25 April 2012

April–May 2012 Newsletter


Chairman’s introduction

Our logo is the only graphic we use in these newsletters — because we want them to be best known for the facts they convey to members and supporters. Should we put effort into more attractive communication, or would this detract from the Board’s focus on the Wellington issues which are our core focus? Something you might like to come along to the AGM on Monday May 14th and discuss – the notice of Agenda and of our guest speaker, John Shewan, and the Annual Report of our actual work through 2011/12, come with this mailout. There’s also the invitation to renew your subscription. The Civic Trust needs your continued support, and continued new members. The annual fee is kept low, but like many small costs it is tempting to save on them. The Annual Report, and this Newsletter update, will I hope confirm the value of the Trust and the value to you and to our city of your being a supportive member.

This Newsletter is the last one to be edited by Peter Brooks, who is standing down from the Board at the AGM after a distinguished contribution over many years as a Trustee. Thank you Peter. So we need a new editor as well as further new faces on the Board. It is satisfying work with a congenial team, working together for the Wellington we love. So to each member — please think about putting your name forward at the AGM for the role of Trustee on the incoming Board.

Alan Smith 

Regional governance

An organisation, Shape the Future, has been established to push for reform of the governance structure for the Wellington region. The group supports the general thrust of proposals advanced by some regional councillors late last year. Those proposals involved the disestablishment of the current regional, city and territorial authorities in the Wellington region and their replacement by an integrated council (to most a supercity, but the authors reject the title!). As noted in the Chairman’s message, John Shewan, a member of Shape the future, will be the guest speaker at our AGM. We hope members will take the opportunity to question our guest on the implications of this radical proposal and especially whether under such a system the public would be able to have an effective say in determining the character of their neighbourhoods.

The Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) has announced that it intends to appoint a panel to develop a proposal for the governance of the region which would be referred to the Local Government Commission for its consideration and determination. At the same time the government has announced that it intends to alter the legislation to make it easier to refer such proposals to the commission. At present it would seem that before the commission could process such a proposal the GWRC would need to get the support of the other councils in the region or 10% of the electors in each of the affected districts. Alternatively the minister would have the power to submit the proposal

We are endeavouring to clarify the procedure which the GWRC would need to follow, bearing in mind that the government may well have plans to alter the current legislation. It seems unlikely that all the other councils are on side. Each appears to be taking its own course in developing options and consulting the public. What started off as a concerted regional effort under the Mayoral Forum to consider reform options, supported by a commissioned consultants report, has lost momentum and cohesion. Those that believe that all this can be sorted in time for new structures to operate for the elections due in 2013 must be counting on divine intervention from the Beehive.

Greater Wellington Regional Council long term plan

The GWRC recently invited public submissions on its draft long term plan. The board intends to make a submission on aspects of the plan. It is likely that it will comment on the proposed integrated electronic ticketing for buses and trains.

Wellington City Council long term plan

The council’s proposals for the long term plan covering the next ten years were published for public comment on 16 April. The public has until 18 May to have its say. There will be provision for oral hearings in the period 21 to 24 May. The final plan has to be adopted by 30 June 2012.

The council’s total rates requirement for 2012/13, based on the proposals in the draft plan, is forecast to increase by 4.6% (4.1% average ratepayer impact after allowing for growth in the ratepayer base). This would result in an average increase for a residential ratepayer of 3.7% and for the commercial sector of 5.3%. In her introduction to the plan the mayor says she wants to get the overall rate increase to at or below the target figure of 3.8%. The public is invited to participate in this hunt for further savings. The board intends to unleash its dogs and enter the forest.

Long term planning is a difficult task at the best of times and now times are far from their best. It is not only the need to adjust to a sulking economy, but the urgent requirement to strengthen council buildings and infrastructure networks to resist seismic shocks. Weathertight building liabilities too must be funded and these two areas account for an expenditure of $68.3 million over the first eight years of the plan. It is inevitable that many residents will be disappointed that pet projects cannot be accommodated in the foreseeable future and even more will be concerned not only with the rising rates burden, but also the increase in charges for many council services.

The board will be studying the plan over the next few weeks and will make a submission before the deadline of 18 May. We encourage members to get a copy of the plan from the City Service Centre (it is an excellent publication and a very good document for finding out some basic facts about how your city is managed). It is also available online at Wellington.govt.nz

Wellington City Bus review 

The board recently made a submission on the GWRC’s bus review proposals. The regional council’s proposals are very significant; every bus route would be changed. About 10% of passengers would need to change buses during their journeys. It is claimed that the number of people within a 10-minute walk of a high frequency all-day route would increase from 58% to 75% and the number of bus trips would grow by 15%.

There has been strong public feedback, much of it critical, and as a consequence it seems likely that changes will be made to the original scheme.

Waterfront

Last month Wellington Waterfront Ltd (WWL) released its plans for a new six storey office block on the waterfront site next to Shed 21 (Waterloo on the Quay Apartments) and opposite New Zealand Post Headquarters. The trust has previously advised the company and the council that it believes that site 10, Kumutoto, is an appropriate site for a building of that size and height. As envisaged in the waterfront framework the Kumutoto area is appropriate for new building and the revenue from site leases is needed to help fund public space development on the waterfront. That need has been highlighted by the news that the waterfront companies debt to the council has risen to $14m. The standards set for the site are set out in Variation 11 which is subject to appeals by Waterfront Watch and Queens Wharf Holdings. Hearings have been completed and the court’s decision has yet to be announced. Resource consents for the new building will not be sought until the appeal has been determined. If Waterfront Watch’s appeal succeeds the resource consent application would be notified. If the company gets its way the application would be considered without notification and therefore without the opportunity for further public involvement in the decision making process.

There has been criticism of the waterfront company’s handling of this project. Two prospective developers of the site have suggested that they offered more for the site than the chosen Auckland developer, the Newcrest Group. Wellington Tenths trustee Peter Love has criticised the company for not putting the site out to tender and Richard Burrell of Building Solutions claims the company should have first chosen a design, obtained resource consent and then put it out to the market to find a developer.

Richard Burrell, in our view makes a valid point. In response to these criticisms the council has commissioned an independent review. We welcome that; it should throw more light on an area of company operations often protected by the cloak of commercial sensitivity. However, we would not wish the company to decide development solely on the basis of who offered most for a site lease. Each proposal has to be considered in the light of the Waterfront Framework principles and the design standards established for Kumutoto. This is the waterfront not the CBD.

Moreover, there is already a great deal of information on this arrangement in the public domain. Last year the company advised the Council Controlled Organizations Performance subcommittee that it had entered into an agreement with an Auckland based property developer:“WWL entered into a formal Memorandum of Understanding with a substantial Auckland based property developer, granting the developer a three month exclusive option to develop a preliminary concept design for consideration by WWL and TAG (Technical Advisory Group). The developer’s requirement for an exclusive option is to give the developer sufficient confidence to invest significant amounts of time and money into the preliminary planning of a major development. In the event that both WWL and TAG approve the preliminary concept design the developer has the right to the grant of three further exclusive options of three months (to 29 February 2012) subject to satisfactory progress being made on the developed design. (Page 5, WWL Report to CCO performance subcommittee for the quarter ended 31 March 2011)

We are surprised that developers appear to have been unaware of the WWL’s dealings with the Newcrest Group. Not only was the above information in published council documents, but it was reported by us in our Newsletter of August 2011. If developers would like to keep abreast of waterfront and other civic issues they should become corporate members of the trust. They would be welcomed.

Kaiwharawhara Stream and estuary 

Over the last ten years Frances Lee of the Trelissick Park Trust has driven a project to improve the quality of the lower Kaiwharawhara Stream. The upper reaches of the stream, from the Karori Sanctuary and its Korimako branch through Ngaio, is of a fair quality, but affected by surrounding residential developments, stormwater run-off and leachate from old landfills. Where the stream passes through the industrial area at the bottom of Ngaio Gorge, stream quality is poor. These facts have been established by a recent ecological study, funded by the City Council, CentrePort and the GWRC. The trust has been approached by the Trelissick Park Trust with a proposal that we should take over the issue in the hope that we might be able to convince the several authorities that have an interest in the area to agree on a management plan to remedy, over time, the problems of the lower Kaiwharawhara Stream.

The trust has a long term interest in the Northern Gateway approach to Wellington, having hosted two seminars on the future development of that area. The treatment of the estuary and the development of the related reclamation area therefore come within existing areas of interest to the trust. We have agreed to continue with our work in this area. The trust intends to seek assurances from the regional and city councils and the minister for conservation that the beach and estuary will be protected as public recreation space. We will support endeavours to ensure that any resource consents for developing the reclamation will have conditions to protect the beach and estuary and public access to them and that the forthcoming review of the District Plan will also have provisions to that end.

The board does not believe that the Civic Trust’s resources would be used effectively in a leadership role in respect of the upper Kaiwharawhara Stream. Our view is that action there should be led by organisations with ecological objectives, like Trelissick Park group and possibly Forest and Bird and other organisations with strong environmental objectives.

This Newsletter was edited by Peter Brooks and issued on April 26th 2012. Feel free to quote from it, with reference to the source — Wellington Civic Trust Newsletter, April—May 2012. 

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