Rosemary McLeod: Shelly Bay: We're helping pay for it but where's the transparency?

In this city, frontier style, nothing has to meet any aesthetic standard, says Rosemary McLeod. Just look at Te Papa.
MONIQUE FORD / FAIRFAX NZ

In this city, frontier style, nothing has to meet any aesthetic standard, says Rosemary McLeod. Just look at Te Papa.

OPINION: Since you – the council – asks, I am not happy about subsidising a developer to make a handsome profit out of Shelly Bay. But you didn't ask me.

I wouldn't give a developer the froth off my latte, let alone the chance to build an eyesore on what ought to be prime land for everyone to enjoy, but will most likely become yet another posh city playground for the poor to gawp at as they're hurried through with their icecreams dripping.

We're told Wellington ratepayers will be $1.5 million a year richer in rates if the plan goes ahead, which it's bound to, but what is $1.5m worth in a decade or two? And we are asked to share the cost of expensive infrastructure as part of the developer's covert deal with the council.  Just how much money that involves we don't know, nor will we – the public – ever see a percentage breakdown. Why not? It's our money.

Oh, and the whole thing will rain down $396m worth of economic benefits while it's being built. Like that wonderful shopping centre on the waterfront – remember? That failed so quickly you could have blinked, but the council just knew it would work. Like it knew the mysterious waka house on the waterfront would. Whose idea was that, and what is its function, exactly?

Shelly Bay is currently a rundown group of buildings on a sunny peninsula facing toward town, almost right on the water, and I rather like it the way it is. It could be another Oriental Bay. Or it could be another cheap and ugly development like so many others that have gone before, because in this city, frontier style, nothing has to meet any aesthetic standard. Nor would we ever dream of having an open and transparent process of disposing of such a public asset. People might get in the way.

The Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust is involved here. I gather it's teamed up with Ian Cassels, and the council will sell most of its holding to him, keeping back some of it for public parks. They won't be very big parks if a planned 150-bed rest home, a boutique hotel offering about 50 rooms, 280 apartments, 58 town houses and 14 stand-alone homes, also a ferry service, cafes, bars, shops, and possibly a village green and a brewery go ahead.

A village green, with all that evokes of ye olde Englishness and inherent colonialism, of plastic souvenir tack and lolly wrappers. I'm cringing already.

In some countries there would be a competition for architects and landscapers to dream up creative ideas for such a desirable plot of land, the last we have with such great potential. But as with Te Papa, which the public paid for, no such luck. That was pushed through without public consultation, for fear the public wouldn't like it. I remember talking to the thoroughly nice and decent Bill Rowling, who drove the project, about that when it was nearly finished. He was very pleased with himself.

That project, too, was optimistic with public money. Remember the big restaurant there, decked out for fine dining? No wonder if you don't. It didn't last. Nobody wanted it. Was storage for the museum's vast holdings considered? Obviously not, because there's not room enough in the building.

What about the iron fortress look of the side that faces the sea, where people throng on weekends? And that tall flight of stairs leading up it? That was for Maori, remember, including the elderly, who would draw their waka up to the marina, push the yachts aside, disembark, and climb the steps in a fashion more Game of Thrones than tikanga Maori.

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And what about the way the exhibition spaces turn their backs on the sun and sea outside? And the way there was no longer a national art gallery in the mix? Too bad. You weren't asked for your opinion, just your money. And after all, it's a done deal.

Meanwhile I am wondering why we keep importing immigrants at a fast clip when we fail at educating our own people to do the work they come here for. I don't resent the ethnic mix, but I do wonder if anybody ever consulted Maori, as our First Nation, to find out what they think.

If I were Maori I'd be ropeable. Their kids fail in an education system that's not tailored to their needs, the jails are full of their men and women, many are mired in addiction, a fair few are homeless, and their kids are killing themselves.

Why don't we work actively on solving those problems, in all our interests, rather than dialling up more strangers, who'll have their own problems, and sweeping all the existing misery under the carpet?

 - The Dominion Post

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