Wellington Scoop

The $5m mistake


by Lindsay Shelton
For the last three days, in a bland conference room on the first floor of the West Plaza Hotel, there’s been a debate about the city council’s plan to spend $5million reconstructing Frank Kitts Park on the waterfront.

The plan includes building a walled Chinese Garden on a space which is now one of the city’s unique viewshafts and which provides a clear visual link between the city and the harbour and hills. A view which would be blocked by the structures of the Garden.

The debate is taking place at a resource consent where the council wants its plan to be approved. On Monday, the three council-appointed commissioners heard council people defending the plan to reconfigure the park.

Yesterday, the hearing heard from opponents of the plan, led by Waterfront Watch and the Wellington Civic Trust, giving reasons why they believe it should not be approved..

I was there because of my long involvement with Waterfront Watch, which has been defending open space on the waterfront for more than 25 years.

Everyone loves Frank Kitts Park, which has been there since the late 1980s. When I was a member of the “leadership group” which wrote the Waterfront Framework in 2001, we didn’t see any need for major changes. But we did identify an urgent need for greater safety on the Quay edge of the park, and we said there should be easier access to the water. Neither of these recommendations has been actioned in the redesign proposal.

Instead, the council is proposing to get rid of the tiered ampitheatre, and create a flat lawn from Jervois Quay to the waterfront promenade.

The plan also proposes that 16 per cent of the park is to be occupied by a walled Chinese Garden. The idea of a Chinese Garden has been around for years. When we wrote the Framework, the Chinese community was clear that its preferred site was on the land east of Te Papa. This land, now used as a carpark, is still available for the Garden.

The proposed location of the Chinese Garden was one of the key subjects discussed yesterday at the resource consent hearing.

chinese fkp

Waterfront Watch president Patrick McCombs showed plans and photos that demonstrated how it would block the viewshaft from Willeston Street to the harbour. Its structures would also block the City Link walkway that’s aligned with Willeston Street – which is used by pedestrians to walk from Stewart Dawsons Corner on to the waterfront promenade.

He said the viewshaft would disappear, replaced by the entrance to the Chinese Garden, “to the detriment of the ‘pedestrians first’ principle that is supposed to apply under the Waterfront Framework.” He went on:

“The lack of resolution of the replacement pedestrian links between the promenade and the city reinforces the impression that the needs of pedestrians, far from leading the design, have been relegated behind the dual objectives of accommodating the Chinese Garden and catering for large marquees…

…If the designers are opposed to accommodating a fullsized and well-aligned path linking the promenade to Willeston Street and the CBD, then I strong suggest the proposed placement of the Chinese Garden is simply not acceptable.”

fkp 2

Witnesses for Waterfront Watch described the popularity of the tiered ampitheatre, which the council wants to destroy. And their concern about keeping the ampitheatre had been supported on Monday by an expert on the subject of wind, who told the hearing:

“The loss of the wall that defines the ampitheatre will likely lead to much worse wind consitions whenever the wind is blowing (the majority of the time’) in this localised zone, because of the loss of the sheltered nooks, crannies and edges created by this irregular wall.”

And more:

“:The large open lawn is likely to be less welcoming than the current ampitheatre. At present, though the ampitheatre faces away from the sun, the tiered landscape provides opportunities to sit with one’s back to the wall sheltering against the worst of the northerly. This opportunity is lost in the new proposal with no replacement apparent.”

The redevelopment plans intend to move a children’s playground from the edge of the promenade to the edge of Jervois Quay. The new plan was criticised by the Wellington Civic Trust, whose evidence said:

“The plan does not demonstrate any rationale or benefit for relocating the playground …the design includes hard surfaces, landscaped surroundings, timber steps and boardwalks – all very unnatural and artificial.”

The Trust also wants the ampitheatre to be saved:

“It is a popular spot for lunchtime office workers, sports groups and school outings…and is heavily used for recreational activities including dragon boat races, the relay for life, the round the bays run and walk, and summertime features including go-karts, trampolines and workout groups…It provides wonderful settings for school tents, team booths, exercise areas and entertainment spots. There seems to be no good reason to get rid of this unique outdoor theatre setting to create yet another flat lawn – we already have Waitangi Park for that purpose, just a few minutes’ walk away.”

And on the subject of the Chinese Garden:

“It is highly questionable that Frank Kitts Park is the right location for the walled and to-be-locked-at-night Garden. Having a walled structure on the waterfront is counter-intuitive to the idea of opening up harbour views.”

The Trust described its concern about the construction period.

“If this plan goes ahead, residents will be deprived of their beloved park for more than a year, possibly two years or longer. We need to ask if this redevelopment plan is justified for the time, effort and cost, while there are other more pressing matters ……

“The WCC proposal states that ‘Frank Kitts Park is highly utilized during the week by caregivers and children, exercise groups, food stalls and office workers, and during the weekend by a wide mix of users.’ Why then should we spend time, energy and money to change a park that is so popular and highly used.”

And in summary:

“It’s important to acknowledge and appreciate the contribution to Wellington by different ethnic groups. However Frank Kitts Park, a precious open green space on the waterfront, should be kept as it is. We do not accept that the finished development will deliver a better, more vibrant space than we currently have.”

The resource consent hearing is continuing today.

2010: Council decision blocks another viewshaft


  1. Ian Apperley, 12. October 2016, 12:40

    My understanding is that the Chinese Community have said they don’t want it there.

    Passion has run high on this one, last time I suggested this was a mad idea I was called racist. 🙂 Which is kind of funny.

  2. TrevorH, 12. October 2016, 13:00

    It is an utterly mad and bad idea Ian. There are other more suitable places for the garden. As for any obligation felt towards Beijing, the Mayor who signed the deal (without consulting citizens) has gone and this is not the South China Sea.

  3. Keith Flinders, 12. October 2016, 13:59

    During the recent electioneering, much was said by candidates who had not taken the time to acquaint themselves with actually what was to happen at Frank Kitts Park, and who was paying for what. The $5million cost to remove the wall and amphitheatre to create a flat area with views to the sea is a WCC initiative and is not part of the proposed Chinese Garden. Any costs related to the Chinese Garden construction will be covered by the Chinese community and not Wellington ratepayers.

    The Chinese garden project was first launched in 1998, since then Esther Fung and her group were promised a site on what is now Waitangi Park. Then came the proposal to have buildings erected along the south side of the park, so the organisers were promised instead the top of a low rise building to be erected to the east of Te Papa where the car park currently is. This building never went ahead. Then the Frank Kitts Park site was offered, and 18 years since the garden was proposed construction is yet to start.

    A key feature of the garden is a connection with, and a view of, the sea thus incorporating Chinese cultural aspects. To suggest that the garden can be placed in any vacant commercial site, or the Botanical Garden, is to not understand what the design is about. Detractors might like to make themselves fully conversant with all aspects involved in this garden, so as to not appear to culturally insensitive.

  4. Hector, 12. October 2016, 15:25

    A lot of the opposition to this is very contradictory. They say they don’t want green space covered with hard surfaces. The park is already a green space covered in hard surfaces. They don’t want a garden with walls but they want to keep the walls of the amphitheatre. Did they stop to think the new garden will provide peaceful sheltered places to enjoy lunch breaks? That the larger flat lawn will more easily accomodate the crowds at dragon boat festivals and fun runs while still providing space for the current activities it hosts.

    The current playground is a horrible mish mash and not very user friendly.

    There is currently no view shaft from Willeston St to the harbour. You look across at a set of concrete steps and an underground car park.

    Waterfront Watch has done lots of great things and I’m all for protecting the green space here but I can only see this area being enhanced by this and the opposition puzzles me. Fight against the privatisation of the waterfront land, not this.

  5. Rumpole, 12. October 2016, 15:36

    The amphitheatre remains my favourite lunch spot. But siting on a flat lawn without shelter from the wind or sun would mean I’d have to eat elsewhere in the city. The seagulls would miss me and Hilda’s sausage rolls.

  6. lindsay, 12. October 2016, 15:54

    Hector: Yesterday while I was at the hearing we were shown a photograph of the view from Willeston Street – you could clearly see across the harbour to the hills and the monastery. Then we were shown another image of what would happen if the Chinese Garden was built in the space – the hills and the monastery would no longer be visible.

  7. Henry Filth, 12. October 2016, 16:02

    How come Wellington parks need redesigning so often? Why not build them properly in the first place? This seems a monumental waste of money.

  8. City Lad, 12. October 2016, 16:26

    Please be assured it is a monumental waste of money!

  9. Michael Gibson, 12. October 2016, 17:06

    Never fear! I ran into Simon Woolf at lunchtime today – he will surely use his skills to put an end to this nonsense!!

  10. Peter, 12. October 2016, 18:22

    With respect Keith, you have got some things right but playing the ‘culturally insensitive’ line and presenting the design as having almost religious reverence is in poor form. During the hearing, most of those who submitted in opposition to the Council’s plans for the revamped memorial park (Sir Francis Kitts – Wellington’s longest serving Mayor) did so with respect and understanding of the frustrations of the garden society and some were at pains to make reasonable suggestions regarding alternative sites. Many also expressed similar concerns over the delays that have dogged the garden project.
    The elements of a classical Chinese garden have been developed over 3000 years and traditionally include water, architecture, vegetation, and rocks. The water element is enclosed within the confines of the garden, not as an outlook. Besides, how many traditional gardens in China would have harbour or coastal access or outlooks? Obviously, the Frank Kitts Park location in relation to the sea is not a traditional or sacrosanct aspect of Chinese garden landscaping as you seem to imply. In fact, does the design even accentuate the harbour view?
    The open space at the waterfront is just that, open, green, accessible, flexible and well utilised. The proposed Chinese garden would be a space for solitude and introspection and locked at night, so questions need to be asked regarding the wisdom of combining the two opposing utilities in the same shared space.

  11. Yon Yi Sohn, 12. October 2016, 18:46

    Hector: From what I’ve seen and heard of the design, from both the Council site and the recent hearing, this is what I can say:

    1. The park will have a coastal garden along Jervois Quay and have stone seats, timber board walks, and fences around the children’s playground. This alone will give us less green space than we have now, and more hard surface features.

    2. The plan proposes to remove the amphitheater to accommodate the Chinese Garden – it’s the loss of amphitheater that people are opposing. It’s the only public outdoor theater setting in Wellington, providing a unique venue for small gatherings, casual performances, and events such as the Teddy Bear picnic.

    3. The Chinese Garden will take up the space that now provides access to the park and the waterfront promenade from Willeston St, and this will certainly affect the viewshaft. I live in the CBD and walk past the area almost every day. The thought of losing that view of the harbour where one can see the masts of the yachts is upsetting. The loss of the amphitheater and the loss of the open view would outweigh any benefits we may have with the Chinese Garden there.

    4. The park works well now with large events such as the Dragon Boat Race, Relay for Life, Round the Bay race (I know because family members and friends participate in all of these) as well as small gatherings and casual relaxation. We have more people living in the city now than 10 years ago (when the design brief was provided) and having an open green space is beneficial for the health and well-being of everyone living and working in the city. The park doesn’t have to be occupied all the time.

    5. The current playground needs upgrading and tidying up, but not a total revamp, and not a shift of the popular slide towards Jervois Quay as the plan suggests. I don’t see the rationale or benefit of moving the playground closer to noise and traffic, and the afternoon shading from the nearby buildings will have negative effects (this is a concern from my neighbour who has grandchildren). Compared to now, the move would subject the playground to shade in the afternoon at least an hour earlier.

    There were many people at the hearings who introduced themselves as ordinary citizens, explaining that they felt compelled to attend and voice their objection.

    Here’s a report by Radio NZ to give you more details on why people are opposing the resource consent application. I hope this helps.

  12. Patrick McCombs President, Waterfront Watch, 12. October 2016, 20:32

    The Chinese community has been badly served by the council. When Frank Kitts Park was originally being built the local Chinese asked Mayor Blumsky (way back then) if they could put a Chinese garden there but were told the park had already been designed. So they were offered Waitangi Park, between the wetland and Te Papa. The council now no longer wants them there because it’s a potentially valuable building site that currently provides parking revenue. So the Chinese were offered Frank Kitts 10 years ago. It is the gem spot on Wellington’s waterfront but neither the council nor the Chinese Association expected anyone to contest its allocation to a walled garden.
    At the same time the council decided it wanted to remove the ampitheatre to accommodate events in a large marquee. Over the past three days the Commissioners have been told how much performers and families appreciate the intimate dimensions of the 500 seating arrangement, a public space like no other in Wellington.
    The hearing heard how the garden will occupy the diagonal path through the park to the Promenade, blocking the view and diverting walkers. And how trees and shaped land on the park will prevent drivers on Jervois Quay from seeing the lawn or the water.
    The survey on http://www.waterfrontwatch.org.nz show 85% opposition to both the Chinese garden site and to the removal of the ampitheatre. A petition on Change.org opposing the redevelopment has over 2200 signatures. 600 comments left on both the survey and the petition were presented to the hearing as the Voice of the People but are probably no match to “the council knows best”. If the Tribunal approves the planning application, only a successful motion to bring it back to the council table will stop the project.

  13. CC, 12. October 2016, 21:24

    Thanks for the RNZ link. Obviously the Council didn’t take much notice of the Site 10 judge’s comments about consultation with WW as a public stakeholder.
    Cr. Foster’s comment about consultations two and 10 years ago seems to suggest he has been in a bubble for too long. The public don’t have antennae or a sixth sense as to when or if the Council is in consultation – i.e. saying what will happen and going through the motions of democratic processes. As has been said before, the only meaningful consultation is with an objective Environmental Court Judge who isn’t paid by the Council. Pity it costs so much for the appellants and ratepayers though.

  14. Hel, 12. October 2016, 21:28

    Playground needs upgrading desperately and this is a great opportunity to add further amenity to the area. The amphitheatre is absolutely fine and just needs sprucing up a bit, flattening it would be a mistake. Chinese garden, no real strong view and not anti it being on Frank Kitts – any reason it couldn’t be on Jack Ilott?

  15. CC, 12. October 2016, 22:50

    Hel – probably one reason for it not being on Jack Ilott Green is that a behind closed door deal is under way for the City Shaper to hand it over to a developer on behalf of the Council. Another $1 per year deal for 125 years no doubt.

  16. Alana Bowman, 12. October 2016, 22:51

    The elections are over, and we have a new mayor and some new councillors – time to let them know how you feel about losing some more of the very limited open space on the waterfront to a high-walled, enclosed structure that will be locked at night, and also losing the benefits of the ampitheatre.

  17. Traveller, 12. October 2016, 23:06

    Even by the council’s own ridiculous consultation only 16 people clearly supported the FKP project, while 2300 oppose it – that should mean something.

  18. The City is Ours, 13. October 2016, 0:23

    Frank Kitts Park is the only place in Wellington dedicated to a great Mayor, who gifted Wellingtonians with pleasant shopping malls in Manners-Cuba Streets to compensate for the destruction of the Urban Motorway in Thorndon.

  19. Keith Flinders, 13. October 2016, 9:13

    I urge the Chinese Garden detractors to take the time, as I did, to find out what the project is all about. It isn’t as Peter suggests just a Chinese garden of architecture, vegetation, and rock, that could be plonked into any available site. The garden as proposed recognises the many Chinese immigrants who entered New Zealand through Wellington, and will tell that story and the contribution they made. Hence the siting next to the sea is an important cultural aspect of this project.
    It is a pity that as part of the current hearings that a temporary profile wasn’t erected at Frank Kitts Park showing the actual impact of the Chinese Garden, as relatively few people are able to visualize concepts from plans.

  20. Dr. Salt, 13. October 2016, 11:33

    Thanks to Waterfront Watch we have a record of Lester’s pre-election policy on the garden. “Justin Lester favoured locating the Garden on the carpark roof rather than replacing the pathway aligned with Willeston St, but thought “it would be deeply embarrassing for Wellington to fully renege on this undertaking [given to the Chinese government]”.

    If Lester is not happy with the current design then we can expect a new design to make its way back to the council table before it gets the final go ahead. Otherwise it would be a bit rich of the Mayor to abandon one of his policies so soon after the election.

  21. Peter, 13. October 2016, 12:05

    Keith: a few early Chinese settlers may have disembarked (jumped ship) in Wellington but the earliest settlers headed to other ports where it was easier to access goldfields. This might explain why Dunedin has a $23m Chinese Garden. Some prospectors ultimately retired to the ‘slums’ here. However, Wellington was quite hostile to the ‘old’ immigrants with the likes of the poll tax, Kim Lee, Joe Kum Yung and even as late as 1961 there was the infamous Haining Street opium den raid.
    Against this background, your justification for housing the garden on Frank Kitts Park is pretty weak. Unless ….. Do you propose that all ethnic groups who have migrated to Wellington should have a share of the waterfront for their own gardens? For a start, Shetland Islanders would have a very strong claim as it is said that there are more ‘sheltie’ descendants in Wellington than permanent residents in the Shetland Islands – and they were seafarers who arrived by sea!

  22. TrevorH, 13. October 2016, 16:57

    @ Dr Salt: regarding Mayor Lester’s concerns about the Chinese Government’s feelings, maybe we could encourage them to build an artificial reef in Wellington Harbour for the garden, given their demonstrated expertise in this field? No strings attached….

  23. Keith Flinders, 14. October 2016, 9:41

    Peter: If the descendants of Shetland Island settlers wish to provide a garden or similar, at their cost, and present their case to the WCC, then I am sure that they will receive a response. One would hope that once the offer was accepted that the group wouldn’t be subject to the run arounds the Chinese group has been.

  24. Michael Gibson, 14. October 2016, 13:18

    After Keith Flinder’s contribution I rush to Peter’s defence. As somebody who was born in Scotland I am certain that Shetland Island settlers would be happy to contribute to a memorial which would not spoil the waterfront. There are much more suitable places where the kindness of the Chinese could be properly recognised.

  25. Nora, 15. October 2016, 10:49

    There are at least 5 Chinese Gardens in New Zealand and none of them are on the harbour fronts….Dunedin Chinese Garden is next to the Otago Settlers Museum close to the centre of the city. Nelson’s Huangshi Chinese Garden is in Queens Garden on Bridge Street east of Collingwood. Hastings Osmanthus Garden is in Cornwall Park, Tomoana Road. Hamilton’s Chinese Scholars garden is one of five international gardens in the Hamilton Gardens. And in Oamaru , the Chinese Garden is just one of many in the public park.

    In September 2015 a delegation of Wellington Civic and Business leaders went to Beijing to discuss Chinese Investment in projects like the redevelopment of Shelly Bay, proposed runway extension, a convention centre and hotel and a Chinese Garden on the waterfront. If a position on the harbour front is essential, I suggest Shelly Bay.

  26. CC, 15. October 2016, 16:09

    The Chinese Garden saga has similarities to cases that have ended up in the Environment Court. Some coinciding factors include the involvement of City Shaper, formerly Wellington Waterfront Ltd. (ref. OPT & Site 10 Willis Bond developments on the waterfront), a compromised public consultation, suspicions of ‘behind closed door’ meetings, and a Council decision to proceed with the project that may have been voted on with only some of the facts available to Councillors. Questions could also be asked about the former Mayor having signed a deal in China when the ‘at home’ Resource Management Act requirements had not been met and when ‘consultation’ was supposedly taking place.

  27. Nigel Murphy, 18. October 2016, 2:14

    On 13 Oct Peter wrote about early Chinese migrants jumping ship in order to land here in Wellington. History does not record this happening. Indeed Chinese migration to Wellington was systematic and well organised by the Chinese themselves, with men from the same county and villages helping others settle once they had arrived in Wellington. Most of the original Chinese in Wellington came from the 1890s on. In fact Wellington was the main destination for migrants to nz until the 1970s, including the Chinese. The number of old gold miners who drifted to Wellington from the south Island was negligible. From the 1890s the only ports of entry for migrants were Wellington and Auckland, with Wellington being the more important of the two. Therefore for Chinese Wellingtonians and Chinese nzers in general the port of Wellington has great significance. Not only did they arrive here, they also left and returned through the port of Wellington whenever they made a trip home to China. To suggest the port site has no historical importance to Chinese nzers is plain nonsense.

  28. Peter, 18. October 2016, 10:07

    Nigel – thank you for your response to the 13 October comment. You state that “Chinese migration to Wellington was systematic and well organised by the Chinese themselves…”, However, Te Ara states that, “The Otago provincial government encouraged miners, mainly from the Guangdong province in southern China, to come to New Zealand ….” and “From 1866 the arrival of Chinese miners (brought in initially by Otago businessmen) …” This is supported by other on-line sources such as NZHistory. Presumably the port of entry of the miners would have been Otago, not Wellington. References supporting the comment in relation to Wellington Chinese settlers were: (http://www.stevenyoung.co.nz/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=149&Itemid=74) and ‘History of Chinese People in New Zealand’, by Helene Wong and Bill Willmott. Interestingly, a Lakes District Museum publication states that, “By 1921 due to anti-immigration legislation there were only 59 Chinese in New Zealand.”
    Against this, it is assumed that your points relate to later migration – perhaps post Poll Tax and the Japanese invasion of Manchuria? If so, the historical importance of Wellington Harbour is still neither more nor less that for other ethnic migrants of the same era – the point that was being made. In support of this contention, school photographs from South Wellington schools during the 1950’s the most ethnically variant at the time, show there were very few Chinese pupils. They were very much out-numbered by pupils of other immigrant families, such as, Dutch, Greek, Italian and refugees from Soviet states.
    It was not suggested that “… the port site has no historical importance to Chinese NZers…” . Simply, the point being made was that commemorative gardens replacing parts of the open space of Frank Kitts Park are not justified on the basis of the historical importance of any particular ethnic group in Wellington.