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Grand plans for the powerhouse of the country

Grand plans for the powerhouse of the country

Wellington may be the heart of Government, but some work is about to be done on its soul – with a plan to create a Government Centre Precinct focused on the area radiating out from Parliament and the Beehive.

A high-level meeting was held today (Monday 16 May) to kick off the long-term project, which aims to turn the precinct into what Mayor Kerry Prendergast calls “something more memorable – which befits the importance of the area to the country”.

Environment Minister Marian Hobbs, who attended the meeting along with the Mayor, says the Government Centre Precinct Project is one of the first off the drawing board under New Zealand’s new Urban Design Protocol.

The protocol, launched in Wellington in March by Prince Charles, aims at getting central and local government, developers, design professionals and all interested in urban design working together to improve the look and function of public spaces in towns and cities.

“In terms of the protocol, the Government is leading by example, working in partnership with the City of Wellington and the community to improve the area,” Marian Hobbs says. “We're not just talking about government buildings and workers in the area but also residents, schools, embassies, churches, tourists, visitors. All ought to be catered for through the streetscape, indoor/outdoor areas, cafes, better pedestrian access and flow.”

What designers have in mind for Wellington is to create a setting for the country’s national institutions, which makes it immediately clear to locals and visitors alike that Wellington is the Capital City – the powerhouse of the country. It is hoped to have a draft plan for the area by October this year.

The Precinct Project, kicked off by the Wellington City Council and the Ministry for the Environment, with the involvement of Victoria University’s School of Architecture, plans to integrate these national institutions with each other and with the city by improving the public spaces and influencing the design of new buildings in the area. This could involve improved street design, sculpture and artworks representing different parts of the country and might, also, involve work to strengthen the link between Parliament and the harbour. At the heart of the Government Centre is Parliament. It also incorporates the Courts, the old Government Buildings, the National Library, National Archive, Treasury, the Reserve Bank, the head offices of other key government departments, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Catholic Sacred Heart Cathedral.

“The fact that we are the Capital City has been taken advantage of in the past – but not by us – by the rest of the country as they have thrown jibes our way and accused us of being a dull and boring city full of public servants and grey cardigans,” Mayor Prendergast says. “But we in Wellington have shrugged off that grey cardigan and turned ourselves into a vibrant, dynamic, exciting city. The time is now ripe to position ourselves as a unique city making more of our Capital status.”

The Council invited the main players to a meeting today to form a steering group to drive the project. Along with representatives of key government agencies – Parliamentary Services, Treasury, the Reserve Bank, and the Ministry of Justice are the National Librarian, representatives of the National Archive and Victoria University, the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Catholic Archbishop of Wellington, the Tenths Trust and the Civic Trust.

At today’s meeting a presentation was given outlining the initial concepts for public space improvements and the anticipated timeframe for the project.

The City Council’s Urban Strategy Director, Stephen Rainbow, says the Government Centre already has its “obviously historic and memorable landmarks. Parliament and the immediate area around it are grand – there’s a great sense of history there and it’s a well-known drawcard for tourists both from around New Zealand and internationally.

“But we feel there are some possibly quite simple things that can be done to bring cohesion to the area.”

Mr Rainbow says there is already significant development work going on in the area and the Precinct Project should not be seen to be putting the brakes on, but rather as providing a framework for development.


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