Exciting Opportunities for Miramar’s Watts Peninsula

Originally published 4 June 2019

Last week’s Budget marked an exciting milestone for Miramar’s Watts Peninsula. Government allocated $4 million over the next four years for a project to be ‘Led by the Minister for Land Information. This funding will provide recreational, safety and cultural benefits through the establishment of a reserve at Watts Peninsula in Wellington. Funding will be used to prepare the land for public access and for site maintenance until the reserve is established. Wellington City Council, which will also be contributing to the project, will meet all operational costs once the reserve is established in 2022.’ (Budget 2019)

Watts Peninsula is a very special place of national historic significance. From Point Halswell up to Mount Crawford its green undeveloped landscape is visible from right around the harbour. Its heritage values are immense, Maori pa sites, and fortresses from the 1880s ‘Russian Scare’ through to World War 2 anti-aircraft emplacements and ammunition stores. It also has great recreational potential, and in time as part of a predator free Miramar peninsula huge biodiversity potential.

There are three large areas of land on Watts peninsula; 75.85 hectares of former Defence Land, 12.5 hectares of former Corrections land (Mount Crawford Prison and surrounds) and 7.32 hectares of former Defence / current Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust /Wellington Company/Council land at Shelly Bay.

The Budget announcement has been a long time coming, and we aren’t quite there yet, but getting closer!

It was 8 long years ago that the then Government committed to a heritage reserve. The Dominion Post (1 November 2011 http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/5887335/Miramar-peninsula-to-become-public-reserve) reported Minister of Culture and Heritage Chris Finlayson’s visit with then Mayor Wade-Brown and Chair of PNBST Ngatata Love, the article saying ‘It will become a 76 hectare reserve, ruling out the possibility of it being developed for housing’.

The Project reported https://www.newshub.co.nz/general/huge-chunk-of-miramar-peninsula-to-become-public-park-2011110115

‘Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage Chris Finlayson says it is a very special day for Wellington.

“Watts Peninsula should be protected, preserved and developed as a distinctive national destination that brings together the natural environment, national heritage, recreation, culture and the arts. I would like to think that the military sites would be preserved and the pa sites will be unearthed…I see it as a place for walking, possibly cycling, a place for visiting our military history and the history of the early iwi of the area.”

Almost 3 years later another visit was reported on 14 September 2014, this time Mr Finlayson had several MPs with him http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/10464923/Governments-agree-on-Miramar-heritage-area.

Central and local governments are seeing eye-to-eye on making Miramar’s Watts Peninsula a national heritage site.
The area will one day be a haven for native wildlife, walkers, runners and mountain bikers.

This morning, Culture and Heritage Minister Chris Finlayson, Mayor Celia Wade-Brown and Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust chair Neville Baker signed a memorandum of understanding to see such a vision realised.

There was clear understanding that remediation of the land was required to make this vision a reality.

Also on the agenda was the restoration of the coastal defence Fort Ballance, built in the 1880s, and the peninsula’s pa sites, Finlayson said.
“There’s a fabulous opportunity to do something really special with an area of land that’s truly historic for Wellington.”

The area includes more than 75 hectares of Defence Force land, the 12.5-hectare Wellington Prison site, the Maupuia-Centennial and Scorching Bay reserves, council land in Shelly Bay and the Massey Memorial.

The former Defence Force buildings in Shelly Bay, now home to the Chocolate Fish Cafe and art galleries, would not be included.

The Ministry of Culture and Heritage website says https://mch.govt.nz/news-events/ministers-releases/watts-peninsula-public-reserve-announced Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Chris Finlayson today announced the establishment of a 76 hectare reserve for the people of Wellington and New Zealand on the iconic Miramar Peninsula.

“I am delighted to announce that Watts Peninsula will be protected as a place of national significance for all New Zealanders,” Mr Finlayson said. “We now have the opportunity to preserve and regenerate it as a space for future generations to enjoy. The site will be protected as a distinctive national destination with cultural and recreational potential.”

Work is under way to develop the land as a public reserve.

Reserve status will retain the land in public ownership and also ensure the area receives full heritage protection, Mr Finlayson said.
“There has been strong community interest in protecting the land for future generations and I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to the debate including the local community, iwi and advocates for Miramar like Sir Peter Jackson and Sir Richard Taylor who have done so much for the area.”

“In the future there will be opportunities to explore ideas for Watts Peninsula and to develop a vision to create an area that combines its national significance and layers of history with opportunities for cultural, recreational and arts events,” Mr Finlayson said.

A reference group representing key stakeholders including local iwi, community, local body, central government and other interest groups will now be formed to help decide on future use of the land.

A feasibility study will also be undertaken by the Ministry to identify options to take the project forward and a programme of maintenance established to protect the historical sites and make the area safe for the public. The area is expected to remain closed until that work is complete. (Updated on 23rd July 2015.)

However unfortunately rather than materially progress that wonderful vision the last Government spent several years looking to offset costs through housing development on the land. From a Council perspective it somewhat disappeared into a black hole. There were ongoing conversations by officials about details. I was able to get a series of partly redacted Cabinet papers on the subject. 5 areas on the Defence land were considered for potential development. However the clear advice was that 3 would so significantly intrude into the proposed reserve as to fatally compromise it. Expert landscape advice also noted the visual prominence of all 5 areas, and the challenge of developing them. That left two – areas 4 and 5 adjacent to the Corrections land at the summit of Mt Crawford.

Finally on 22 November last year Council was asked to confirm that we wanted to take over the management of the Defence land unfortunately still excluding Areas 4 and 5. This was to support a LINZ bid for funding in the 2019 Budget. Of course we agreed. I asked, and Council agreed to add three important additional recommendations. I’ve extracted the key parts:

Council agreed to ‘write to the Minister of Conservation and Land Information (both Eugenie Sage) asking that Areas 4 and 5 are included in the proposed Heritage Reserve, noting the significant challenges of development of those sites and that the decision to dispose of these areas was a decision of Cabinet made by the previous Government.’


‘Subject to PNBST exercising their rights of first refusal over the former Corrections land, offers to work with PNBST on a master plan for the land again noting the significant likely challenges in developing the site.’

and as part of negotiations with the Crown

‘Consideration be given towards securing appropriate levels of Crown funding for the future restoration or conservation of military structure and historic Maori sites.’

So where to from here?

On heritage management, it is very clear to me that heritage on Watts peninsula has been neglected for many decades. Indeed we have significant military installations all over the city which need a proper asset management approach. Done properly they could be a significant local and tourism asset.

On the heritage reserve, the Budget announcement finally allows Council and the Crown to work actively to deliver the long awaited heritage reserve.

On the Corrections land, PNBST, KiwiBuild and partners clearly want to develop the Corrections land and probably adjacent Areas 4 and 5. Both Corrections and Defence land are zoned Open Space B in the City District Plan. They are also in the District Plan ridgelines and hilltops area. That means development is essentially impossible without a Plan Change.

I have said several times to the parties that the only way forward in this is to work collaboratively with all parties, most definitely including the wider community, to see what is possible, and desirable and what is not. That is what should have happened with Shelly Bay; engagement with the community, as part of an integrated approach to the whole northern end of Miramar peninsula. It’s even now not too late for that if they could step back from the current consent process.

On Miramar as a whole – This conversation should happen in context with Miramar peninsula as a whole. We’ve encouraged the Crown (especially KiwiBuild) to think about development opportunities across the peninsula rather than confine themselves to the clearly sensitive top of Mt Crawford. Personally I think we can do much better with this special place than just a housing subdivision. Variously I’ve seen realistic suggestions for reusing parts of the prison, marae, interactive film museum, interpretation centre for the reserve or all of the above. Whatever is done will need to be very sensitive to the landscape, and serviceable in terms of infrastructure. An obvious place for housing redevelopment is in parts of Strathmore, where some existing Housing NZ areas are pretty bleak, and which could support far higher quality, higher density development, and on good ground.

Council published a discussion document in December 2016 https://wellington.govt.nz/~/media/your-council/projects/files/te-motu-kairangi-miramar-peninsula-framework.pdf?la=en which I’d encourage people to look at and think about. It begins – ‘Wellington City Council is looking for a commitment from central government to partner with it, iwi and stakeholders – regional government, private enterprise and the community – to work together to agree a holistic plan that can optimise the benefits on offer for all the interests at Te Motu Kairangi/ Miramar Peninsula.’ – I say amen to a collaborative approach like that!

We’ve also just undertaken the first stage of ‘Planning for Growth’, asking you about a number of possible Citywide scenarios to accommodate expected population growth. We received 1372 responses, which are currently being analysed. Well done Wellington! That feedback will be used to develop options for further consultation towards the end of the year. Because there is so much happening in Miramar we’ve concluded that we need to engage with the community specifically on Miramar before that so this can feed into the wider city thinking.

Meanwhile Enterprise Miramar has been conducting a survey on the future of the Peninsula as a whole. I think that is fantastic. I understand they have close to 1000 responses. Well done Miramar! This has to help inform future decision making too.

There is such huge potential in all this to deliver something very special. The only way to do that is to have all parties working together.