Wellington Scoop

Buildings on their minds



by Lindsay Shelton
When Wellington city councillors meet for the first time this year (their first meeting isn’t till February 7), they should be ready to spend a large part of their agenda reviewing problematic building projects. A lot of money is at risk.

For a start, there’s the stalled plan for Peter Jackson’s Movie Museum with the council’s Convention Centre on top.

The council spent $13m buying land for the project at the end of 2015. At the same time it signed a deal with Peter Jackson. In March 2016 councillors voted unanimously to spend $134m on construction. A residents’ group criticised the haste and secrecy of the decision, but councillors weren’t concerned. The secrecy continued when five months later they voted to increase the spend to $150m.

But though the council was keen to get the project started, the response from Peter Jackson was less enthusiastic. After two years of negotiations, he announced (before Christmas) that there were 55 issues with the council that were unresolved. He said the council was trying to renege on the 2015 deal. He said he wanted the right to walk away after two years if the museum wasn’t working. Since then: silence. But plenty of time to reconsider the wisdom, or otherwise, of such a huge council commitment.

A more specific standoff is affecting plans for the mid-city Music Hub. Victoria University last year agreed to part one of the plan – strengthening and reopening the Town Hall. But when it reached the end-of-year deadline for confirming stage two – to buy the Municipal Office Building (next door to the Town Hall) for teaching rooms and offices – it pulled the plug. The university said it was concerned by new design and cost issues connected with the Kaikoura earthquake, Since then, a council staff member has suggested the building could be sold to a private owner, who would rent it back to the university. Whatever its fate, it’s expected to be emptied of council staff as soon as work starts this year on the Town Hall.

The other council building with an uncertain future is the adjacent Civic Administration Building, closed since the big quake and generally expected to be demolished. Its uncertain future was mentioned by the university as another reason for not wanting to commit to buying its neighbour.

Leaving councillors to ponder over the fate of Civic Square – in danger of becoming a desolate space if two of its key buildings are empty, as well as the Town Hall (not reopening till 2021).

Councillors should also be concerned about the Gordon Wilson Flats on the Terrace. Though it’s structurally sound, and architecturally important, it’s been empty since 2012. And last year the Environment Court agreed with an appeal by the Architectural Centre that the council should not have removed the building from its heritage list – which would have enabled its owner Victoria University to demolish it. Councillors should be taking the lead in finding a way to save this significant part of the city’s architectural heritage.

Then there’s the canyon that the council has created on Waterloo Quay opposite NZ Post House. Willis Bond’s enormous new office building on Site 10 has blocked a major panorama from the city to the harbour and from the harbour to the city. It’s a dismal demonstration that the city council and its planners have failed to protect a unique and memorable view of Wellington’s magnificent harbour

Now that they can see the damage they’ve done, councillors have a chance to protect what’s left of the panorama, by pulling the plug on the equally enormous Willis Bond building planned for Site 9, on the other side of the Whitmore Street gates.

It was more than fifteen years ago when demonstrators filled the Town Hall to oppose council plans to wall off the harbour with new buildings. Today’s councillors have chosen to ignore all the reasons why such a wall is appalling for Wellingtonians. The new year should give them time to reconsider.


  1. Michael Gibson, 24. January 2018, 12:52

    How on earth does the enormous building on Site 10 comply with rules stipulated by the Environment Court? I hope that councillors are fully briefed on what is going on when they meet on February 7th and that they have a chance to overturn this sort of thing.
    P.S. I was astonished at the Agenda being so small and inconsequential when the WCC last met two months ago. About time that councillors began exerting some influence on the secretariat!

  2. Andy Mellon, 24. January 2018, 19:37

    I thought the Gordon Wilson Flats had some serious issues with the facade and was a high earthquake risk? Can you link to something which says that it’s structurally sound? [In May 2012 the DomPost quoted engineers’ reports as saying that the building was structurally sound, but large concrete slabs on the facade could fall during high winds or an earthquake. You’ll find a link to this in our report from that time.]

  3. michael, 24. January 2018, 20:03

    It is all fast becoming too late for Wellington, as council officers continue to push councillors into walling off the harbour and filling in as much green space as they can with concrete buildings. Makes you wonder why.
    It won’t be long before we lose our “coolest little capital in the world” title. No longer can we see the harbour, and walking along Lambton Quay and Willis Street has become a nightmare of noise and pollution from the multitude of diesel buses chugging along one after the other.
    Why is the WCC so determined to ignore the mistakes of other cities? Is it all about hocking off as much of the city as possible to pay for their grandiose ideas to the detriment of our environment?
    Roll on the concrete jungle, pollution and social and mental health issues = guess that will mean more employment for someone?

  4. Alana, 25. January 2018, 10:47

    A new progressive government was elected at the last election and yet the city council continues to sell off open public space on the waterfront for private use and massive profit to the favoured builder Willis Bond. With more apartments in the CBD, the need for free space for kids and families is crucial to the future of the city.

  5. Concerned Wellingtonian, 25. January 2018, 12:06

    Alana, I think that the Labour people who stand for WCC simply use the Party label for election purposes and have no desire to do anything difficult or “progressive”. Using the label also helps getting elected as an MP.
    No names, no pack drill, it is the same with Greens.

  6. GillyB, 25. January 2018, 18:26

    Spot on @Concerned Wellingtonian. Neolibs on bikes. Our previous ‘Green’ mayor oversaw the disestablishment/privatisation of one of the last Works Departments in the country. Between them the employees had 500 years of experience. That’s a lot of institutional knowledge down the gurgler.

    As I hear and see diesel buses rumbling past my once quiet home every 15 minutes, I for one won’t be taken in again.

  7. TrevorH, 26. January 2018, 8:37

    @Alana: all I see is a progressive decline in the quality of governance. It seems to have accelerated since the last election and is evident in the decline in the quality of services – water, drainage, street-cleaning, transport etc – around the city. Now that the grossly wasteful big ticket projects are falling over due to incompetence and cronyism it comes as no surprise.

  8. Traveller, 26. January 2018, 10:07

    Two of the most serious issues concerning the $150m Movie Museum building apart from its huge cost, are (1) the inflated attendance projections (which councillors blindly accepted) have now been shown to be false and (2) Peter Jackson’s demand to be able to walk away from the deal after two years if attendances fall short of what he needs to cover his costs. (Attendances at his Great War Exhibition have fallen considerably since an admission charge was imposed.)

  9. michael, 26. January 2018, 12:19

    @ Alana: Naive I may be, but I resent being represented by councillors with political party affiliations. We should be voting in the best people for the job, not political animals who are usually elected because of their political connections and political party financing and marketing support. In return the councillor is expected to tow the party line, whether it is in the best interests of Wellington or not. Leave the political arena to the Government, not poor over-burdened ratepayers.