The Eye of the Fish

September 4, 2011

Tall tales tell all

While the story of the moment is of course the untimely death of Alan Hubbard (and the much-voiced – in private, at least – was it deliberate, or just an incredibly coincidental accident), and the incredulous reaction of the ever-faithful in Timaru, who still believe in the rectitude of Saint Alan, despite the evidence to the contrary – the real story is elsewhere. Yes, we know that Hubbard lost / stole / hid under the wrong mattress, several tens or hundreds of millions of dollars of hard earned South Canterbury dairy farming profits. Yes, everyone loves him down there because he gave away millions of dollars to good causes. Ummm, but did they ever think about where the money for that was coming from?

I know these words are an anathema to the deep south folk, but Hubbard was well past it and his accounting methods were beyond shoddy – he should have been closed down years ago.

Closer to home – in our front porch in fact – we have another tall tale that is not going ahead. I’m talking about, of course, the proposed building down above the Bus station – the one that was Over Height. This is a big story – with potentially long-reaching effects, and yet I haven’t seen the print media really cover it yet, unless I’ve missed that page in the paper. It’s big for two reasons – one being that the architects and the developers tried for the old “Design Excellence” routine once again, and it just didn’t work, and also that the City Council officers were backing it to be above height, against their own District Plan. Neither of these things have succeeded in a court of law – the Environment Court. It is time to accept that such a phrase and concept as “Design Excellence” should not be given a place in our District Plan.

Over the past 5 years since that phrase was introduced into Wellington, it has caused nothing but trouble. It was, I believe, first argued on an apartment building, where extra height was achieved by skillful arguing of technical / quasi-legal points of view. Since them, it has been hauled out on almost every occasion by clever planning advocates like Urban Perspectives, and every building that comes into the council more than a wee bit overweight says that it is “excellent” in it’s design. And that there is patently just a load of baloney – in a city as ugly as ours, there is very little constructed out there recently that is excellent in any way. Loser developers with ugly buildings by incompetent architects argue it every time: “but my building MUST be allowed to be taller, because it exhibits design excellence!”

Let’s face it : ALL new buildings should be excellent, and NO new buildings should be overheight.

4 - 09 - 11

fuck the district plan

5 - 09 - 11

You may be right Steve, in that the District Plan may well be a little too restrictive, but I disagree that we should just say fuck it and have no controls at all. That way lies the route to anarchy!
There is an extensive (92 page) report which I’ve had the pleasure of perusing – and it is clear that the grounds over this building are exceptionally muddied. In terms of Council time spent debating it, and supporters and opposers attending it, this is an expensive way to pass justice – hundreds of hours of highly priced “expert witneses” all pretty much disagreeing with each other. Witnesses sayingi sunlight will be affected, or it won’t. Witnesses saying the heritage substation will be compromised, or enhanced. Witnesses saying that retail would work well on the ground floor, or that it is a really dumb idea. But most of all, the key point it comes down to is: can you argue that a taller building should be allowed here, based on the nebulous argument that it achieves “design excellence” ?
Personally, as only a small fish in this big pond, I’d have to say that the architects and developers of this proposal were onto a hiding right from the beginning – while I have no particular problem with a building being taller in this area, seeing as it does indeed act as a bookend to the city, and would improve the access to the Bus interchange – but the proposed building needs to be one helluva lot better than a couple of vaguely mashed together bent slabs of glass fronted office space to qualify as Design Excellence in my book.

5 - 09 - 11

There are of course other points in this discussion that deserve greater airing. Like the fact that the development would constrict the bus-parking by up to 9 spaces, thus rendering the whole point of the Bus interchange into a state of uncertainty. Or that Sir Ngatata Love claimed that up to 1660 jobs would be created (ummm, no they wouldn’t – they’d just be moved here from elsewhere in the city), or that Ian Cassells et al spent so much time and effort arguing against a building because it is too far out on the edge of town – when in any other city in the world, having a site directly over a transport interchange would be seen as admirably centrist. Or that – do people waiting for a bus have any right to expect that they can wait in sunshine, rather than stand in shadow? Or that, similarities to a Corbusian slab block aside, surely if the designers of the building had put a litle bit more thought and attention into the integration of buses and pedestrian users at ground level, the decision wouldn’t be in the negative state it is now.
So the real, big question is: What Now?