Shelly Bay, the unpublished article

This morning, the City Council will vote on the Spatial Plan, and it will be very interesting to listen to the debates and find out about the outcome. Surprisingly, or maybe not so much, this vote reminds me of this article I wrote about Shelly Bay last year, one week after the vote. This article didn’t make it online because it was too close to so many comments and articles that had already been published. I can’t help to publish it today, in the light of the vote on the Spatial Plan:

  1. Shelly Bay does not tick any of the boxes the Spatial Plan is going for. It is away from any transport hub and consists of 10 storeys high building in an outer suburb. Well done Cassel!
  2. Shelly Bay is now a case study for how dysfunctional Wellington local democracy can be, a theme that has plagued the debates around the Spatial Plan.

Also, Shelly Bay’s story is not over: Wednesday next week, between 6 and 8 PM, a hui called “Shelly Bay will be saved (Come and hear Iwi, Eastern Suburbs and Wellington Speakers plans for Shelly Bay and the Wider Peninsula)” will be held at the ASB Sports Centre, in Kilbirnie.

So here you go, an article I wrote on the 18th of November.

PS: The photo is from De Panne, in Belgium, where I used to go on weekends as a kid, or “how to concrete up a waterfront and deface it forever”.

The $500M development at Shelly Bay went through a crucial vote last week. While the developer already owns most of the land (it was acquired through a controversial sale which will be in front of the court in March next year, the City Council was asked to re-vote on the sale and lease of Council land, a thin stretch between the hill and the sea located along the shore of Shelly Bay. Not selling or leasing this section to the developer would have required the already consented plans to be revisited. It had the potential to even invalidate the resource consent issued under the SHA and put Shelly Bay back under the rules of the District Plan. Needless to say, the outcome of the vote was eagerly awaited, especially since Mayor Andy Foster campaigned on it.

Alas, the vote went ahead, and, with 9 Councillors voting in favour and 6 against, the Council land will now be sold to the developer. The vote took place after hours of public hearing, at 8.46 PM, Wednesday the 11th of November:

Wellington City Council voting on Shelly Bay on the 11th of November 2020

This outcome has been a blow to many, some argue most, Wellingtonians. While everyone agreed with something needed to be done on the site, while some alternatives had been put forward, concerns have been raised around traffic (another judicial review is underway on this topic alone, sea-level rise, loss of cultural and natural heritage, or blunt buildings, out of scale, reserved to a small, wealthy community.

But the Council went ahead with the sale, arguing Wellington needed more housing anyway, and to honour the commitment made to Mana Whenua a few years ago.

Fine? Not at all. While the vote on Shelly Bay is disastrous for the site, it has evaporated any suggestion the Council is working cohesively and that local democracy, in Wellington, can be relied on. In an unforgivable turn of events, four of the Councillors, Councillor Calvert, Councillor Foon, Councillor O’Neil and Councillor Condie, who voted for the sale of the land had said they would oppose it when they were candidates last year:

The news has been so distressing that two of them, Councillor Condie and Councillor O’Neil took on Scoop in an attempt to provide some explanation.

Sadly, they fail to provide any justification remotely valid for flipping around and thus, to heal and soothe what is labelled, by countless people in the community, as a betrayal to the commitment they made as a candidate, and to the way democracy works. Whether you were supportive of the development or against it, this turnaround is revolting and should raise more than an eyebrow.

In their explanation, Councillor Condie and O’Neil outline they have made a decision based on information they didn’t know then, and know now. It’s very disturbing and says a few things: for the biggest housing development in Wellington, which amounts to half a billion dollars, that have been discussed in and out over years, it is hard to imagine new information emerging; this also says “I know now more than what everyone who voted for me knew then and your judgment was wrong”; this also says “The information I have access to now is worth more than the word I gave you when you voted for me”.

Then they go at explaining the survey was a blunt tool, very black and white, without nuance. I fail to understand how different it is from a Council vote for or against the same question. Moreover, the considerations captured in the survey gave that exact opportunity for the candidate to provide background and nuance on the reason why they would vote one way or the other. In that survey, they invoke the principles and vision that guided their decision. So, one should wonder, have the principles and vision changed in a year? Or have the elements supporting the current development at Shelly Bay changed? They haven’t. Or has new information been revealed? There isn’t.

The damage in the trust between some Councillors and the community is real and deep. As the biggest development in Wellington, bigger than the Convention Centre and the Library put together, the voters were absolutely entitled to expect their candidates to know the topic in and out and to form a definitive position, one that can be relied on. Yes, it was a significant issue: had some of the candidates indicated they were in support of Shelly Bay, this would have given voters a clear understanding of the principles, the vision, guiding that candidate. It would have perhaps, or even probably, not put that candidate at the Council table.

Some Councillors are brushing the issue with the back of the hand and suggest the city should move on. Sadly, this issue will not go away, it will only get worse. When trucks start lining up and an already bad traffic worsens, when the community is excluded from a beloved place for years, people and voters will remember this sad day of 11th of November when some Councillors voted against their commitments, against their voters. Never mind Shelly Bay or if it was a secondary topic for some voters, Councillors Calvert, Foon, Condie and O’Neil had to stick to their words on such an important development for our city. In not doing so, they have damaged local democracy and crushed the trust voters had placed in them.

6 thoughts on “Shelly Bay, the unpublished article

  1. well put. A disastrous outcome. The loss of one of the real jewels in Wellington’s crown which should have been available to all.


  2. Why they don’t build on the houses that are empty in Miramar that are from the council instead here ? There is a at least 4 big empty houses in one street


  3. Ben – Shelly bay is happening because the council has a district plan which makes it incredibly hard to build homes in existing suburbs. Wellington consents half as many homes per capita as the 4 other largest NZ cities.


  4. Don’t worry – Shelly bay is a microcosm of the land stealing going on across NZ, it won’t go ahead because decent people on both side of the treaty partnership won’t let it. They see through the self-same 19th century tactics being played out today, live in the “information age” and have a modern “first world” view of treating human beings like vermin and their belongings, taonga and whenua as “finders keepers” for “whomsoever is rich and powerful”. Even the Chinese state backers have now had enough of this ongoing embarassing PR disaster visible globally. “Game over”.


Comments are closed.