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City Voice: No compromise on harbour development

By Simon Collins & Chris Renwick

WELLINGTON City Council leaders show no sign of compromising over proposed new buildings on the waterfront which have drawn a storm of protest.

Deputy Mayor Kerry Prendergast, who chairs the relevant city development and business committee, says the opposition to the buildings “appears to be a very orchestrated campaign”.

Asked whether the council was willing to compromise on its plans, she said: “Absolutely not!” “I think as of Thursday morning (20 Jan) there were 150 submissions, so we are hardly talking about a ‘tidal wave’,” she says. Last week’s City Voice described a “tidal wave” of public reaction against the plan, which Cr Andy Foster said was drawing more reaction than any other planning issue he could remember.

Prendergast says the proposed Variation 17 to the District Plan is the final stage of “the biggest consultation the city has ever done”.

“You don’t compromise half-way through a consultation,” she says.

“If we say, ‘We don’t like that bit now, I want that up for change,’ I would find that incredibly arrogant.” Her stand comes as the lobby group Waterfront Watch convenes a public meeting tonight (27 Jan), two days before the council and Lambton Harbour Management hold an open day at the Queens Wharf Events Centre showing details of the plan. Submissions close on 7 Feb.

An opponent of the plan, Cr Mary Varnham, is calling on the council’s ruling Wellington Alive-Labour coalition to withdraw Variation 17 completely and seek resource consents for each individual building as developers for them come forward.

The variation proposes: • Seven apartment buildings, including two that would be at least as high as Te Papa, around the harbour edge of Chaffers Park and alongside Te Papa.

• Two tower blocks 1.5 times as high as Te Papa on top of Circa Theatre and Shed 22 at the Taranaki Wharf gates.

• A building as high as Te Papa on the site of the present Free Ambulance Building at Taranaki Wharf.

• Landscaping the Taranaki Wharf area, including moving the Ambulance Building out on to the wharf.

• Reorienting Frank Kitts Park towards the sea, with a building as high as other waterfront sheds on the city edge of the park.

• Seven slightly higher buildings grouped around small plazas on what is now a parking area behind Sheds 11 and 13, north of Queens Wharf.

• A hotel on the outer ‘T’ of Queens Wharf.

Architect Ian Athfield, who has been involved in designing the landscape plan, says the landscape and buildings would complement the harbour’s marine character.

“It’s sea, it’s boats, it’s people,” he says.

“It needs cafes, delis, hairdressers, dining rooms that start serving the evening meal at 4.30pm – they don’t compete with the existing infrastructure of the city, they complement it… “They work together to the benefit of the wider community. If you don’t get it you tend to get a place that doesn’t work when it’s cold or wet or there are not many people there. It might be visually pleasant, but it needs policing and it doesn’t feel that good if you’re alone. It’s getting the balance right… “Everyone is enjoying the changes that have taken place in Wellington.

They wouldn’t be enjoying them if there weren’t buildings there.

“We have just taken the first step in urbanising the city. There’s a long way to go.” Another architect on the Lambton Harbour design group, Graeme McIndoe, says the plan would still keep 65-70% of the waterfront as open space.

He says each of the five plazas north of Queens Wharf would be as big as Midland Park, and all would be sheltered in different ways from the wind.

A public promenade along the water’s edge would be preserved.

He says the proposed “shed”-sized building on Kitts Park would shut out traffic noise and make the park safer for children. The park would be extended out to the harbour edge which is now an asphalt racetrack, so the new park would be only 3% smaller than it is now.

Some say Kitts Park needs to stay as big as it is because crowds already spill out on to the road for big events such as Carols by Candlelight.

But McIndoe says such events could go to Chaffers Park, which would still be twice as big as Kitts Park.

He says the two towers at Taranaki Wharf would provide a “visual connection” between the city and the waterfront and to help “enclose” the wharf area.

“If you don’t have enclosure, you are not aware of the space; the space does not have definition, it starts to lose its identity and its sense of place,” he says.

“So the buildings are there. They are vertical in form to act as a counterpart to Te Papa.” However, Waterfront Watch president Lindsay Shelton says any buildings on the waterfront should be “small and low”.

“The [existing] Circa building we think is a model waterfront building, only two stories high but well used,” he says.

He says the Waterfront Watch committee voted unanimously last week to oppose any buildings on either Kitts Park or Chaffers Park.

Opinion polls suggest that the public swung against waterfront buildings after reacting against the Queens Wharf Events Centre and Retail Centre when they were built in 1995.

An MRL survey for Lambton Harbour in March 1996 found that 52% of Wellingtonians still had a “favourable” attitude to the townhouses that were then planned to cover most of the Chaffers site.

But a CM Research poll taken for Mary Varnham’s Chaffers Park Make It Happen group in June 1998 found that by then 70% wanted only a park at Chaffers.

Only 22% supported three-storey apartment buildings which the council was then proposing around the city side of the park.

• Public mtg, St Andrew’s on the Terrace, Thu 27 Jan, 7.30pm; Open day with waterfront model & computer simulation, Queens Wharf Events Centre, Sat 29 Jan, 12-4pm. Submission forms available there & at libraries. Lambton Harbour hotline, 801 4005. Petition against buildings on waterfront, 472 8417 or 479 3194.

© City Voice Newspaper – available on a street corner near you – ring ++644 385 6711 for subscriptions.

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