In a possibly controversial move, the City Council variation 11 has been recommended to proceed, by the independent commissioners. The Council itself will make a decision on whether or not to accept the commissioners decision on Wednesday. I’m picking that will be a simple rubber-stamp exercise, and that the Council will go ahead with this. But is this really the right thing to do – or a clever thing?

Her Worship, the Mayor Kerry Prendergast, is quoted as saying:

“Variation 11 aims to help transform the bleak and underutilised north Kumutoto section of the waterfront – between the Meridian building and Shed 21 opposite the Railway Station – into an area that’s busy, vibrant and attractive to the public. It aims to give certainty to the public about how the area should be developed. It’ll remove any doubts in some sections of the community that the City Council and Wellington Waterfront Ltd want to ‘privatise’ the waterfront,”

Far be it for me to disagree with the head of the city, me being just a little fish, and Kerry being the big fish in the pond, but I hardly think it will have the effect of placating people about ‘privatising’ the waterfront.
Are you telling me that this building doesn’t effectively privatise the waterfront?:
Waterfront Watch and other old fogeys are already baying at the moon with lupine distaste at the possibilities of more buildings being created, so the actual confirmation of this should send them into wild paroxysms of rage, frothing at the mouth and letter-writing once more. One day that Pauline Swann / Lindsey Shelton (I can never tell them apart) is going to lie down in front of a bulldozer to prove her point that the waterfront should be a large acreage of grass: she still doesn’t get it, that Spaces need People, and People need Places. There is no point for an empty field on the water’s edge.

However, to give the ‘independent’ commissioners their due, they have recommended some changes, which are quite bold and cheeky and may even sink any chance of at least one of the sites being developed:
• A reduction of the height limit (from 25m to 16m) on site 9 at the southern end of the Kumutoto area opposite Shed 13 to encourage an appropriate building ‘transition’ in recognition of the heritage status of this building.
• A slight height-limit reduction on site 8.
• The deletion of a proposed 15% building height discretion.
• Various wording changes to make it clear that any building development consent applications beyond the specified building height and ‘footprint’ requirements will be more likely to be publicly-notified.
• The inclusion of historic heritage rules to ensure consideration can be given to the effect of new building on all adjacent heritage buildings.
• The inclusion of enhanced policies and specific rules to achieving public accessibility to the ground floor of buildings and the provision of ‘active edges’.

“I and a majority of Councillors believe a mix of buildings and public spaces is the best way of transforming the Kumutoto area from the tarsealed wasteland that it is now. Variation 11 would recognise that buildings up to a moderate height would benefit the area and help link it to the CBD. Variation 11 would mean that buildings fitting within the rules of the variation would not have to be subject to the long, expensive and unpredictable hearings processes that have held up important projects such as the redevelopment of the Overseas Passenger Terminal.”

Actually Kerry, I’m 100% in agreement with you there on the transforming the tarsealed wasteland into a mixture of buildings and public spaces, but I think it’s an undemocratic way to do it. The current system does give the public some say, whether you think that’s a good idea or not, and that’s the crucial element we call democracy. We currently have a rule that anything over 0.0m in height needs a Resource Consent and TAG Team approval on the waterfront, and that is working well, judging by the quality landscaping results and buildings we’ve seen so far. So why change it? I appreciate that you have utmost faith in the ability of the TAG Team to control the developments, but that all occurs off-screen and under-cover and the public are shut out. And on the waterfront, shutting people out is the last thing you ever want to do.

Mayor Prendergast adds that the experience with the Meridian building and the public areas around it – and the fact it has proven highly popular with the public – and the fact that fewer than 50 submissions were received on the proposed Variation 11, “gives me great confidence that in terms of the ongoing development of the waterfront we’re on the right track and that we have the backing of the vast majority of Wellingtonians”.