Wellington Scoop

The council under-estimates the public’s opposition to Variation 11

by Lindsay Shelton
I think that Wellington city councilors under-estimated the strength of public opposition to Variation 11 when eleven of them (or was it ten?) voted for it this week.

Perhaps they decided to ignore public opinion because of the mayor’s unsubstantiated claim that the new plans for the waterfront are supported by a “vast majority of Wellingtonians,” and her dismissal of submissions because “fewer than 50” were received.

Public opinion isn’t always ignored by the council. Announcing the Maranui surf club decision on Thursday, the Mayor acknowledged the “overwhelming message from the public.” And in a press release on Friday Andy Foster recalled that “the council listened when 2000 people turned up at the Town Hall in February 2000 to oppose Variation 17.”

I remember that meeting, because I was chairing it. Mayor Blumsky and (then) deputy mayor Prendergast slumped low in their seats as speaker after speaker criticized their plan for 22 buildings on the edge of the harbour. They gave up on the plan a few months later.

Is it only size that influences the council? There may have been only 49 submissions about Variation 11. But 48 of them were against it. That’s an overwhelming majority. If there’d been 2000 submissions, with the same proportion of opponents, would this have made a difference to this week’s vote?

The central issue that’s upsetting many people has been identified by Wellington blogger Maximus who writes that Variation 11 is undemocratic because it shuts out the public.

Maximus says the current system – which Variation 11 will displace – gives the public some say, “whether you think that’s a good idea or not. And that’s the crucial element we call democracy. We currently have a rule that anything over 0.0m in height needs a Resource Consent and TAG Team approval on the waterfront, and that is working well, judging by the quality landscaping results and buildings we’ve seen so far. So why change it?.”

Addressing the mayor as Kerry (they must be friends) Maximus writes: “I appreciate that you have utmost faith in the ability of the TAG Team to control the developments, but that all occurs off-screen and under-cover and the public are shut out. And on the waterfront, shutting people out is the last thing you ever want to do.”

The height of new buildings is another issue. Last week’s DomPost poll showed only minority support for six storey buildings on the waterfront. The majority – 533 people equalling 73.6 per cent of respondents – said “over my dead body” to buildings of such a height.

Back in August, the DomPost raised a third issue when it said the unspoken aim of Variation 11 was to speed up development.

“Deserved or not, this council has a reputation in some quarters for being too developer friendly… Put bluntly, too many do not trust the council to do the right thing when it comes to the waterfront, which is why they want to constrain the council as much as possible.”

Three issues, representing a wider range of discontent than councilors have so far been willing to recognise.

Read also
How the views will be lost


  1. Trish Janes, 15. November 2009, 21:27

    It is true that the “vast majority of Wellingtonians” support what the council has done on the waterfront. So do I. But few people are aware of the 10 new buildings that the council plans to build on their loved open space.The council has never included their forward plans in their annual survey of ratepayer satisfaction. I cannot imagine why not. Unless it is because they know that, as shown in last week’s DomPost poll,three quarters of Wellington residents oppose their plans for waterfront buildings. No wonder they introduced the boring Variation 11 to authorise the buildings and avoid another town hall meeting that would have shouted them down. Who said that politicians are not clever.

  2. The Seagull, 15. November 2009, 22:42

    Why do we have to have more office blocks and a Hilton “to achieve”, in the words, of Andy Foster “a waterfront that works”? Works for whom? (one is tempted to ask). It’s “working” for John Morrison’s “excited people” who go there on a sunny weekend. The Wellington City Council has learned nothing about the true nature of waterfront. The council’s attempt to turn the waterfront into an extension of Lambton Quay with the Queen’s wharf complex was an abject failure. Trying to make it a mixture of Featherston Street and Courtenay Place will end the same way, in my humble opinion.

  3. Ben Schrader, 16. November 2009, 21:35

    I agree the Queen’s wharf complex was poorly conceived and executed – and ideally should be demolished or rebuilt – but this abomination should not be be used as a reason to inhibit further new buildings on the waterfront. I had lunch today down beside the Meridian building and enjoyed looking over its graceful form and then across to the 19th century warehouse used by Mojo coffee – a wonderful juxtaposition of new and old. I also enjoyed looking at the people sitting in the cafe and I could see some of them staring back at those of us eating outside. I liked this sense of urbanity, something that only buildings can provide.

    From my perspective there are already enough large open spaces on the waterfront to meet the requirements of most. What is needed is further well-designed buildings mixed in with smaller public spaces – perhaps some sheltered from the wind – which would encourage people to come down to the waterfront not only on sunny days but on inclement days as well. The northern end of Queen’s wharf is an ideal place for such spaces. It is buildings and people that make cities – we need both.

  4. Polly, 16. November 2009, 21:57

    Would refer your readers to Page 40 of the Wellington Waterfront Framework where under “predominant uses” and “physical character” for North Queens Wharf/Kumutoto, it is recommended that there be small buildings, squares and lanes, mixed use, paved surfaces, connection to the CBD but certainly no mention of a 6 storey building!

  5. Roger Ellis, 17. November 2009, 15:52

    We only have one waterfront in the city. Development in that particular area needs to be very carefully managed to ensure that harbour views are not lost for the sake of a few more office buildings and to ensure ongoing public access down to the waterfront.

  6. Maximus, 20. November 2009, 7:43

    Thanks for the shout out Lindsay, glad to hear that you are still reading the Eye of the Fish. I’m not sure that the Mayor would call me a friend, but I reckon most Wellingtonians call her Kerry, rather than Her Worship the Mayor. Surely she calls you Lindsay rather than Mr Shelton?

    I can fully understand why the Council wants to have (and has passed) Variation 11, but I still believe it is a bad PR mistake. Simply speaking, if the buildings proposed are broadly within the height parameters, then it will give developers more of a positive sign than the current situation where Waterfront Watch and the Civic Trust are biting at the Council’s ankles every time any new project is announced.

    The Meridian building that Ben Schrader likes went through the hoops to get built, if I remember right, with public consultation sessions, a publicly notified Resource Consent, and TAG meetings etc. It must have been a pain in the bum for the developers, but at least justice was being seen to be served. Interestingly it had no appeal to the Environment Court when it gained RC – surely that is at least in part because it had been through the public consultation exercise?

    Post variation 11, while TAG might be just as active, that crucial step of public input from the Resource Consent process will be missing. And queue people who will always feel bitter at being missed out of the public consultation.

  7. Russell Tregonning, 28. November 2009, 14:41

    The question has been asked about who voted the wrong way on the Council’s waterfront plan. This is easily answered. It was the Council majority who pressed the wrong button. Their decision to force variation 11 through, against 100% of citizen-written submissions, means that the public will get no say on its own waterfront (only one of the Council’s own entities submitted in favour of the plan).

    Clearly the majority of Wellingtonians realise that the magnificent harbour views down Whitmore Street will be nearly completely blocked by high-rise on Kumutoto. Has mayor Prendergast forgotten that the people of Wellington threw out the similar variation 17 which planned what Waterfront Watch so aptly called “The Great Wall of Wellington”?

    This outrage must be reversed for councillors to press the right button with the owners of the waterfront who pay them. Otherwise, can we assume that this is the end of local democracy in Wellington?

  8. Allan Probert, 28. November 2009, 19:54

    Variation 11 is an example of the type of arrogance and lack of consultation we are seeing from this council, which made the unfortunate comment that they must be right because ONLY 48 submissions were received against it; whereas it should be seen as a reflection of WCC planning protocols ie. predetermined outcome and little interest in consultation. Removing Wellingtonians’ ability to be involved in future planning decisions is just plain wrong. As a mayoral candidate I am concerned about the trend that this sets for future consultation if this is allowed to continue after the next election.

  9. David Lee, 8. December 2009, 9:53

    Kerry Prendergast wants to have her Waterfront Framework cake and eat it too. She cites the Framework to justify more buildings on the waterfront while pushing through Variation 11 which would remove it from the District Plan. The Mayor conveniently ignores the fact that the whole basis of the Waterfront Framework (and the very reason for its existence!) is public consultation, which Variation 11 gets rid of. Her attention needs to be drawn to the Framework’s Foreword, written by her predecessor, Mark Blumsky: ” Wellingtonians do care passionately about THEIR waterfront. THEY WANT TO BE PART OF THE ON-GOING DEBATE.. The TRANSPARENCY and PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT modelled by the Leadership Group MUST CONTINUE as we move forward”. (my emphasis)
    David lee

  10. Allan Probert, 12. December 2009, 9:31

    The current council seems hellbent on removing the public’s right to comment or be involved in ongoing debate about the waterfront; which Mark Blumsky so aptly summarised. They also struggle with the idea that debate is healthy and that it’s ok for people to disagree with them. There is no excuse for Variation 11 and its removal of the right for the public to discuss and influence what they want as well as influence potential future variations. This failure of democracy is one of the major drivers for me to offer myself as an alternative mayoral candidate next year.

  11. the City is Ours, 13. December 2009, 0:47

    All the deals are done at the Wellington Regional Chamber of Commerce who in turn are more then willing to come along to influence councillors during oral submissions with their dodgy surveys, taking twice the allocated submission time to brainwash our elected members who should have our best interests at heart.