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New agenda set for creating a sustainable Wellington

New agenda set for creating a sustainable Wellington

Emerging partially out of a ‘fit of gloom’, Property Council New Zealand has opened a debate in Wellington about what it will take to super-charge the city, commencing with the launch this month of an agenda-setting publication titled The Future Of Our Capital.

Overall The Future Of Our Capital is intended to be used as a discussion document to inspire and influence public policy, and consists of 14 broad principles to encourage an “urban revival” in Wellington through a succinct yet comprehensive and professionally presented set of 48 recommendations for the city and region. 

The publication lauds Wellington’s assets: its business infrastructure, its eco-friendly status, its unique public policy study opportunities, its wonderfully accessible public spaces, its diverse lifestyle options and its compact urban form. But as pointed out by Property Council NZ’s policy director Daniel Newman it is a city that is failing to unleash its potential and to roll out the welcome mat. 

Two of the timely items on the pragmatic wish-list being put forward are: 

  •  a call for the city and region to do all the earthquake planning it can, combining new technologies for seismic retrofits with urban renewal elements – as well as a taking a fresh look at its earthquake policy focused on heritage buildings and development of a built heritage plan 
  •  a plea for more to be done to shape Wellington’s future as a strategic business hub that offers “well-designed, sustainable and functional offices in an attractive, vibrant public environment” and to review and replace the existing urban design strategy

On the second point this is a publication that zeroes in on the issues central to delivering sustainable urban growth and that pushes back against leaving urban design in Wellington exclusively to council officials and the District Plan process, in favour of enhancing principles that consider green building renewal and heritage features in Wellington and that make a commitment to reducing the city’s carbon footprint.

Along with investigating the role of development authorities and urban renewal funding options, part and parcel of Property Council NZ’s proposed approach would be the formation of a single regional urban design panel – to include property owners and investors, developers, urban designers, architects, and landscape architects. The ancillary point that “prosperous, energetic, safe cities happen through an intricate web involving many people, policies and conditions that are all co-dependent” is well made. 

As could be expected there is a strong emphasis on the challenges of moving people to and around Wellington with a primary focus on addressing head-on both the constraints and the opportunities presented by the capacity and location of Wellington Airport. This is coupled with the novel idea of prioritising “parking stations around the edge of the city for workers and visitors”. 

Speaking at the invitation-only launch of The Future Of Our Capital – attended by the big hitters of the Wellington business community plus local government luminaries such as the pairing of regional council chair Fran Wilde and mayor Kerry Prendergast – Daniel Newman said that Wellington needed new ways of thinking “to foot it with a newly unified Auckland”; a sentiment echoed by Prendergast.

Newman argued that metropolitan Wellington is a vital city for New Zealand, but that the time has come for a “blank whiteboard” on which to effectively re-brainstorm Wellington – a city that is also, as stated by Property NZ chief executive Connal Townsend, “both blessed and cursed by its extraordinary geography”. 

Property Council NZ branch president Ian Cassels, known locally as ‘Mr Wellington’, sees The Future of Our Capital as being a fundamental path of action needed for Wellington to achieve its destiny as a “long-term, sustainable, efficient jewel”. 

A property developer who prefers to be called a property farmer (“people get what farmers do, but they don’t like developers”), Cassels wants more bang for the buck from the local council by the establishment of a CBD Board similar to the one put in place in Auckland in 2004. 

Cassels characterises Wellington as “a very large office business” with an office capacity exceeding that of most million-people cities. He is a man on a mission when it comes to calls to convert more of Wellington’s increasingly under-utilised over-supply of inner city office space into mixed-use by more small business tenants, a new generation of intensive, high quality, affordable apartment building suited to all walks of life, and greater uptake by education providers. 

Further proposals in The Future Of Our Capital include:

  •  a ‘Move to Wellington’ campaign
  • priority expansion of Wellington Airport’s runways and designating the relationship between the Airport and CBD as an ‘Airport Gateway’
  • a feasibility study into a consolidated ports area that would featured a centrally located ferry and cruise ship terminal along with improved transport links and walkways to the city
  • putting the city’s six major arts and conference venues under the management of a single Council-Controlled Trading Organisation

So what next? 

Wellington City Council already has a 30-year framework for the central city in the pipeline called Wellington 2040 , and Property Council NZ supports both a regional urban design project attached to the Wellington Regional Strategy and the notion of a spatial plan for Wellington – provided it is prepared with persons with expertise, with comprehensive stakeholder input and with partnerships between the private sector, community, public sector and non-profit organisations. 

Even though The Future Of Our Capital has arrived on the cusp of local body elections it has, as yet, received little fanfare and almost no media coverage. Of Mayor Prendergast’s competitors for office, fellow councillors Celia Wade-Brown and Bryan Pepperell, and international businessman Jack Yan (all of whom attended the Property Council NZ event) only Jack Yan has expressed full support of its recommendations.  

Image: Flickr - Viajar24h.com