plan is proposing a ‘waterfront zone:’

“The Waterfront Zone provides an interface between the city centre and Te Whanganui a Tara. It contains one of the city’s primary promenades along with two major parks: Frank Kitts Park and Waitangi Park…”

The Draft District Plan describes Frank Kitts Park as “one of the two key parks on the waterfront,” but then goes on to enable it to be alienated:

“…Protect the Waterfront Zone’s public open spaces by avoiding new permanent buildings above ground on public open space except where they improve the space for public use and enjoyment and do not dominate or cumulatively diminish the public open space.”

The Council should be specifically protecting both these two significant parks, . They should be protected in the District Plan and through the Reserves Act 1977.

I trust that I have understood this part of the draft plan in the short time that I have had, but you might like to recheck it before you submit urgently by 14 December.

Helene Ritchie, a former deputy mayor of Wellington, was Chair of the Civic Centre project at its outset.


  1. Wendy, 8. December 2021, 9:13

    Absolutely agree Helene.
    WCC seems to be hellbent on destroying our Civic Square, our history, and as much of our green space as possible, while paying lip service to the accepted fact the inner-city is already critically short of green space for its current residents.

  2. Ruth, 8. December 2021, 14:13

    I had a bit of time in the city last week and thought I’d sit in the sun shine at Te Ngakau/Civic Centre. What a shock. From a beautiful vibrant space to a semi vacant area with tatty fake grass and a few weeds growing through the concrete. And now I see this. Maybe there is no intention to keep it? Come on councillors – unbelievably disappointing.

  3. Deborah, 10. December 2021, 7:14

    Hi Helene. Please keep writing articles like this. It is important to highlight the areas that may be missed by busy workers.

  4. Claire, 10. December 2021, 9:09

    The WCC seems hell bent on not giving a toss about history or heritage. Look at the proposals to zone a lot of the inner suburbs 6 storeys. That is wanton ignorant destruction, when 11% of Wellington is Brownfield carparks etc. There are obviously very few history students on the council. Helene this seems to carry on the theme.

  5. Traveller, 10. December 2021, 19:48

    It’s impossible to tell what the council is planning (or if it has any plans…) after it has demolished its two landmark office buildings. There’s talk of more open spaces and native plants. But also an intention (is it formalised?) for the council’s offices to return to Civic Square. (Without a building?) As for the beautiful Athfield Central Library, scandalous that it hasn’t been given a heritage listing – this oversight (surely not intentional?) should be remedied at once.

  6. Penelope, 10. December 2021, 21:04

    Oh Traveller you are so lacking in confidence about this Council. Have you not noticed in the fine print of a page somewhere amongst the 1000 and something pages of the draft district plan, that if those buildings were demolished (after a notified resource consent, Environment Court etc.), that the land then will not be allowed to remain vacant… so do you think that possibly some developer has all but signed a deal, (euphemistically called a ‘partnership’) with the Council already? Council selling the silver again – even if Labour councillors profess not to.

    The buildings should be retrofitted and all should all remain in public ownership. Who can afford to just randomly pull down perfectly good buildings which need a bit of overdue maintenance and a bit of fixing? Anyway you are right about the Library. It should be on the heritage list and the entire civic centre should remain what it is, a listed heritage area – which includes all the buildings, the square, the library, the City to Sea Bridge etc.

  7. Dave B, 11. December 2021, 3:24

    Who in the council is pushing this agenda? Is it the councillors we voted-in, who mostly seemed so positive and alert to the city’s needs at election-time? Is it out-of-control council officials? Is this just a panicked response to the council’s stretched finances and its liabilities for things like earthquake-strengthening, the Convention Centre and the 3 waters? Or is there something unhealthy going on between the council and certain development businesses? Have councillors or council-managers been back-handed, or threatened, or simply duped? Have they been brainwashed or visited by aliens? I am struggling for a plausible explanation for what appears to be happening, and for how at-variance things seems to be from what we voted for.

    Prior to the controversial closure of the Library and council admin relocating elsewhere, Civic Square was a successful and thriving space. Is there no vision to restore it to what it was – using the formula that clearly worked?

  8. Polly, 11. December 2021, 8:10

    Thank you Helene once again and agree in particular with the Central Library, Civic Square and Frank Kitts Park. Also thank you to the other comments from Deborah, Penelope, Traveller and Claire …. but will the council take notice?

  9. Penelope, 11. December 2021, 10:08

    Dave B. I reckon I can find the original top-level source to all of this. But he’s long gone, leaving a dysfunctional council which seems not to focus on the broader needs of what made our city vibrant, and instead agreeing to sell our civic centre and commercialise our Town Belt.

    One of the other problems in the draft district plan relating to the civic centre and the waterfront is the shading deals. These are for buildings brazenly identified as ‘Willis Bond’ office buildings on public waterfront land leased to them for a song. Once there was sun there, but now there is shade. Buried in the draft district plan for these two areas, sun is permitted from 12-2 p.m. only. Have you found that? I hope you can comment on it and other matters which need to be changed, by Dec 14, which is next Tuesday.

  10. Dave B, 11. December 2021, 13:18

    Thanks Penelope for that insight. I will try to get a submission in, hard on the heels of a rushed one to LGWM. Seems wrong that it should take public submissions simply to beg the council to do what it should be doing anyway – representing those who elect it and fund it.

  11. Conor, 12. December 2021, 15:09

    Do people like that curved salmon office building?

  12. George, 12. December 2021, 21:37

    A similar proposal for removal of protection and loss of open space is proposed for the inner Town Belt. The WCC seeks to allow ‘some types of low impact trading and event activities to take place on the Town Belt’. And in Saturday’s Dompost Dec an article discussed housing proposals on the Town Belt.
    At a time where dense living will now become the norm, [two hours of sunlight a day being all that is required for buildings in the future] open space is ever more important.

  13. Helene Ritchie, 13. December 2021, 11:21

    Yes George you are correct re the Town Belt. For some reason, despite and contrary to the Act, the Council in the draft District Plan is proposing that it be a separate zone with a limited purpose that is different from the purpose in the Act. I have not had time to find the geographic boundaries of the zone which may well be different from the whole of the Town Belt. Perhaps you can locate the proposed boundaries? And, just in case you love consultation over and over again, you can submit by 14 February on the multiple events, rubbish, noise, vehicles and proposed in the Events and trading policy on the Town Belt. Meantime get a submission on this in to the draft District Plan by tomorrow 5pm .

  14. Ray Chung, 14. December 2021, 13:32

    Good article Helene. This council and councillors have absolutely no idea of historic areas and buildings. They ignore public submissions and I fear that all we can do is vote them out in 10 months time!