Wellington Scoop

The holiday is over


by Lindsay Shelton
Wellington city councillors end their long summer holiday today, with the first council meeting of 2018.

They’ll hear the maiden speech from newly-elected councillor Fleur Fitzsimons, who said this week that she intends to stamp out sexual harassment in the city, in her new role as the council’s social development leader.

But today’s agenda shows no discussion about any of the big issues that are confronting the council this year.

The Movie Museum, for example. It was left stranded two months ago after Peter Jackson detailed 55 matters that had not been resolved in his negotiations with the council. There’s no report today for councillors – or for the rest of us – on what’s happening with this long-delayed project on which councillors want to spend $150million.

Then there’s the Music Hub, thrown into disarray at the end of the year when Victoria University pulled out of the plan for it to buy the Municipal Office Building (which was to be used for teaching rooms and administrative space). At that time a council employee suggested the building could be sold to a private owner and leased back to the university – but there’s nothing on today’s agenda about this, and nothing about how the Music Hub will be able to function without one of its buildings.

All councillors will also be meeting tomorrow as members of the City Strategy Committee, which sets “the broad vision and direction of the city.” But its agenda also fails to include any of the big issues.

Its first meeting of the year will be a bit low key – it’s to hear five submissions about a review of the public places bylaw, and is to discuss two items about stormwater easement. There is however a health and safety report which we aren’t allowed to know about – it is listed for discussion with the public excluded. Why the secrecy? The justification:

The withholding of the information is necessary to protect information where the making available of the information would be likely unreasonably to prejudice the commercial position of the person who supplied or who is the subject of the information.

So we are not to know what health and safety issues are of concern to the council. And we are not to know what’s happening with the bigger issues.

If there’s no agreement with Peter Jackson (who’s now at work on another major motion picture as well as a documentary about World War 1) will the council be saving $150million by pulling the plug on the Movie Museum?

And what’s happening to the Music Hub, if the building next to the Town Hall isn’t available for the Music School’s teaching rooms and offices?

Councillors – and the rest of us – should also be expecting to be updated on the Town Hall’s strengthening. The $90m expenditure is approved, but the reopening date of 2021 (nine years after it was closed) depends on everything going to schedule this year.


  1. City Lad, 7. February 2018, 10:24

    The Movie Museum and Conference Centre require 100% of the $150m estimated development and construction costs to be borrowed. And the council has already spent some $22m to purchase the land, well above its Capital Value.

    The Municipal Building is obviously being proposed for sale to Victoria University, or a private buyer to raise money for other pet projects. And what’s happening to the proposed sale of the Michael Fowler land to Willis Bond & Co? More secret meetings on agendas?

  2. Ian Apperley, 7. February 2018, 10:55

    Off to a good start, more secrecy. Setting the tone for the year?

  3. Ben Schrader, 7. February 2018, 12:07

    Yes, I worry that we’re in danger of losing the ‘civic’ in our Civic Centre. The Council is moving to new offices on The Terrace and there is still no word what’s happening with the earthquake-damaged Civic Administration Building or whether the Council intends to move back to the site. Might the plan be to sell both the Municipal Building and the Civic Administration Building, thereby privatising what is now owned by us all?

    A better plan would be for the Council to disengage from the Movie Museum proposal (which increasingly looks like a huge financial risk) and invest instead in improving the Civic Centre to make it the citizen-centred or agora-like space we all hoped it would become. Selling off pockets of it to the highest bidder will ultimately be detrimental to both Wellington and its people.

  4. Nora, 7. February 2018, 12:29

    Have you noticed that the building to where the council is moving on The Terrace is to be vacated by PWC who are going to the big Site 10 structure built by Willis Bond!

    One has to wonder who runs our City Council and Civic Square, not to mention (as City Lad says) Michael Fowler land.

  5. Lindsay, 7. February 2018, 13:17

    Ben is right. It’s evident that the Movie Museum has become an unacceptable financial risk. And not only for the city council – Peter Jackson is demanding the right to move out after only two years if it isn’t earning the revenue that he needs. (And there’s no evidence that enough people will be willing to pay the $30 admission fee, when Te Papa has free entry across the road.) Councillors should disengage now. But how can they do this, when their agendas don’t enable them even to discuss the issue?

  6. Traveller, 7. February 2018, 13:38

    I see that Kapiti councillors take shorter holidays than their Wellington colleagues. Their first council meeting of the new year was two weeks ago – and with a much fuller agenda.

  7. Concerned Wellingtonian, 7. February 2018, 16:44

    The agenda today is woefully short as was the last one which was ages ago. Where lies the responsibility?

  8. Miranda, 7. February 2018, 21:44

    Mm, thanks, Ben. That makes sense.

  9. TrevorH, 7. February 2018, 22:24

    Surely this is the worst Council ever to be inflicted on the citizens of Wellington? Secret decisions on wasteful and vainglorious projects like the convention centre, movie museum and airport runway extension where ratepayers are providing a slush fund for a multi-billion dollar corporate to contest legal decisions around the public’s safety? Ratepayer subsidies to a foreign airline, again approved in secret? Together with the inept regional council, which is trashing Wellington’s public transport system, this Council is doing enormous damage. Local government in Wellington is stuffed. Vote them out.

  10. Keith Johnson, 8. February 2018, 5:10
  11. Sarah Huckleberry, 8. February 2018, 8:08

    Secret society?
    Secret handshakes?

    What’s about all this secrecy?

  12. Traveller, 8. February 2018, 9:03

    It does seem strange that, at the first two meetings of the new year, our councillors are not being given any reports on their costliest projects.
    Do any of them know what’s really going on?

  13. Enid Blyton, 8. February 2018, 9:33

    Council agendas:
    Public excluded:
    Very secret stuff we don’t want the public to know about but want the public to pay for.

  14. Sarah Hucckleberry, 8. February 2018, 11:56

    Have the mayor and councillors thought through the impact on nearby cafes of the emptying of the Civic Centre of staff and people as it is progressively (secretly) doing? Empty Town Hall, plus two empty council office buildings, with the staff moved to rented offices on the Terrace. So many Council staff and their clients and families will no longer be patronising the many cafes which have built up around the Civic Centre?

    All this secrecy is not only an expensive disaster for ratepayers, but will also be disastrous for local businesses.

  15. Elmer Fudd, 8. February 2018, 13:01

    Sarah – the order of the rabbit

  16. Sarah Huckleberry, 8. February 2018, 16:20

    What was the Order of the Rabbit? A secret Council? In Wellington?
    Like today’s secret Council meeting – Same secrecy? Handshakes?

  17. michael, 8. February 2018, 16:49

    Let’s face it – the empty agenda says it all – the councillors don’t run the council; the CEO and officers do. And, the secret squirrel sessions are probably to prevent us seeing/hearing the councillors being told what to do.
    Still, importantly we are going to have sexual harassment stamped out, which will go a long way towards solving the problems facing the city, like fixing the old overloaded infrastructure, and sorting out the degeneration of our transport system etc.

  18. Loss Leader, 8. February 2018, 20:04

    Michael. It seems the Council is no longer a transparent democratic body concerned about the provision of basic services – all of which are contracted out. Instead it has become a secretive organisation. Secretly granting non notified resource consents and pretending to be a developer, almost giving away public land and gouging ratepayers for failing projects. Who is running this show?

  19. michael, 8. February 2018, 23:39

    Loss Leader = absolutely agree.
    We were told we were going get greater transparency but I suspect that would not suit the CEO. No doubt they will continue to throw ratepayers’ money at foreign airlines and developers.
    Wouldn’t be surprised to learn that a flash new council building will be next on their agenda while they try to hock off the old ones.
    I doubt they will be content until they have sold off everything they can get their hands, on including any spare green space, to pay for their ill conceived ideas, while the city’s infrastructure and services degenerate.

  20. Michael Gibson, 9. February 2018, 7:22

    Loss Leader, the Council is not pretending, it is quite blatant.
    When does the Shelly Bay case start in the High Court, by the way? Are the Councillors taking any interest? They are certainly not taking any responsibility.

  21. Mark Shanks, 9. February 2018, 8:58

    Lavery and Lester…sounds like a comedy duo. Would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic for the ratepayer. How did this happen? One was appointed (how many CEOs from the UK preside over our local authorities?) and the other was elected (on a platform of transparency?) And we have to put up with them. Come on councillors. It’s your duty to say enough on all this waste and nonsense.

  22. michael, 9. February 2018, 9:36

    With a CEO who has publicly stated “I like to get my own way,” little wonder the Mayor and councillors are becoming redundant.

  23. Ian Apperley, 9. February 2018, 12:58

    Re Order of the Rabbit, more information is here. Sound familiar?

  24. Jonny Utzone, 9. February 2018, 14:00

    Ratepayers would be better off if Councillors took 47 weeks off a year and ‘worked’ for just five weeks. Remember that in the good old days, Councillors were ‘part-time’ and saw their role as just voting on things.

    Today, Councillors chuff about as full-time jobs-worths whizzing from one meeting to another with ‘portfolios’ to look after this and that stuck under their arm but with zero qualifications to do anything useful.

  25. Bob, 10. February 2018, 9:52

    Sarah Huckleberry: Secret society? Secret handshakes? What’s about all this secrecy?

    Can’t say, it’s all secret!

  26. TrevorH, 10. February 2018, 10:12

    In the words of the philosopher Karl Popper we now have in Wellington, “bureaucracy without a clear responsibility to any democratic control” and an elected Council, “without any competence to control the all-powerful bureaucracy”. Not a good outlook for residents and ratepayers.

  27. Nora, 11. February 2018, 9:55

    Well said everyone. How many organisations have been formed to fight the Wellington City Council and the Wellington Regional Council over the years…just to name a few: Save the Basin/Stop the Flyover, Guardians of the Bay, Waterfront Watch, Civic Trust, Shelly Bay, Save Jack Ilott Green. We residents pay twice, to support good causes and as “public excluded” ratepayers.

  28. Sarah Hucklebbery, 11. February 2018, 13:47

    Secrecy is seriously unhealthy in any form of government. It is the antithesis of a sound democracy. It leads to autocratic and populist leadership and bad decisions which impact heavily on the powerless populace.
    Are there not one or more councillors (or media) competent enough and with conscience enough to arrest this slide in any of the many ways they know are open to them?

  29. michael, 11. February 2018, 16:29

    @Nora = absolutely agree. Shame is that they still tend to ignore us all and continue their secret deals leaving the ratepayers to pick up the tab.
    Transparency is not a word they seem to understand, unless they think being transparent about not being transparent is good enough 🙂

  30. Gillybee, 12. February 2018, 18:48

    @ Trevor H: it’s called the rule of technocrats. As a society we need to ask “Who benefits?” It’s certainly not we the ratepayers.

  31. michael, 12. February 2018, 23:19

    So who does benefit????

  32. Lindsay, 13. February 2018, 18:51

    Since we published this article a week ago, not one city councillor has responded to the issues that have been raised. There’s been neither confirmation nor denial. The councillors’ total silence is strange, given concerns about lack of information (and lack of council control) on costly city projects.

  33. TrevorH, 13. February 2018, 22:44

    @ Michael and Gillybee: a multi-million dollar, publicly funded construction project awarded to a company without a tender process? Sweetheart deals on public property transfers to the private sector? An apparently bottomless pit of ratepayer funding for a multi-billion dollar corporate to use in contesting public interest legal actions? Your guess is as good as mine.

  34. michael, 13. February 2018, 23:39

    Well they are not off to a good start are they – I now see that the City Strategy Committee meeting set down for the 15th February has been cancelled. Wonder why?

  35. michael, 13. February 2018, 23:43

    I see the CEO Performance Review at 2.30 on the 15th has not been cancelled – but of course that will be public excluded.
    Another increase in salary coming up??

  36. Sarah Huckleberry, 14. February 2018, 0:16

    Michael: your question who benefits is highly relevant. It is a key question that the mayor and councillors should ask of themselves each time they make a decision, and especially the big ticket items:
    Who will benefit:
    1. Me – Can I benefit? ( like Trump)
    2. My campaign donors?
    3. My political party?
    4. Private persons/bodies
    5. The environment?
    6. The public to whom I am accountable?

    Items 1,2,3,4 are why discussion and decisions are kept secret, non transparent; the mayor and councillors unaccountable; and are usually not in the public interest, causing damage, wrong allocation of public funds, sale of strategic public assets/land, and high ratepayer cost. Think of the many examples …

    And here too is the answer Lindsay to your question. Not one councillor or the mayor… Secrecy is preferred, except for trivial and populist propaganda.

  37. michael, 14. February 2018, 13:06

    Sarah: Your questions raise some very valid points and concerns, and perhaps it is time for an “external” audit in this regard?