Wellington Scoop

Third time lucky?


by Lindsay Shelton
Wellington City Councillors have now voted three times to save and strengthen the Town Hall, which has been closed since 2013. All three votes have been unanimous. But nothing resulted from the first two. The third vote was last week. Will it bring results this time?

The first unanimous vote was in June, 2013, when Mayor Wade Brown said:

“The council has shown leadership for Wellington’s heritage and public safety. We have excellent economic opportunities to lead earthquake engineering, community resilience and architectural services globally.” And Cr Iona Pannett said “The Town Hall is part of our sense of place, we’re not prepared to let such an important piece of our heritage be reduced to rubble.”

The council said work would start by the end of 2013. But nothing happened.

The second unanimous vote was in May 2015, in a plan which also included a Music Hub, and strengthening the Library and the Civic Administration Building. Again, there were fine words.

“The revamp of the Town Hall will ensure the building’s world-class auditorium will again be available to music students and the general public alike for performance, practice and recording,” said Mayor Wade-Brown. “The Civic Precinct will be a physical expression of the importance of the arts to Wellington. It will also ensure we can re-open our Council Chamber – the democratic and civic heart of the capital city.”

Deputy Mayor Justin Lester, who was Chair of the Governance, Finance and Planning Committee, said the proposed project was a “positive and proactive work programme. Wellingtonians have expressed a strong view that they want the Town Hall re-opened as soon as possible. This decision means we can now get on with the work to achieve that.”

It didn’t happen.

Then came the third vote, last Thursday. For a third time, councillors were unanimous. For a third time, there were fine words, including some from Justin Lester, now the mayor, being somewhat repetitive:

“This is a world-class venue and is a big part of our cultural identity as a city. Wellingtonians have told us clearly they want to see this city landmark reopened and made even better, so that’s what we’re going to do. The new music and performance space will strengthen Wellington’s status as the cultural capital of New Zealand and provide our city with an exciting new attraction.”

Is this vote any more definite than the previous two? The DomPost reported the deal depends on the council’s two Music Hub partners coming up with $30m by the end of the year. And it quoted Cr Pannett as saying that $89m cost could still rise.

The council makes a point of quoting support from both of its Music Hub partners.

Victoria University Vice-Chancellor Professor Grant Guilford says redeveloping the Town Hall is the first stage in an innovative project that “creates a powerful three-way partnership between the City and two of Wellington’s leading institutions, Victoria University and the NZSO. Victoria is proud to be part of New Zealand’s capital city, and we are fully committed to this project, which will strengthen local communities as well as growing Wellington’s international reputation as a strong civic-minded and creative capital.”

Christopher Blake, NZSO’s Chief Executive, says: “The concept to bring together the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and the New Zealand School of Music is an exciting and bold one that will bring a huge range of opportunities and benefits for musicians, students, and above all make music accessible to more audiences. The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is a beloved national institution with an international reputation second to none. The Wellington Town Hall is at the very heart of the NZSO’s history – it is where we gave our first performance in 1947.”

The council says work will start in August next year, with the aim of reopening the Town Hall in 2021. That’s nine years after it was closed. It will have been a very long wait. If (unlike the first two votes) the council’s third unanimous vote actually brings results.


  1. Traveller, 27. June 2017, 7:24

    Are there credibility issues with city council decisions – if two unanimous votes to strengthen the Town Hall were not actioned. And how about all the fine statements that accompanied the official announcements of those votes – in spite of all the words, the magnificent Town Hall will be closed for eight years.

  2. Andrew, 27. June 2017, 22:42

    It’s a decision that can’t be justified. A total $178m for a concert hall next to a concert hall for the NZSO which is heavily subsidised by the government (every $1 in ticket revenue is matched by $5 from the government). Plus a music suite for VUW, which is putting up 5% of the cost. And an office for the Mayor.
    What about social housing? What about earthquake resilience? What about economic development – this spend adds nothing to the regional economy. No wonder three votes are required.

  3. CeliaWB, 28. June 2017, 18:07

    The principle has been agreed for a considerable time however the quotes for implementation came back higher than budgeted. The second vote led into the hard work with NZSO and VUW which is now bearing fruit. If the budget changes as dramatically as it has, of course WCC needed to reconsult!

  4. City Lad, 28. June 2017, 18:35

    Delay to restrengthen the Town Hall is disgraceful. Decisions made must always be honoured. Bring back the free healthy meals formally enjoyed by councillors. Better than wine biscuits and crackers. Their brainpower will increase and accountability too.