Stoush brewing over Wellington's plans for a Chinese garden on the waterfront
Battle lines are being drawn over Wellington's next big waterfront project: a $10.5 million revamp of Frank Kitts Park that includes a $5m Chinese garden.
Lobby group Waterfront Watch, which has a history of successfully fighting waterfront developments, has opposed the project's resource consent, and a city councillor has labelled the project a complete waste of ratepayers' money.
But Wellington City Council could spark a diplomatic incident if it pulls the plug on the park, having already promised the mayor of Xiamen and Chinese President Xi Jinping the garden will go ahead.
Wellington's Chinese community, with assistance from the capital's sister cities Xiamen, Beijing and Tianjin, will pay for the $5m garden, while city ratepayers fund the $5.5m wider park upgrade that includes a teahouse-style cafe, improvements to the existing playground, more planting and a space for public events.
But the project will mean the end of the Frank Kitts Park amphitheatre and the wall the shelters park users from winds coming in off the harbour. The new park has been modelled to face the sea rather than Jervois Quay.
A resource consent application was publicly notified in June and an objection was lodged by Waterfront Watch, which has challenged four previous waterfront projects in the Environment Court, winning three times.
Patrick McCombs, the group's president, said it was not committed to fighting the project that far, but it was keeping its options open.
Spending $5m of ratepayers' money to alter an already popular public space and turn the amphitheatre into a "lawn" was pointless, he said.
"There's no public clamouring. No-one is asking to get rid of Frank Kitts Park."
Councillor Nicola Young agreed, labelling the project a "complete waste of money". She believed a lot of Wellingtonians were happy with Frank Kitts Park the way it was.
"It seems an odd place to put a Chinese garden ... why are we even doing this project? I can't see any good reason."
McCombs said Waterfront Watch was concerned about the Chinese garden's gates being locked at night, which would cut the public off from a significant portion of public space.
Esther Fung, of the Wellington Chinese Garden Society, said the organisation had been working with the city council on the project for years, and it had been designed to improve the park for all Wellingtonians and visitors.
Andy Foster, the council's transport and urban development chairman, said the council believed the project would improve the waterfront for the public, although it was reasonable for Waterfront Watch to raise concerns about access.
The council had already consulted the public through the Long-Term Plan in 2015, and had committed to build the park. Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown had also signed an agreement with the mayor of Xiamen, in front of President Xi.
"So it would be a terrible look for the city if we pulled out now," Foster said.