The dust, or should I say the sea salt spray, never quite settles on Wellington’s waterfront. Since the time when the harbour was known as Te Whanganui a Tara, through earthquake uplifts, reclamations, and wharf constructions, we have fought in some way over the rich resources that grace this glorious piece of coastline. Tribal skirmishes, pitched battles between capitalists and waterside workers, legal proceedings between developers and the passionate Wellingtonians all have impacted on the form of the waterfront that we enjoy today.
The next battle is taking shape inside the Wellington Regional Council chambers over a resource consent application to build a Hilton Hotel on the outer T of Queens Wharf. On one side is everything represented by that deviant, debauched, child heir of the Hilton Empire. On the other side is the Resource Management Act, the Wellington City District Plan, the Wellington Waterfront Framework and the Regional Coastal Plan policies for the Lambton Harbour Development Area.Since 1993, maybe earlier, Wellington Waterfront Ltd and Waterfront Investments Ltd – council owned businesses – have been determined to put a hotel, of some sort, onto the outer-T. Behind the iron curtain of Council business, a 99 year lease was finally granted to the hotel developer. Incredibly, despite the wealth of the Hilton, Wellington ratepayers are being asked to contribute up to $15 million for strengthening the wharf piles underneath, to support the pile of shit being built on top.
The proposed Hilton has been described as a six-storey stack of shipping containers, a steel edifice reminiscent of architecture from the 1980s. The building contravenes height plans established by the Waterfront Development Subcommittee by being completely out of scale with surrounding buildings.
This great monolith will cast dark shadows onto the pedestrian promenade in the busy walk-to-work hours of the morning. The bulk of the building will impinge on the protected view shafts from Johnston Street. 450 vehicles not including tourist coaches will traverse the major pedestrian thoroughfare, and, if you are lucky to make it to the hotel, increased wind speeds in some parts will compound the fact that there has been a serious degradation of public amenity values.
Businesses in the area have valid concerns too. The Intercontinental will lose guests, Dockside Restaurant will suffer during construction and lose sunlight hours, and the Port of Wellington and Helipro could face negative impacts on their operations, contravening Regional Coastal Plan policies.
Of 994 submissions on the Hilton Resource Consent, 834 are against, 155 are in support, three are conditional, and two are neutral.
Despite the Waterfront Framework stipulating a ¨competition to explore options for an iconic structure¨ be it building or sculpture, Ian Pike, the CEO of WWL claims that they ¨have a prior obligation to allow the hotel to be built, subject to the resource consent process¨ (Capital Times 19 Oct 05).
The battle lines have been drawn: prior obligations (read possible corruption/ nepotism) will face off against the passion of Wellington’s citizens to protect and explore better options for the Outer T. A winter garden in a glasshouse has been suggested. The Hilton could then be built on the Shed 6 site and the southern end of the Events Centre, or old site 102, between the Whitmore Street gates and Shed 21.
In the event of consent being declined, the Wellington Civic Trust has volunteered to facilitate a competition. This would be a great chance for architecture students to promote a new vision. The Civic Trust is known for saving the waterfront in the 1980s from office tower development through instigating the successful Harbour City Design Competition. The Civic Trust has a student subscription of $10 that gives access to the Civic Trust award ceremony, seminars on development issues, and drinks at the AGM.
To find out more visit www.wellingtoncivictrust.org or contact their student rep at firstname.lastname@example.org