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Poll Urged To Test Waterfront Views

Poll Urged to test waterfront views
By Simon Collins

CITY Council finance chair Chris Parkin is urging scientific opinion polling to test public feeling about the proposed waterfront development.

The council is holding an emergency meeting at 2pm on Monday (7 Feb) after two public meetings in the past week were packed out by citizens opposing the development.

A majority of councillors including Mayor Mark Blumsky have put their names to a resolution organised by Deputy Mayor Kerry Prendergast to extend the time for submissions on the plan by a further month. The deadline had been Monday.

Her resolution would also order council officers to provide more information on the "social, environmental and economic implications of some of the more contentious building sites".

This is expected to supercede a minority resolution from Crs Mary Varnham and Judy Siers to withdraw the current plan, eliminate proposed new buildings, investigate making the waterfront a reserve and redesign it as "predominantly open public space… complemented and supported by restored heritage buildings and small low-scale buildings for public use and amenity".

Earlier, Blumsky told the Sunday Star-Times that he was willing to drop some elements of the waterfront plan, such as a $5 million canal cutting off the Herd St Post Office building and proposed apartment buildings from Chaffers Park.

Independent councillor Andy Foster wants to abandon plans for a new building on Frank Kitts Park, shift the buildings on Chaffers Park from the seaward to the landward side of the park, and scrap the council's Lambton Harbour Management company.

But Prendergast says she is not recommending any changes to the plan, which is currently expressed as a variation - "Variation 17" - to the existing District Plan.

"It's premature to do that. We need more information, and Council may reassess its programme at the end," she says.

The flurry of political responses follows a dramatic public meeting called by lobby group Waterfront Watch at St Andrew's on the Terrace last Thursday (27 Jan), when more than 500 people packed like sheep in a truck into a small hall where there were seats for only 150. Several hundred more stood outside and tried to look in the windows.

Waterfront Watch called off the meeting after half an hour because of public safety concerns and rescheduled it for the Town Hall on Tuesday night.

By 31 Jan, over 400 people had already lodged submissions on the variation.

Chris Parkin says: "I have to say that more people I know have commented to me on this issue than on any of the other controversies that we have had. It's clearly affecting the opinions of a very wide cross-section of the community."

Variation 17 provides for "public amenities" such as turning Frank Kitts Park around to face the sea instead of the city, extending the lagoon near Taranaki Wharf, and developing Chaffers Park to include a stream, rows of trees and a Chinese garden.

To pay for these, it proposes to lease sites for more than 20 new buildings - on the seaward side of Chaffers Park, at the Taranaki Wharf gates, on the Free Ambulance Building site, on the street edge of Kitts Park, on the "outer T" of Queens Wharf and on the carparks north of Queens Wharf.

Parkin says people need enough information to choose from three options:

1. The council's proposed balance between public amenities and commercial development.

2. Less intensive building, matched by less expensive public amenities.

3. Less intensive building, with higher rates to pay for the public amenities.

Parkin believes the second option may have most public support, and the third option least support.

"If we find there is overwhelming public opinion against Variation 17 giving automatic rights to build those buildings, then clearly Council, unless it is suicidal, has no alternative but to re-look at the whole thing," he says.

If public opinion is split, then he says the council should simply leave the waterfront as it is.
"Instead of trying to resolve the whole thing in one fell swoop, we'll probably, in my opinion, have to take it forward in four or five units like Taranaki Wharf."

Opponents of the current plan remain suspicious. Cr Mary Varnham says councillors are "interfering with the judicial process" by extending the deadline for submissions.

"All this extension of the deadline is so that they can orchestrate and drum up a campaign of supporting it [Variation 17] and deflect the expressed interests of the public," she says.

Cr Stephanie Cook says she voted for Variation 17 last October because the alternative was that citizens' groups would have to oppose resource consents for every individual building as it came up.

"I have never supported it," she says. "This way we have a chance to stop this thing in its tracks. We can still, as a council, withdraw our support for it."

However, Cr Ruth Gotlieb, who also voted for Variation 17, is angry at a Waterfront Watch claim in an advertisement that the council wants to "destroy" the waterfront, and still supports the variation.

Architectural graduate Jon Rennie also challenged sketches of the proposed buildings shown by Waterfront Watch at their meeting at St Andrew's, saying they portrayed "bad 1960s buildings".

"The proposal has been developed by a bunch of highly qualified people, one of whom is Ian Athfield, who bought you Civic Square - one of Wellington's great public spaces," Rennie said.

• Council mtg, Council Chamber, Town Hall, Mon 7 Feb, 2pm; ph 801 3486 to speak.

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