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City Voice: Waterfront reserve gains momentum

By Simon Collins

PROPOSALS to make Wellington's waterfront a reserve are now vying with scaled-down development schemes, after the city council bowed to public opinion this week and agreed to review its building plans.

The council voted 13_4 to extend the closing date for submissions on the plan until 7 May to allow time to review the submissions that have come in already and to survey public opinion.

It voted 16_1 to develop a "People's Waterfront Charter" stating that at least 70% of the waterfront will be "open to the sky", and that "the primary use of the waterfront shall be quality recreational space".

By a narrower 9_8 margin, councillors voted against any new buildings on Frank Kitts Park.

Wadestown's Pauline Swann, who co-presented a petition signed by 11,233 people expressing concern at the number of buildings proposed on the waterfront, said: "People power has slightly worked, for a change!"

Crs Mary Varnham and Judy Siers, who moved a resolution to withdraw the current waterfront plan completely, said the plan - District Plan "Variation 17" - was "dead".

They believe the council majority voted to keep the plan in amended form merely to save face before its eventual burial.

Mayor Mark Blumsky said: "Variation 17 will be changed. It will still have the same name but the contents will be different."

The council's dramatic concessions came just two weeks after Deputy Mayor Kerry Prendergast, asked if the council was willing to compromise its plan, said: "Absolutely not!"

In the interim, 2000 people packed the Town Hall on 1 Feb to oppose the plan, and more than 2400 people sent in submissions against it by the original closing date of 7 Feb.

The margin on the council against building on Frank Kitts Park now seems secure.

Two members of Blumsky's Wellington Alive team, John Morrison and Rob Goulden, and one member of his Labour coalition partner, Alick Shaw, joined the nine-strong majority opposing a building on the park.

In the surprise of the night, Morrison said he thought about the issue alone in a "tin shed" in the Wairarapa over the weekend and decided that the whole Variation 17 was "abhorrent".

Last week, he said, he had assured his adult daughter that there was nothing to worry about in the waterfront plan because the planned buildings were not all going to go up "next week".

"She said, `You selfish bastard - what about me and my kids?'" Morrison said. "I thought, `She's right!'"

Morrison said he was elected to represent the people, not merely to make decisions for them. When he asked people about Variation 17, 100% of them were against it.

"In fact Variation 17, in view of its importance, avoided proper process, and for that reason it is wrong and it is corrupt."

In addition, three of the eight councillors who voted against deleting buildings from Frank Kitts Park - Ian Hutchings and Allan Johnston (Wellington Alive) and Leonie Gill (Labour) - said they personally opposed building on the park but felt the council should read the public submissions before deciding on the issue.

Since most submissions are expected to be against building on the park, at least these three councillors are likely to join the majority against the building.

Another Wellington Alive councillor, Chris Parkin, said he had "reservations about the number and size of buildings" being proposed on the waterfront generally.

Allan Johnston said before the meeting that he personally opposed the two 10-storey buildings planned for the Taranaki Wharf entrance, the canal that would cut off the Herd St Post Office building from Chaffers Park, and the proposal to remove the "sails" from Queens Wharf Square to make room for a hotel on the wharf.

It therefore seems likely that, if public opinion surveys bear out their reservations, a majority of councillors will accept further concessions, such as reducing the number of buildings on Chaffers.

However, it is also clear that the Wellington Alive_Labour group except for Morrison still want "mixed" development on the waterfront. Blumsky's draft charter would provide 30% of the space for "a diverse range of activities, including eating, drinking, playing, learning, working and living".

Only four councillors - Stephanie Cook, Helene Ritchie, Judy Siers and Mary Varnham - voted to vest the whole Lambton Harbour area as a reserve immediately.

A further two - John Morrison and Bryan Pepperell - voted to "investigate the possibility" of making it a reserve.

Those opposed to this motion were: Blumsky, Robert Armstrong, Andy Foster, Gill, Ruth Gotlieb, Goulden, Hutchings, Johnston, Parkin, Sue Piper, Prendergast and Shaw.

Associate Environment Minister Phillida Bunkle told the meeting that the council could designate the waterfront either a `recreation reserve' or a `local purposes reserve'. "Public amenities" could still be built in either case, and existing buildings could stay.

Mary Varnham said: "Just as our forefathers vested the town belt and Botanical Gardens for protection so politicians like us couldn't get our hands on them and start making money out of them, so the best thing we can do is vest [the waterfront] as reserve."

However, the majority of councillors are unlikely to change their minds unless there is overwhelming support for a reserve in submissions and in the proposed public opinion survey.

(c) City Voice Newspaper - see http://www.cityvoice.co.nz/

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