Friday, February 27, 2009

How Sad is Princes Wharf? (Part 2)

This continues the story about Princes Wharf, and how the present development came about… I’ll try to be pithy. This is not an Environment Court submission. It's the court of public opinion. I need to explain the planning history a bit...

The stories I tell in this posting are:

  1. Ports of Auckland’s decision to commercially develop Princes Wharf

  2. Waitemata Harbour Maritime Planning Scheme Change No 4: (Princes Wharf)

  3. Auckland Regional Plan: Coastal adapted to include Port Management Area 3

  4. POAL’s decision to sell its leasehold interests in Princes Wharf to Kitchener Group

  5. Clinton Bird’s certification for Kitchener Group’s redevelopment of Princes Wharf

  6. Subsequent events

1. Ports of Auckland’s decision to commercially develop Princes Wharf

From what I can glean from people who were around in the mid 1980’s, Princes Wharf was in a pretty run-down state. And the then Auckland Port Authority became interested in the possibility of a commercial development. Money could be made. It appears a sort of design competition was held for ideas. About 15 groups contributed. There was a short-list. The best was chosen. I haven’t seen any documents about this process.

It’s my guess that the process for changing the Waitemata Harbour Maritime Planning Scheme must have been triggered by this opportunity. Apparently there was considerable public debate – I wasn’t in Auckland then – maybe someone can shed some light (add a comment). It appears the whole thing went before the Planning Tribunal which made the final decision.

However enthusiasm for the development idea evaporated after the 1987 crash.



2. Waitemata Harbour Maritime Planning Scheme Change No 4: (Princes Wharf)

Scheme Change No 4 (Princes Wharf), was finally determined by the Planning Tribunal in May 1990. Must've taken a while. It seems there was a lot of public interest. The scheme change created a new Port Zone C. It relates to Princes Wharf. The purpose of the zone:

“is to provide for the development and operation of port facilities
(particularly those serving overseas and ferry passengers and visitors) and the
redevelopment of the ferry wharves, Quayside and Princes Wharf in a way which
will retain and promote the visual and public access links between downtown
Auckland and the harbour, provide a range of activities which will encourage
public use and create a vibrant social environment focussing on the maritime
setting, and which will have a sound economic base…”

This sounds remarkably positive and upbeat – reminscent even of the words used for Tankfarm. And no mention of the need to optimise revenue! The scheme change included special requirements for uses on Princes Wharf. These make interesting reading in hindsight:

“…it is a fundamental objective of the redevelopment of Princes Wharf that it should contain an appropriate mix of uses so as to achieve a balance between commercial activity and public access and enjoyment of the Wharf. To ensure that an appropriate mix and balance of uses is provided and maintained, there is a requirement for a minimum percentage of the development to be of publicly orientated uses – 'people places' – such as Art Galleries, Museums, Theatres, Entertainment or Educational Facilities, and in addition certain 'private commercial' uses shall be limited to maximum percentages of the development. There is a further requirement for minimum percentages of internal and external public spaces….”

This is even more positive. Imagine if that had actually happened.

But the zone starts to come undone a bit with the specifics. The fine print. The planning detail includes various specific requirements, more words:

"...that the maximum gross floor area of all buildings shall not exceed 100,000
square metres; and not less than 25% of that maximum GFA shall be occupied “…by
a museum and a threatre or cinema, and one or more of any of the following other
publicly orientated uses; passenger terminal, retail market place, taverns,
bars, restaurants, foodhalls, cafes, additional museums, cinemas and theatres,
art galleries and other entertainment facilities…”

Sticking the passenger terminal in there, along with Cinemas and Museums – especially the passenger terminal we have to tolerate on Princes Wharf – hardly a public place – soaks up this 25% quickly. Without really delivering on the nice words in the objective.

Then there are the specifics for public space. The scheme distinguishes between external public space (public space outside the building footprint) and internal public space (public space within the building footprint). These requirements are stated as:


* A minimum of 35% of the wharf deck area shall be retained as external public space (I assume this includes the central street, cross streets, as well as wharf perimeter and end areas);
* A minimum of 30% of the required external public space shall be located within the northern third of the wharf area (ie at the end);
* Not less than 15% of the gross floor area of the wharf deck level, and the first
upper level of all buildings shall be in the form of internal public places and
pedestrian circulation areas…
* A minimum width of 6 metres of external public space shall be provided for the
full perimeter of the wharf.

It’s obvious now that the 6 metre external walkway is too narrow and dominated. Hard to change now. A good example not to follow. And I'm doubtful about the public nature of the streets. They seem highly private. More like driveways. Basically car parks.

What is less obvious is the nature and quality of internal public spaces. Where might I find those within the development? That's a rhetorical question - by the way.

The scheme change goes into some detail, however, describing how the public space at the northern end of Princes Wharf should work. It states that


“a length of 64 metres shall be provided at and around the northern end of the
development within the building envelope as external public space containing
flights of public steps, ramps, associated elevated landings… for the purpose
of:
* providing public access from within the development to the public areas
at the end….
* Enhancing the quality and aspect of the northern extremities of
the building as public space…
* Ensuring that visually and functionally the public facilities at and about the northern end of the development are attractive and encourage public use…”
You’d have to say that there is a whole swag of problems at the end of Princes Wharf (for example the design of the public spaces and steps – which might be attractive - do not encourage public use. If anything the design actively discourages public use.).

3. Auckland Regional Plan: Coastal adapted to include Port Management Area 3

You’re doing well if you got here. Basically the ARC incorporated the Waitemata Harbour Maritime Planning Scheme Change No 4, into ARC's Plan Coastal which was prepared under the newly enacted Resource Management Act 1989.

The Port Management Area 3 chapter of the ARC Plan Coastal notes that by 1991 the development that had been originally envisaged by Ports of Auckland had not taken place, and states:


“… the upgrading and modernisation of facilities on Princes Wharf could
significantly benefit tourism, recreation, and the public amenity values of the
waterfront. Any development would need to complement the urban landscape, be in
scale with adjacent land-based development, and retain views of the harbour from
surrounding locations. A high level of public access would need to be
maintained, particularly around the northern end of Princes Wharf…”

Nice words. But very hard to reconcile with what got built there. In retrospect I find it quite extraordinary that the ARC decided that it need only retain a tiny amount of discretion in considering any resource consent application for Princes Wharf. Probably because the Scheme Change had already been argued in front of the Planning Tribunal. Basically ARC’s Plan Coastal said that anything that fitted within a horrendous building envelope 37 metres high, sloping to 22 metres and 15 metres high at the sides, and running solid along the wharf, could be built as of right, as a fully complying activity. No notification necessary. Apply and you’ll get consent.

Ports of Auckland had their wicked way. In it for the money.

The tiny bit of planning discretion retained by the ARC - the foot-in-the-planning-door - that the ARC did give itself, was that the ARC:


“had control over… the extent to which the design and external appearance of any
buildings or structures recognises the city/harbour relationship, the prominent
maritime setting of the site, and the public use of the development…”

That was pretty feeble. I’d love to have been a fly on the wall as the ARC capitulated, and almost entirely abrogated its public interest RMA responsibilities over Princes Wharf. It’s as if the RMA had never been written. The Act’s high ideals and principles could’ve been used to relitigate this pre 1987 crash proposal. But instead the old style Waitemata Harbour Scheme Change was simply incorporated. Rolled over. Pretty much unchanged. Note to self: check out the ARC committee reports around this time.

With a planning regime like that in place, it was only a matter of time before a resource consent application to develop Princes Wharf would be received.


4. Ports of Auckland’s sells its interests in Princes Wharf to Kitchener Group

In the mid 1990's, with the fallout of the 1987 crash long forgotten, development in Auckland took off again. It was business as usual.

On the 18th June 1997, Ports of Auckland Ltd issued a media release through NZX (Capital Markets) which announced the sale of POAL’s leasehold interests (98 years) in Princes Wharf to Kitchener Group of Companies for $25.752 million.

The media release noted that the proceeds of the sale “will be used for general business purposes…”, I wonder what those were. The release also noted that the sale “is the result of Ports of Auckland’s review of its asset base and continuing focus on its core port operational activities…”


5. Clinton Bird certifies Kitchener Group’s redevelopment of Princes Wharf

Now we get to the business end of this. The Scheme Change, which was mostly incorporated into ARC’s Plan Coastal, required that the developer should obtain a certificate from an independent registered architect. That person needed to formally certify: “that the design and appearance of the proposed development of Princes Wharf is responsive to the city/harbour relationship, the prominent maritime setting of the site and the public use of the development and its setting…” You might recognise those words from ARC's Plan Coastal (above).

The issues that certifier should consider were all listed in the Scheme Change. Some of these filtered through into ARC’s Plan Coastal. But not all. Not even the obligation to have a certifier. Not sure why. Anyway. The ARC did decide to get a certifier in. They wanted someone who knew stuff about urban design issues to look at the plans. They chose Clinton Bird. After he’d done the work, it turned out that Mr Bird wasn’t actually a registered architect. So ARC had another architect who was registered, endorse and certify Mr Bird’s report. This was Diane Brand. She didn’t go through the process that Mr Bird went through, but commissioners were satisfied the process as a whole complied with the intent of the Scheme Change.

In his introduction to his Princes Wharf project design and appearance certification report, Mr Bird describes how he worked:

“…throughout the … process, regular contact and close dialogue has been maintained with the manager of the Kitchener Group.., his architect, and his planning consultant. This approach was considered to be the most positive, efficient, and constructive, given the collective aspiration to extract the best possible architectural and urban design result from the opportunity to develop Princes Wharf…”

I have to say this sort of collaboration gives me the heebie jeebies. They all work together. Then commissioners get to see the document. Everything all sorted out. And how expert and independent was Mr Bird? And what urban design prejudices and opinions might he bring to this process? I'm concerned because my academic and practical experience of urban design issues and questions is that they are never clearcut. Lots of subjectivity and little objectivity. There is lots of fluffy opinion. Hard for commissioners to see the wood for the trees in all this fluff.

First I'll note some facts from Mr Bird’s report.

He notes that there is a contractual agreement between the Kitchener Group and Ports of Auckland which imposes constraints on the proposed development. Some of these constraints are summarised by Mr Bird. He states that these include a commitment to: "....retaining the structure of the six existing sheds..." and "....re-establishing the two way central ‘street’ which was traditionally a busy thoroughfare associated with loading and unloading in the ‘heart’ of the wharf...."

I bolded these because they seem pretty important commitments. The quote marks round 'street' and 'heart' are Mr Bird's. There is much talk in his certification document of the centrality in the design proposal of the streets on Princes Wharf, and of the retention of the existing character sheds.

There is also an assurance that the proposed building “is not an iconic building…” Interesting.

In the guts of his report, Mr Bird provides the following reassuring text:

“By retaining the existing sheds, the development relates not only to the earlier wharf structures, but also to the dominant texture of the city. The resulting city texture on the wharf would be not too dissimilar to assembling six slightly longer but similarly wide and high Ferry buildings in the same pattern of layout…”

(Pardon my language. This is so misleading.)

And he writes:

“Within this new city texture, the development contributes a new city street running north-south down the centre of the wharf, two pedestrian waterside promenades along the eastern and western sides of the wharf, a series of colonades on both sides of the central street and on one side of the waterside promenades, together with a major new public space at the northern extremity of the wharf…”

(Again. What a misrepresentation of reality. So misleading. Not a word of caution. No suggestion of conditions that might deliver the reality of this vision. Beware the silver-tongued urban design expert with an agenda.)

His pen runs on:

“Also evident in this plan is the good neighbourly relationships the redevelopment establishes with respect to other civic uses in the vicinity. For example, the ocean racing yacht architectural design imagery is entirely appropriate to the Maritime Museum uses and small yacht harbour to its immediate west. The same imagery will also provide a counterfoil to the industrial shed-like imagery of the Maritime Museum architecture….”

(Boy oh boy. This is why you have design competitions. This is why you involve the public and try out a few ideas. Here all we have is an apologist for a single idea. )

But the Bird opinion that really gets me is this:

“Although the height of the buildings will be greater than those currently existing on the wharf, and greater than those currently on Queens Wharf to the east, the additional height proposed will help to achieve a sense of enclosure and definition to the harbour space in front of the Ferry building. The proposed development will act like a ‘constructed headland’… this will assist in restoring a more visually interesting and spatially attractive city waterfront which, as a result of of successive harbour reclamations since the founding of the city, has been reduced to a relatively flat, straight edge…”.

(Fantastic. In fact the opposite is the case. The best view of Auckland’s waterfront now is the end of Tankfarm. You have an extraordinary sense of space, left to the Harbour Bridge, right to Mt Victoria and Rangitoto. The notion that Auckland city’s waterfront view should somehow be “enclosed” is narrow, and somehow very sad. Like - you are only entitled to a really decent view of Auckland’s harbour if you are employed in a highrise office. Or own an apartment on Princes Wharf.)


But I do owe Mr Bird thanks for a couple of recommendations. He was worried about signs, and he worried about seats and other amenity in the public areas. (NB: I think it totally deficient that there are no public toilets at the end of Princes Wharf. How many public parks and spaces can you think of that don't provide public toilets? )

Mr Bird called for a further stage of design and appearance certification for the design of the urban landscape, and he also reckoned the same sort of process should apply to the design of signage and visual identification.

Not sure what happened there. Eg the “Hilton” sign on public assets. How did that get permitted? And the lack of seats on the wharf deck area (mind you – if the deck edge is a race track for Hilton-bound taxis and shuttles – seats would get in the way, wouldn’t they.)

6. Subsequent events

This brings me to the end. Of this posting anyway. More about Princes Wharf to come later.

I am aware that more than one ARC councillor is embarrassed by Princes Wharf.

There was even a court case over the fence/gate that’s there to prevent public access when a cruise ship might come. That gate was closed even when there was no ship. That's been fixed it seems. Now that side of the wharf gets used as a car park. You often see cars stacked up between the colonades that will be kept “free for pedestrian acceess…”.

And then there are the elevated viewing platforms at the end. Story was that private tenants would come out and scare the public away. Not really public at all. So in a celebrated picnic, Cllr Walbran went there with family, but couldn’t gain access because of padlocks on the gates. It was all reported by Rudman:
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10342524
But nothing much has changed since. Sure the padlocks have gone. But it’s still a forbidding place to find some public peace. Hard to untangle public space from all those private hands.

Professional urban design investigation would involve placing a video camera and analysing how people actually use the end of the wharf. It’s all very well to stamp down there as Chair of Regional Strategy and Policy – knowing what the rules are. It’s quite another to hesitantly go down there (why would you anyway?) – confronted by all the signs saying thou shalt not fish, sit, stand…. Hilton branding everywhere - and find that quiet people place.

The one good thing about ARC’s resource consent that permitted the Princes Wharf development is the standard review clause. It’s a review condition. It states that the conditions of consent may be reviewed by the ARC in order to deal with any adverse effect on the environment which may arise from the exercise of this consent.

It also provides for the ARC to carry out a review of the conditions of consent including altering monitoring requirements … in light of results carried out from investigations. Time for some formal investigation I think.

The ARC owes the public a review of the conditions of consent for the Princes Wharf development. We can’t keep our back turned. Not forever. Not for 98 years. It's time to fix this.

4 comments:

stolich said...

There's a huge proposal of a night market being on Queens Wharf.

Chris said...

I think you are being too hard on Prince's Wharf. I agree some of the public areas around the outside, and the parking area down the middle, could be a little more user friendly, with nicer paving and some seats. But part of the problem must be due to the fact that it is a concrete structure, so things like landscaping are not practical, as planting would have to be in pots. However, apart from the Skytower, which is in a different category, PW is the closest thing Auckland has to an 'iconic' structure, and is far more stylish, interesting and better looking than many similar buildings in the world. It's far better than most of the other new buildings in Auckland. If you're going to rant about Auckland's waterfront, try to do something about the ghastly container terminals and sheds occupying and blocking most of the views and access to the water. Even the new ferry terminals are not much better, and the extension to the Maritime Museum is just making an old tin shed a bit bigger.

Joel Cayford said...

Chris. Thanks for these comments. There is not a lot of science in urban design, and there will be many opinions about Princes Wharf. Unless we learn from our waterfront mistakes, we will repeat them. Princes Wharf is a mistake - in my view. You note that you think it is an "iconic building" - yet that was exactly what was NOT wanted. (You can see that in my original research). The main problem is with aspects of that development's urban design: no streetscape (despite it being fundamental); poor public seating (despite Bird's comments about the need to get that right). And the width of public space at the water's edge makes it very unfriendly for public access. I don't mention trees - yet these are often present in urban streetscapes. There will be some who look at Princes Wharf from a distance and say, "that's good. I like that". But the proof of the pudding of such developments is what it does for people who use them, walk around them, and try to enjoy the "rooms outside" that the building creates. That's what makes popular waterfronts - as opposed to alienating waterfronts.

Joel

Anonymous said...

I agree with Chris's statement that the extension of the Maritime is just going to make an old shed bigger. Its the same old story with the new MARINE EVENTS CENTRE which is PATHETIC! It looks like a warehouse plonked in the middle of the waterfront and has no connections with its surroundings whatsoever. The architects imagination could only go as far as putting a wave-like roof on top of the boxy structure that is the Marine Events Centre. The design is very disappointing and it really makes you realise that everything and anything thats done in Auckland is half-arsed. You wonder if the architects and designers have any imagination, VISION and creativity. If the rest of the waterfront will look like that, then Auckland will be left in a sorry state forwver.

Friday, February 27, 2009

How Sad is Princes Wharf? (Part 2)

This continues the story about Princes Wharf, and how the present development came about… I’ll try to be pithy. This is not an Environment Court submission. It's the court of public opinion. I need to explain the planning history a bit...

The stories I tell in this posting are:

  1. Ports of Auckland’s decision to commercially develop Princes Wharf

  2. Waitemata Harbour Maritime Planning Scheme Change No 4: (Princes Wharf)

  3. Auckland Regional Plan: Coastal adapted to include Port Management Area 3

  4. POAL’s decision to sell its leasehold interests in Princes Wharf to Kitchener Group

  5. Clinton Bird’s certification for Kitchener Group’s redevelopment of Princes Wharf

  6. Subsequent events

1. Ports of Auckland’s decision to commercially develop Princes Wharf

From what I can glean from people who were around in the mid 1980’s, Princes Wharf was in a pretty run-down state. And the then Auckland Port Authority became interested in the possibility of a commercial development. Money could be made. It appears a sort of design competition was held for ideas. About 15 groups contributed. There was a short-list. The best was chosen. I haven’t seen any documents about this process.

It’s my guess that the process for changing the Waitemata Harbour Maritime Planning Scheme must have been triggered by this opportunity. Apparently there was considerable public debate – I wasn’t in Auckland then – maybe someone can shed some light (add a comment). It appears the whole thing went before the Planning Tribunal which made the final decision.

However enthusiasm for the development idea evaporated after the 1987 crash.



2. Waitemata Harbour Maritime Planning Scheme Change No 4: (Princes Wharf)

Scheme Change No 4 (Princes Wharf), was finally determined by the Planning Tribunal in May 1990. Must've taken a while. It seems there was a lot of public interest. The scheme change created a new Port Zone C. It relates to Princes Wharf. The purpose of the zone:

“is to provide for the development and operation of port facilities
(particularly those serving overseas and ferry passengers and visitors) and the
redevelopment of the ferry wharves, Quayside and Princes Wharf in a way which
will retain and promote the visual and public access links between downtown
Auckland and the harbour, provide a range of activities which will encourage
public use and create a vibrant social environment focussing on the maritime
setting, and which will have a sound economic base…”

This sounds remarkably positive and upbeat – reminscent even of the words used for Tankfarm. And no mention of the need to optimise revenue! The scheme change included special requirements for uses on Princes Wharf. These make interesting reading in hindsight:

“…it is a fundamental objective of the redevelopment of Princes Wharf that it should contain an appropriate mix of uses so as to achieve a balance between commercial activity and public access and enjoyment of the Wharf. To ensure that an appropriate mix and balance of uses is provided and maintained, there is a requirement for a minimum percentage of the development to be of publicly orientated uses – 'people places' – such as Art Galleries, Museums, Theatres, Entertainment or Educational Facilities, and in addition certain 'private commercial' uses shall be limited to maximum percentages of the development. There is a further requirement for minimum percentages of internal and external public spaces….”

This is even more positive. Imagine if that had actually happened.

But the zone starts to come undone a bit with the specifics. The fine print. The planning detail includes various specific requirements, more words:

"...that the maximum gross floor area of all buildings shall not exceed 100,000
square metres; and not less than 25% of that maximum GFA shall be occupied “…by
a museum and a threatre or cinema, and one or more of any of the following other
publicly orientated uses; passenger terminal, retail market place, taverns,
bars, restaurants, foodhalls, cafes, additional museums, cinemas and theatres,
art galleries and other entertainment facilities…”

Sticking the passenger terminal in there, along with Cinemas and Museums – especially the passenger terminal we have to tolerate on Princes Wharf – hardly a public place – soaks up this 25% quickly. Without really delivering on the nice words in the objective.

Then there are the specifics for public space. The scheme distinguishes between external public space (public space outside the building footprint) and internal public space (public space within the building footprint). These requirements are stated as:


* A minimum of 35% of the wharf deck area shall be retained as external public space (I assume this includes the central street, cross streets, as well as wharf perimeter and end areas);
* A minimum of 30% of the required external public space shall be located within the northern third of the wharf area (ie at the end);
* Not less than 15% of the gross floor area of the wharf deck level, and the first
upper level of all buildings shall be in the form of internal public places and
pedestrian circulation areas…
* A minimum width of 6 metres of external public space shall be provided for the
full perimeter of the wharf.

It’s obvious now that the 6 metre external walkway is too narrow and dominated. Hard to change now. A good example not to follow. And I'm doubtful about the public nature of the streets. They seem highly private. More like driveways. Basically car parks.

What is less obvious is the nature and quality of internal public spaces. Where might I find those within the development? That's a rhetorical question - by the way.

The scheme change goes into some detail, however, describing how the public space at the northern end of Princes Wharf should work. It states that


“a length of 64 metres shall be provided at and around the northern end of the
development within the building envelope as external public space containing
flights of public steps, ramps, associated elevated landings… for the purpose
of:
* providing public access from within the development to the public areas
at the end….
* Enhancing the quality and aspect of the northern extremities of
the building as public space…
* Ensuring that visually and functionally the public facilities at and about the northern end of the development are attractive and encourage public use…”
You’d have to say that there is a whole swag of problems at the end of Princes Wharf (for example the design of the public spaces and steps – which might be attractive - do not encourage public use. If anything the design actively discourages public use.).

3. Auckland Regional Plan: Coastal adapted to include Port Management Area 3

You’re doing well if you got here. Basically the ARC incorporated the Waitemata Harbour Maritime Planning Scheme Change No 4, into ARC's Plan Coastal which was prepared under the newly enacted Resource Management Act 1989.

The Port Management Area 3 chapter of the ARC Plan Coastal notes that by 1991 the development that had been originally envisaged by Ports of Auckland had not taken place, and states:


“… the upgrading and modernisation of facilities on Princes Wharf could
significantly benefit tourism, recreation, and the public amenity values of the
waterfront. Any development would need to complement the urban landscape, be in
scale with adjacent land-based development, and retain views of the harbour from
surrounding locations. A high level of public access would need to be
maintained, particularly around the northern end of Princes Wharf…”

Nice words. But very hard to reconcile with what got built there. In retrospect I find it quite extraordinary that the ARC decided that it need only retain a tiny amount of discretion in considering any resource consent application for Princes Wharf. Probably because the Scheme Change had already been argued in front of the Planning Tribunal. Basically ARC’s Plan Coastal said that anything that fitted within a horrendous building envelope 37 metres high, sloping to 22 metres and 15 metres high at the sides, and running solid along the wharf, could be built as of right, as a fully complying activity. No notification necessary. Apply and you’ll get consent.

Ports of Auckland had their wicked way. In it for the money.

The tiny bit of planning discretion retained by the ARC - the foot-in-the-planning-door - that the ARC did give itself, was that the ARC:


“had control over… the extent to which the design and external appearance of any
buildings or structures recognises the city/harbour relationship, the prominent
maritime setting of the site, and the public use of the development…”

That was pretty feeble. I’d love to have been a fly on the wall as the ARC capitulated, and almost entirely abrogated its public interest RMA responsibilities over Princes Wharf. It’s as if the RMA had never been written. The Act’s high ideals and principles could’ve been used to relitigate this pre 1987 crash proposal. But instead the old style Waitemata Harbour Scheme Change was simply incorporated. Rolled over. Pretty much unchanged. Note to self: check out the ARC committee reports around this time.

With a planning regime like that in place, it was only a matter of time before a resource consent application to develop Princes Wharf would be received.


4. Ports of Auckland’s sells its interests in Princes Wharf to Kitchener Group

In the mid 1990's, with the fallout of the 1987 crash long forgotten, development in Auckland took off again. It was business as usual.

On the 18th June 1997, Ports of Auckland Ltd issued a media release through NZX (Capital Markets) which announced the sale of POAL’s leasehold interests (98 years) in Princes Wharf to Kitchener Group of Companies for $25.752 million.

The media release noted that the proceeds of the sale “will be used for general business purposes…”, I wonder what those were. The release also noted that the sale “is the result of Ports of Auckland’s review of its asset base and continuing focus on its core port operational activities…”


5. Clinton Bird certifies Kitchener Group’s redevelopment of Princes Wharf

Now we get to the business end of this. The Scheme Change, which was mostly incorporated into ARC’s Plan Coastal, required that the developer should obtain a certificate from an independent registered architect. That person needed to formally certify: “that the design and appearance of the proposed development of Princes Wharf is responsive to the city/harbour relationship, the prominent maritime setting of the site and the public use of the development and its setting…” You might recognise those words from ARC's Plan Coastal (above).

The issues that certifier should consider were all listed in the Scheme Change. Some of these filtered through into ARC’s Plan Coastal. But not all. Not even the obligation to have a certifier. Not sure why. Anyway. The ARC did decide to get a certifier in. They wanted someone who knew stuff about urban design issues to look at the plans. They chose Clinton Bird. After he’d done the work, it turned out that Mr Bird wasn’t actually a registered architect. So ARC had another architect who was registered, endorse and certify Mr Bird’s report. This was Diane Brand. She didn’t go through the process that Mr Bird went through, but commissioners were satisfied the process as a whole complied with the intent of the Scheme Change.

In his introduction to his Princes Wharf project design and appearance certification report, Mr Bird describes how he worked:

“…throughout the … process, regular contact and close dialogue has been maintained with the manager of the Kitchener Group.., his architect, and his planning consultant. This approach was considered to be the most positive, efficient, and constructive, given the collective aspiration to extract the best possible architectural and urban design result from the opportunity to develop Princes Wharf…”

I have to say this sort of collaboration gives me the heebie jeebies. They all work together. Then commissioners get to see the document. Everything all sorted out. And how expert and independent was Mr Bird? And what urban design prejudices and opinions might he bring to this process? I'm concerned because my academic and practical experience of urban design issues and questions is that they are never clearcut. Lots of subjectivity and little objectivity. There is lots of fluffy opinion. Hard for commissioners to see the wood for the trees in all this fluff.

First I'll note some facts from Mr Bird’s report.

He notes that there is a contractual agreement between the Kitchener Group and Ports of Auckland which imposes constraints on the proposed development. Some of these constraints are summarised by Mr Bird. He states that these include a commitment to: "....retaining the structure of the six existing sheds..." and "....re-establishing the two way central ‘street’ which was traditionally a busy thoroughfare associated with loading and unloading in the ‘heart’ of the wharf...."

I bolded these because they seem pretty important commitments. The quote marks round 'street' and 'heart' are Mr Bird's. There is much talk in his certification document of the centrality in the design proposal of the streets on Princes Wharf, and of the retention of the existing character sheds.

There is also an assurance that the proposed building “is not an iconic building…” Interesting.

In the guts of his report, Mr Bird provides the following reassuring text:

“By retaining the existing sheds, the development relates not only to the earlier wharf structures, but also to the dominant texture of the city. The resulting city texture on the wharf would be not too dissimilar to assembling six slightly longer but similarly wide and high Ferry buildings in the same pattern of layout…”

(Pardon my language. This is so misleading.)

And he writes:

“Within this new city texture, the development contributes a new city street running north-south down the centre of the wharf, two pedestrian waterside promenades along the eastern and western sides of the wharf, a series of colonades on both sides of the central street and on one side of the waterside promenades, together with a major new public space at the northern extremity of the wharf…”

(Again. What a misrepresentation of reality. So misleading. Not a word of caution. No suggestion of conditions that might deliver the reality of this vision. Beware the silver-tongued urban design expert with an agenda.)

His pen runs on:

“Also evident in this plan is the good neighbourly relationships the redevelopment establishes with respect to other civic uses in the vicinity. For example, the ocean racing yacht architectural design imagery is entirely appropriate to the Maritime Museum uses and small yacht harbour to its immediate west. The same imagery will also provide a counterfoil to the industrial shed-like imagery of the Maritime Museum architecture….”

(Boy oh boy. This is why you have design competitions. This is why you involve the public and try out a few ideas. Here all we have is an apologist for a single idea. )

But the Bird opinion that really gets me is this:

“Although the height of the buildings will be greater than those currently existing on the wharf, and greater than those currently on Queens Wharf to the east, the additional height proposed will help to achieve a sense of enclosure and definition to the harbour space in front of the Ferry building. The proposed development will act like a ‘constructed headland’… this will assist in restoring a more visually interesting and spatially attractive city waterfront which, as a result of of successive harbour reclamations since the founding of the city, has been reduced to a relatively flat, straight edge…”.

(Fantastic. In fact the opposite is the case. The best view of Auckland’s waterfront now is the end of Tankfarm. You have an extraordinary sense of space, left to the Harbour Bridge, right to Mt Victoria and Rangitoto. The notion that Auckland city’s waterfront view should somehow be “enclosed” is narrow, and somehow very sad. Like - you are only entitled to a really decent view of Auckland’s harbour if you are employed in a highrise office. Or own an apartment on Princes Wharf.)


But I do owe Mr Bird thanks for a couple of recommendations. He was worried about signs, and he worried about seats and other amenity in the public areas. (NB: I think it totally deficient that there are no public toilets at the end of Princes Wharf. How many public parks and spaces can you think of that don't provide public toilets? )

Mr Bird called for a further stage of design and appearance certification for the design of the urban landscape, and he also reckoned the same sort of process should apply to the design of signage and visual identification.

Not sure what happened there. Eg the “Hilton” sign on public assets. How did that get permitted? And the lack of seats on the wharf deck area (mind you – if the deck edge is a race track for Hilton-bound taxis and shuttles – seats would get in the way, wouldn’t they.)

6. Subsequent events

This brings me to the end. Of this posting anyway. More about Princes Wharf to come later.

I am aware that more than one ARC councillor is embarrassed by Princes Wharf.

There was even a court case over the fence/gate that’s there to prevent public access when a cruise ship might come. That gate was closed even when there was no ship. That's been fixed it seems. Now that side of the wharf gets used as a car park. You often see cars stacked up between the colonades that will be kept “free for pedestrian acceess…”.

And then there are the elevated viewing platforms at the end. Story was that private tenants would come out and scare the public away. Not really public at all. So in a celebrated picnic, Cllr Walbran went there with family, but couldn’t gain access because of padlocks on the gates. It was all reported by Rudman:
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10342524
But nothing much has changed since. Sure the padlocks have gone. But it’s still a forbidding place to find some public peace. Hard to untangle public space from all those private hands.

Professional urban design investigation would involve placing a video camera and analysing how people actually use the end of the wharf. It’s all very well to stamp down there as Chair of Regional Strategy and Policy – knowing what the rules are. It’s quite another to hesitantly go down there (why would you anyway?) – confronted by all the signs saying thou shalt not fish, sit, stand…. Hilton branding everywhere - and find that quiet people place.

The one good thing about ARC’s resource consent that permitted the Princes Wharf development is the standard review clause. It’s a review condition. It states that the conditions of consent may be reviewed by the ARC in order to deal with any adverse effect on the environment which may arise from the exercise of this consent.

It also provides for the ARC to carry out a review of the conditions of consent including altering monitoring requirements … in light of results carried out from investigations. Time for some formal investigation I think.

The ARC owes the public a review of the conditions of consent for the Princes Wharf development. We can’t keep our back turned. Not forever. Not for 98 years. It's time to fix this.

4 comments:

stolich said...

There's a huge proposal of a night market being on Queens Wharf.

Chris said...

I think you are being too hard on Prince's Wharf. I agree some of the public areas around the outside, and the parking area down the middle, could be a little more user friendly, with nicer paving and some seats. But part of the problem must be due to the fact that it is a concrete structure, so things like landscaping are not practical, as planting would have to be in pots. However, apart from the Skytower, which is in a different category, PW is the closest thing Auckland has to an 'iconic' structure, and is far more stylish, interesting and better looking than many similar buildings in the world. It's far better than most of the other new buildings in Auckland. If you're going to rant about Auckland's waterfront, try to do something about the ghastly container terminals and sheds occupying and blocking most of the views and access to the water. Even the new ferry terminals are not much better, and the extension to the Maritime Museum is just making an old tin shed a bit bigger.

Joel Cayford said...

Chris. Thanks for these comments. There is not a lot of science in urban design, and there will be many opinions about Princes Wharf. Unless we learn from our waterfront mistakes, we will repeat them. Princes Wharf is a mistake - in my view. You note that you think it is an "iconic building" - yet that was exactly what was NOT wanted. (You can see that in my original research). The main problem is with aspects of that development's urban design: no streetscape (despite it being fundamental); poor public seating (despite Bird's comments about the need to get that right). And the width of public space at the water's edge makes it very unfriendly for public access. I don't mention trees - yet these are often present in urban streetscapes. There will be some who look at Princes Wharf from a distance and say, "that's good. I like that". But the proof of the pudding of such developments is what it does for people who use them, walk around them, and try to enjoy the "rooms outside" that the building creates. That's what makes popular waterfronts - as opposed to alienating waterfronts.

Joel

Anonymous said...

I agree with Chris's statement that the extension of the Maritime is just going to make an old shed bigger. Its the same old story with the new MARINE EVENTS CENTRE which is PATHETIC! It looks like a warehouse plonked in the middle of the waterfront and has no connections with its surroundings whatsoever. The architects imagination could only go as far as putting a wave-like roof on top of the boxy structure that is the Marine Events Centre. The design is very disappointing and it really makes you realise that everything and anything thats done in Auckland is half-arsed. You wonder if the architects and designers have any imagination, VISION and creativity. If the rest of the waterfront will look like that, then Auckland will be left in a sorry state forwver.