Wellington Scoop

The wrong carpark


by Lindsay Shelton
Now that the Wellington City Council is likely to save $150million by not building the disputed Movie Museum, it needs to turn its attention to a much less expensive but equally controversial building project – a temporary rehearsal room for the Royal NZ Ballet.

Everyone agreed last year that while its headquarters at the St James Theatre were being strengthened, the Ballet Company would move to the Te Whaea Dance and Drama Centre in Newtown.

But then the costings for Newtown came in a couple of million of dollars more than the council had budgetted. Hence the pop up idea. The council announced that the prefab will be erected on the Michael Fowler carpark.

But this is the wrong location.

There would be many benefits having the ballet company working alongside dance and drama students at their national headquarters.

If the alterations to the Te Whaea building can’t be afforded, then the prefab should be erected on Te Whaea’s carpark – to ensure the opportunity for closeness isn’t lost.

Jennifer Shennan recommended this in a letter to the DomPost before Christmas:

The challenge of temporary housing of the Company could easily be solved by placing the building in the Te Whaea carpark. It will do the job better there than in MFC carpark. We can all be winners.

There should also be a second look at the Te Whaea budget and whether it could be reduced. It appears the people there wanted to achieve some of their own goals and loaded them into the plans, including relocating the Nola Millar Library – hardly essential to providing a temporary roof over the head of the RNZB.

The Te Whaea people expected the project would go ahead – they gave the cafe operator notice to quit because, they said, the space was required for the Ballet. Several people were thus thrown out of work.

Te Whaea’s general manager Adelle Kenny told the DomPost: “It would have had long-term benefits for the National Dance and Drama Centre … and for the 60-plus community groups who use our facilities each year.”

The rehearsal room is one of the ways by which the ballet company is encouraged to stay in Wellington. The city council provides rent free accommodation at the St James Theatre – which is said to be worth $400,000.00 a year. This deal has run for 20 years which adds up to $8m, making Wellington City the company’s biggest sponsor after the Government.

It’s time, incidentally, for the council to have a representative on the Ballet company’s board. The Board is what political scientists call a “Self Perpetuating Oligarchy” In other words it appoints itself. Not only the council should be represented, but also some members of the Board should be appointed by the Minister. Including people with experience in the dance world.

This is a difficult time for the national ballet company, with former deputy State Services Commissioner Doug Craig leading an independent inquiry into allegations of workplace bullying and reports that the Ballet has been favouring overseas dancers over New Zealanders.

As Jennifer Shennan wrote:

Widespread concern and sense of care and value have been expressed by many people through various media, both locally and internationally. This is a much treasured company, so let’s hope that good people will eventually sort through and reach some solutions.

A solution to choosing the best site for the temporary rehearsal space is an easy one to reach. Solutions to the wider issues now have the attention of the new Minister for the Arts Jacinda Adern who will be meeting the company’s board to discuss her expectations for “ensuring a strong New Zealand voice in the company’s work.”


  1. Ian Apperley, 3. January 2018, 21:08

    I love it. Who’s smart idea was it to put our national Ballet company in a tent, in a car park?

    I haven’t laughed quite so much in a while.

  2. Marion Leader, 4. January 2018, 7:12

    Fabricating the tent idea on the Michael Fowler car-park is a ruse to wreck yet another green space and get it ready for the developers who control the agenda of so-weak councillors these days. If the wrecking could be associated with a very popular and worthwhile organisation like the Ballet company, then “object achieved.”

  3. Traveller, 5. January 2018, 18:23

    Mayor Lester has the dire idea that “passers-by should be encouraged to get the opportunity to view the rehearsals…” through big windows in the temporary building. But the last thing wanted by dancers is to have people being enabled to stare at them as they do their demanding work. Another reason (along with keeping midcity carparks) for the pop up structure to be erected in Newtown.

  4. Nora, 6. January 2018, 11:06

    Agree with Marion Leader: the aim is to get the public used to the loss of green space and car parks to be followed by the plans of Build Wellington (formerly known as City Shaper) for a high rise building there.
    Why have the council not listened to Jennifer Shennan’s suggestion that the Ballet Company would be better in the Te Whaea carpark. But of course as Marion has said the council want to “get it ready for the developers who control the agenda.”

  5. CC, 6. January 2018, 11:52

    Is City Shaper now Build Wellington? Given the record of dodgy deals, the losses of millions of dollars on the inherited waterfront, and the expensive Court appeals, the team should be disposed of, not re-titled.

  6. Henry Filth, 6. January 2018, 18:21

    I’m with Ian. You couldn’t make this stuff up!
    Names please!

  7. Michael Gibson, 7. January 2018, 18:43

    CC, your question is a good one. I see in yesterday’s DomPost a reference to the “Council’s city shaper manager, Ian Pike” and this puzzles me since the WCC is making a palaver in the Environment Court about replacing a person, “City Shaper”, with a thing, “Build Wellington”. Since no explanation has been provided to the Court (or the parties), I have a number of O.I. questions with the Council on the subject. The usual delaying tactics are being employed re answers…..
    I might add that “City Shaper” was suddenly added as a party in the Frank Kitts Park matter in questionable circumstances and, as a ratepayer (let alone as an appellant) I am disgusted that the sudden addition involves an extra set of highly paid lawyers over & above the highly paid set already being employed by the WCC. What is worse is that the councillors do not have a clue about all this.

  8. Jennifer Shennan, 9. January 2018, 18:44

    Lindsay: I am grateful you have accurately quoted my suggestion that the temporary housing for RNZB might be erected in the carpark at Te Whaea instead of at the MFC. and left there in the longer term. Anyone who keeps eyes open before an orchestral concert can see the huge vehicle parked alongside the building so as to off load orchestral instruments. That presumably will be difficult to manage with the pop-up building in place? And why alienate orchestra goers and citizens in general by cancelling the space for 80 car parks when a perfectly viable alternative exists to place this facility at Te Whaea?

    Others have commented that the WCC should foot the bill for the major restoration of Te Whaea, citing improved long term facilities for the two schools of performing arts. The simple truth of the matter is that the WCC (generously, and thank goodness for that) is seeking to house the RNZB during the strengthening of the St.James Theatre. The two schools at Te Whaea, however, are financed under a Ministry of Education budget, so if they desire major upgrading to those facilities, presumably they need to lobby the appropriate sector and budget for that to happen. It is ludicrous to expect the WCC’s budget to cover a building (for which they are not responsible in the first place) at a cost almost three times what was expected to provide temporary housing for the RNZB. Who has been asleep during these planning meetings? Wake up I say, and get this right. Wellington deserves no less.

    I’d bet a tutu that dancers would not welcome observers peering through glass walls watching them at daily work. The piano accompanying their classes will be mute to the public. A ballet class without music is not a ballet class.