25 April 2012

Chairman’s 2012 Annual Report


Report for the year ended 31st March 2012 

It’s good to report back on our 31st year and, from this, to think about the future for Wellington, and how we can contribute to it. Since the Civic Trust began in 1981, our aim has been to help make Wellington the best of all possible places to live and work. Our founders, drawing on the 1960s Civic Trusts’ work in the UK, and on the later ones  in New Zealand which we heard about at last year’s AGM, set these goals (amongst others) in our constitution which still frame our work now:

  • To stimulate public interest in and care for the beauty, history and character of the City of Wellington and its surroundings and adjacent countryside and coastline and its dignity as the Capital City;
  • To preserve, develop and improve buildings and features of general public amenity or historic interest or beauty;
  • To create or improve features of beauty or interest in and about the City and its contiguous countryside and coastline;
  • To promote high standards in architecture, landscape management, building and town and country planning.

Many agencies, public and commercial, and many NGOs and community groups are also active in all of this. Our approach is that we are voluntary; are not based around any particular single issue; work for well-informed critique and information sharing; and look to how every aspect of our city interacts in often fuzzy ways to produce the distinctive character that is the enduring Wellington we live in.

All this has hard pragmatic edges. The Christchurch earthquakes have reminded all Wellingtonians of our fragility and of the risks to our urban form. We have set up a working group to anticipate the effects of such an event here so that we can make informed contributions to the inevitable changes which will follow the release of the Royal Commission’s report. Heritage, safety, and future-proofing are not just words, but things we aim to be clear about in the context of our Civic Trust purpose.

At the local authority level, the key instruments for the quality of city form are the District Plan and the Regional Plan. We keep a close watch on both, and on the RMA and other centrally-driven reforms which will affect the Councils’ ability to keep citizens confident about the essential character of the city. Wellington City’s 2040 project, which last September shaped into the “Smart Capital” goal, is we believe a good one, and is one we keep bringing into the practical dialogues about the Basin Reserve overbridge and other large projects on which we comment.

We have organised two public events this year. The first was the Civic Trust Awards programme in April 2011, which our last Annual Report described. The enduring theme of the Awards has always been to celebrate excellent design quality in our built and natural environments — and the ways in which these intertwine.

On August 14th 2011 we held a public forum at Te Wharewaka to mark the 25th anniversary of the first concept plan for redeveloping the post-industrial part of the waterfront. It was a great success, with over 80 there on a bitter day; on the strength of this, we offered all members a free copy of the printed Proceedings but were disappointed in the low take-up. The main thing is that we brought views together at the forum, created a permanent record for future reference, and contributed to raising awareness of the issues underlying what is now just taken for granted as Wellington’s “jewel in the Crown”. Nothing can ever be taken for granted; the City Council’s review of the 2001 Waterfront Framework came and went with the conclusion that it remained fit for purpose; exactly our position as noted in last year’s Annual Report. We opposed the WCC’s Variation 11 with the hearings commissioners and, with some improvements noted, have decided on pragmatic grounds not to appeal, in contrast to the stance of Waterfront Watch and some others. Our view is that the current proposals for new structures on the “campervan” site are consistent with the Framework and that a six storey building on that site is a more appropriate use than public open space. At the same time, we believe that the vacant waterfront site to the north of the Meridian building should be public open space. The quality of the whole waterfront, working port and all, is crucial to Wellington’s commercial and amenity benefits: the Civic Trust will continue to place a high importance on it.

The harbour and the hills surrounding it are the setting which gives Wellington so much of the character to whose best interests the Civic Trust is committed. We were delighted with the mid-year announcement – over a decade after our 1995 seminar on the topic — that with Defence and Prisons no longer having a use for the land they occupy on the Miramar peninsula, its future use would be as a public reserve. The future of the hilltop Town Belt, even as now shrunken from its 1839 scale, raised a submission from us to the City Council’s Town Belt Principles review; this is the Town Belt, not just another open space. At Mt. Cook, the 1920s vision of a grand boulevard sweeping down from the war memorial carillon to the sea never took hold and now we confront the decision that half of State Highway One will, because it is “of national significance”, continue to run right through the middle of the incipient National War Memorial Park there.

The Road of National Significance decision by central government to enlarge SH1 between Cobham Drive and Buckle St. was released for “public engagement” in July 2011. It was made quite clear that this was not “consultation” in the 1991 case law sense, but a communication of decisions already made along with some interest in opinions on the precise siting of the overbridge across the Terraces. Our submission was e-mailed out to members too, as we consider this to be a project with major implications for Wellington’s future on all sorts of grounds — traffic management, urban design, public transport, decision-making process, and emissions reduction among them. NZTA’s summary report on this “Public Engagement” was only posted on their website in April 2012 and we’ve not yet digested this 109pp epic; but a preliminary look confirms the intention to not take SH1 under The National War Memorial Park, and denies any commitment to build a free new grandstand for the Basin Reserve as part of the work. Watch this space — the Civic Trust will be.

We have always placed great value on good public transport as a way of lessening the demand for roading space, and for improving the “people quality” of the city. There are two projects going on right now in which we have an interest; the “High Quality Public Transport Spine” study framed (like the Basin Reserve area State Highway changes) by the 2008 Ngauranga-to-Airport Strategy; and the “Wellington City Bus Review” proposing some increased frequencies, hubbing and bus exchanges. The quality of our public transport network remains a strong Civic Trust interest.

At Kaiwharawhara the main road and rail corridors pass through a narrow throat, part of the Northern Gateway which has been the topic of three Civic Trust seminars in the past. A Ngaio-based group has been working for some time for rejuvenation of the waters of the Kaiwharawhara stream and for public access to the reclamation area (largely closed off as port and rail land) where the stream enters the sea. We have now agreed to the Ngaio group’s request that we take over responsibility for this project at the reclamation end as part of our active Northern Gateway interest.

At the start of this report I noted the importance of the District (and Regional) Plans as statutory influences on the sort of city character which the Civic Trust through its constitution seeks to protect and advance. The whole matter of whether the present pattern of separate city and regional councils is sustainable for Wellington continues as a public issue and we look forward to hearing our guest speaker’s thoughts on this at tonight’s AGM. On one level it is an intensely boring subject; on other levels it raises actual public interest because of the different approaches now taken to regional government matters in both Auckland and Christchurch. Either way, this matter is crucial for Wellington because it shapes the nature of local democracy and of decisions about city infrastructure, resource allocation and planning consents. One of the ways in which we may be able to help is our credibility and track record of sponsoring neutral public forums where awareness can be raised through informed presentation and debate on issues like this.

All these, and other, matters are debated and worked through by your Board of Trustees, to whom I am grateful for the honour of electing me Chairman. They are all busy and successful citizens, as well as a fine collegial bunch, who give much to the Civic Trust through monthly Board meetings, other task-specific meetings and much e-mail dialogue. During the year following the last AGM, Sharmian Firth resigned as a Trustee and Judi Keith-Brown, Callum Strong and Gerald Blunt were all co-opted; but our number (14) remains below the 15-20 members specified in our constitution. Linked with this difficulty in attracting Trustees, we continued to experience a slow decline in personal membership numbers. We need the numbers to do the work; we need to demonstrate the work to attract the numbers. It could be that the Civic Trust is perceived as rather old and establishment at a time when on-line presentation and single-issue enthusiasm has more appeal. The answer, as always, is “all of the above” and your Trustees are committed to building on core values while at the same time embracing new methods and approaches. Our website will continue to be developed as a reliable and attractive source of information about what we are asserting and what we are doing — there is a huge potential there, so long as we ensure that all members and others interested know about our work both on-line and in print. The work will go on. We need the help and constructive ideas of you, our members.

Finally, thanks to my predecessor as Chair, Sharmian Firth; all Trustees and to their families and friends who support this part of their lives; the Mayor, councillors and officers of the Wellington City Council; the Chair, councillors and officers of the Greater Wellington Regional Council; staff of NZTA and of Wellington Waterfront Ltd; colleagues at Civic Trust Auckland, the Christchurch Civic Trust, The Architectural Centre, Waterfront Watch, and other related groups; members and their friends and supporters.

Alan Smith, 21 April 2012

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