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Response from Mayor to Lindsay Shelton's column

Response from Mayor Kerry Prendergast to Lindsay Shelton's column last week

I write in clarify a few points in Lindsay Shelton’s column headed ‘Consultation On Waterfront Plans To Be Cut Short - City Council plans to curb public opposition to new waterfront buildings’ (2 December).

Lindsay has every right to his opinion which admittedly is based on the fundamentalist philosophy that all buildings on the waterfront – except the ‘old’ ones already there – are bad.

The tone of his deliberately misleading piece attempts to give the impression the Council wants to pull a fast one on the people of Wellington – and drive through the construction of buildings in the Kumutoto (north Queens Wharf) area with no chance whatsoever for public input.

However the very fact the Council’s Strategy and Policy Committee last week voted strongly in favour of a two-month public consultation – a month longer than normal - on the proposed District Plan Variation 11 gives the lie to his piece. The proposed variation will be advertised in early February.

From his time with Waterfront Watch, Lindsay would recall that the Waterfront Development Framework, formulated in 2001 in consultation with the community, specifically made provision for new buildings in the Kumutoto area.

So I stress that, contrary to the shocked impression of Lindsay’s piece, the concept of buildings in the Kumutoto area is not new.

And it was always envisaged when the Framework was developed that further changes to the District Plan would be required once new buildings started to appear on the waterfront and various planning issues were identified.

Lindsay would know all of this – he was a member of the Waterfront Leadership Group who agreed these principles. It is completely disingenuous of Lindsay to apparently forget that he was a party to the Framework that agreed to buildings on Kumutoto and specifically provisioned for the very type of District Plan change that he now criticises.

The changes include proposed height limits for the three buildings of 17.5 metres, 25.5 metres and 30 metres above sea level, a new design guide and rules to ensure the ground floors of buildings are predominantly accessible to the public and connect well with adjacent outdoor areas.

The existing District Plan rules for the waterfront stipulate a ‘zero’ building height limit. While people like Lindsay Shelton believe this is fine, it certainly makes life difficult for prospective building developers - and for Wellington Waterfront Ltd and the City Council. The purpose of the zero height limit is clearly misunderstood, or misrepresented, by Lindsay. It was only ever there as a stop-gap measure, to ensure that consents were required for all buildings until we had a clearer idea of the types of buildings we could reasonably expect to see on the waterfront. This is exactly what Variation 11 is asking the community to comment on.

Future development of the waterfront – and I mean more of the parks and recreation areas that have made the waterfront such a popular winner with Wellingtonians – depends on revenue from leases of land in areas like Kumutoto.

I make no secret of the fact that, under the proposed Variation, resource consent applications for proposed buildings in the Kumutoto area would not have to publicly-notified – as long as they complied with the proposed height limits and other requirements mentioned above.

Lindsay Shelton ominously points out that Council officers say this would “greatly simplify the process”. And I can reassure him that, yes, it would indeed. And this is exactly what the Framework anticipated once agreed design parameters had been developed for areas such as Kumutoto.

Yes, that would mean the public would not have an automatic right to take part in a long submissions and hearings process – but I believe it’s about time that Lindsay Shelton and Waterfront Watch should finally acknowledge that Wellington Waterfront, the Council, local developers, architects, urban designers and potential building occupants are not out to privatise and destroy the waterfront.

The Meridian building has appeared at Kumutoto in the past couple of years – and the sky hasn’t fallen in. People on the waterfront can still see the harbour. The surroundings of the Meridian building have become a hugely popular lunchtime gathering point and the building itself is an inspiring addition to the waterfront.

Personally, I want to see more such inspiring buildings adding vitality to the Kumutoto area.

Under Variation 11, if developers wanted to build more than 15 percent, or roughly one storey higher than the proposed height limits, resource consent applications would have to be fully-notified - and the public would be able to object to them.

Variation 11 aims to bring more consistency to the District Plan. Nowhere else in the CBD is there a ‘zero’ height limit. On the grounds that the Waterfront Framework makes allowances for buildings in the Kumutoto area, it is somewhat ridiculous that we impose planning rules that arbitrarily place hurdles in front of any potential developer – and block potential revenue that could be used to further enhance the waterfront.

Lindsay says there’s a general expectation that Variation 11, or a similar District Plan alteration, is likely to be applied to other areas including Waitangi Park, where the council has kept four sites which it specifies are for big new buildings.

I stress that buildings aren’t actually proposed for Waitangi Park itself – but a handful of sites adjacent to the park. And, yes, we may look at similar rules for those areas too.

I urge Wellingtonians to get involved in the Variation 11 submissions process in the New Year. On closer inspection they’ll find that Wellington Waterfront and the City Council still have no intention of wrecking one of the jewels in the Capital’s crown.

Kerry Prendergast
Mayor of Wellington


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