Wellington Scoop

Vanishing points

by Lindsay Shelton
2018 was the year of the vanishing post offices. And banks. And buses. Buildings too. And views.

Newtown’s post office disappeared, after several months of warnings, and in spite of a petition signed by concerned locals. The Manners Street post office disappeared with no warnings that I heard of – walking towards it last month, I prepared to go in to do some of the transactions that you could only do in a post office. But it was gone. It’s now a green and empty KiwiBank space. There used to be a post office in Featherston Street. It’s gone too. Johnsonville’s post office is threatened. In spite of a public meeting called by a local MP, it’s likely to disappear too, before the end of 2019.

Banks are also vanishing. The Newtown KiwiBank disappeared with the post shop. Westpac pulled out of Newtown too. It also pulled out of Cuba Street, thoughtlessly removing both its ATMs at the same time. In Brooklyn, Westpac disabled its ATM. Then KiwiBank installed a new one down the street. Which encouraged Westpac to get its ATM working again.

The trolley buses vanished, as everyone knows. Pledges that they would return in a new battery-driven form came to nothing. Electric double deckers were rumoured, but seldom seen. The Regional Council’s new bus system, with a fleet almost entirely of diesel vehicles, was hugely unpopular. For every denial and apology, there were scores of complaints from unhappy passengers. (We published so many of them.)

As Hugh Rennie wrote:

The economic cost of this shambles in Wellington city is huge. It comes from GWRC taking overall control when not competent to do that. GWRC aimed for a “Big Bang” implementation (which is all ego and razzmatazz and not the effective and efficient way to phase in change). It has applied “big city” techniques like hubs which are not workable in a small town like Wellington with low bus frequency and small numbers of transfers. It pushed out a competent and experienced operator, and experienced (in many cases dedicated) drivers and other staff – mainly to take control for GWRC. Then it egotistically and grandly over-promised it would be better when it was never going to be as good as before.

And then there were the other vanishing buses – named “ghost buses” for their failure to appear after they were listed on the new but less than reliable real-time information system. (An overseas expert was flown in to try and fix it.)

The Paramount Cinema, which vanished in 2017, continued to be empty for a second year. A sad and foolish abandonment of a space that had been a lively community venue in use every day for more than a hundred years. The city council – in need of such a venue while the St James is closed (till the end of next year) for strengthening – should have intervened, but did nothing.

The Town Hall was given another date for strengthening to begin. (The third such date since it was closed in 2013.) Then the new start date was cancelled. By the end of the year, a contractor had not been signed up, and major work hadn’t begun.

The Music School has an agreement from its three participants to strengthen the Town Hall. But there hasn’t yet been any agreement on leasing the neighbouring Municipal Office Building which is needed for teaching and administrative spaces. You can’t have a school without classrooms.

The Movie Museum vanished before it had been built. City councillors had been over-excited about it since the end of 2015, when they agreed to pay $134m for its new building – two floors for the movie museum, and one floor on top for a convention centre. Residents challenged the lack of an open tender process for the project, but the council was unmoved. The movie museum, it claimed, would be a unique attraction that would attract tourists and conventions from all of the world. The over-excitement continued when councillors agreed to increase their spend on the new building to $150m.

After almost three years of negotiations, however, Peter Jackson and his team pulled out, citing uncertainty about the project’s financial viability. Such financial concerns weren’t shared by the council, which did a hasty redesign of the building without any reassessment of the business case. It’s now to have two floors for a convention centre and one floor as an exhibition space. But there’ll no longer be a unique Wellington offering. Instead, the council hopes for occasional touring international exhibitions, with Star Wars at the top of its wish list – a show which will have minimal appeal for tourists, as not one but four Star Wars exhibitions have been touring the world since 2015.

The changed plans were approved in December. The price continued to rise – now $154m. But the contractors stayed the same – the opportunity for an open tender was ignored.

Peter Jackson’s Great War Exhibition, housed in the old Dominion Museum building, vanished just before Christmas. There’d been talk of using it as the basis for a permanent War Museum, but support was not forthcoming. And Massey University wanted its building back. Leaving the government to pay the $12m cost of removing the exhibition and restoring the structure to its original condition.

What else is vanishing? From Karori: most of the heritage-listed campus of the Karori Teachers College is being pulled down, in spite of its outstanding architectural importance. From Island Bay: the heritage-listed Erskine College convent building has been demolished, disregarding its historical value.

(There was, however, one notable developer who worked to save heritage buildings rather than demolishing them, and the city council did its best with modest amounts of money, helped by occasional government grants.)

It wasn’t only buildings that vanished. On Waterloo Quay, the wonderful panorama of the harbour and hills was effectively blocked by a wall-like building completed by Willis Bond, turning the open road into a dark canyon. Worse: there are plans for a second wall-like building on the other side of the Whitmore Street Gates. A panorama lost, replaced by a glimpse. The opposite of what citizens said they wanted during the campaign twenty years ago when they told the city not to wall off the harbour.

And what are citizens telling the decision-makers these days?

In the year that’s just ended, there was substantial and authoritative support for light rail during the prolonged period of consultation organised by the Let’s Get Wellington Moving consortium. It didn’t, however, move fast enough to announce its proposals within the expected timeframe. The issues seem perfectly clear – even before the recommendations become known, Congestion-Free Wellington has asked ten relevant questions about what’s best for the city.

For the city council – moving out of Civic Square into temporary space in a high rise building on the Terrace – there’s a need to start deciding where its next permanent offices will be. Back to the centre in Civic Square? or in some other part of town? The regional council, homeless since its waterfront offices were earthquake damaged, seems to have made a decision on its next home – it’s reported to be moving into Cuba Street, when strengthening of the old Farmers building is completed. They couldn’t be any more central than that. Easy to reach if you want to call in and register a personal complaint about the buses.


  1. Benny, 1. January 2019, 9:17

    You forgot to mention the Shelly Bay development, which vanished too, but not because of the council this time, rather the opposite. A good one, this one, in my humble opinion. Other than that, great summary. Happy New Year!

  2. Marion Leader, 1. January 2019, 10:24

    For me, the biggest surprise was the sudden disappearance of the useful letter-box (a double one) at the entry to New World in Thorndon. Why did this happen?

  3. Marack Moambra, 1. January 2019, 11:24

    And it seems that the Education Minister does not like Grant Guilford’s visionary plan to see Victoria disappear from our capital city university’s name. So we are lumbered with the convoluted ‘Victoria University of Wellington’.

  4. Barry, 1. January 2019, 14:08

    Frank Kitts Park to be reduced by the Chinese garden, too.

  5. Patrick Morgan, 1. January 2019, 14:33

    A few welcome things appeared. Onzo bikes – low cost mobility.
    Bike lanes finally arrived in Newtown, connecting Constable Street to Kilbirnie. There’s also the new bike lane between Herd Street and Freyberg. Next will be a connection to Evans Bay.
    I also welcome the double decker bike park in Grey Street, and plenty more bike stands around town, to meet high demand for parking.
    Good to see some progress.

  6. Cecil Roads, 1. January 2019, 22:02

    Yes and road and pedestrian space has vanished for a few bicycles (some of which are electrically powered).

  7. greenwelly, 2. January 2019, 9:30

    @Patrick M, Only if you view “Evans Bay” as Greta Point. I’ve yet to see any detailed designs for phase 2, and getting it to link up to the stuff being done along cobham drive…. Why does the council insist on leaving such gaps when it should be striving for a continual rollout that assures users that “Christmas is coming” rather than “still to be worked out”

  8. Richard, 2. January 2019, 13:32

    Talking about the new Oriental Bay / Herd St cycle lane… Has anyone noticed the shoddy way that it’s constructed? I use it most days and despite it being brand new, it is bumpy as anything. When it rains it has has massive puddles on it. There are a couple of large ‘potholes’ in the middle (where steel utility covers are) and when you get to the end (coming from Freyberg, going to town) you have this large metal light post bang smack in the middle of it. Very grateful for any new cycling infrastructure, but who’s signed off on this?!

  9. Mike Mellor, 2. January 2019, 14:46

    Cecil R: no road space has “vanished” – it’s just been reallocated to means of transport that are much more efficient users of road space etc and much less polluting than private cars.

  10. Peter Kerr, 2. January 2019, 18:08

    I’m told that “the green and empty spaces” that remain at KiwiBanks, now that NZ Post facilities have been removed, are to be known as “Wisdom Bars”. I’m happy to be corrected on this; but what a merry old age we live in if it’s true.

  11. Roger Blakeley, 2. January 2019, 18:33

    How about some new year’s resolutions for city shaping of Wellington with Let’s Get Wellington Moving? More walking, cycling, light rail, compact urban design, all electric bus fleet by 2030 and zero carbon emissions from transport by 2040! [via twitter]

  12. Concerned Wellingtonian, 3. January 2019, 6:41

    How about getting our buses to work?

  13. luke, 3. January 2019, 10:14

    About 3km total of cyclelanes to join up some of our existing infrastructure & create a basic network please.

  14. Cecil Roads, 3. January 2019, 20:33

    New Year’s resolutions and LGWM? Ho Ho Ho Ho Ho. Pay consultants and contractors by the hour and there will never be a resolution. We just need a tolled tunnel under the Basin asap!

  15. Tony Jansen, 4. January 2019, 14:49

    Hmmm overall a year of failure after failure from our elected officials who seemed more intent on rewarding those who financially supported them than listening to their constituents. There is not a lot to crow about, but the repercussions of these poor decisions will not only financially haunt us for decades, but also cripple the development of infrastructure and reduce the overall liveability of a once envied boutique green city.
    I certainly hope 2019 will bring better tidings but with the dreadful governance this city/region is saddled with plus the high voter apathy to the political process, I fear the same dead weights will be re-elected to do more damage.

  16. Ms, 6. January 2019, 13:27

    Transparent accountable open local government at the Wellington City Council seems to have vanished. eg what were the unanimous opinions and reasons that decided $150m plus would be spent on a white elephant convention centre? Or the bus hubs they contracted? Or the trolley bus wires?

  17. Cyclist, 6. January 2019, 20:01

    Has the Island Bay cycleway vanished yet? Or is it just the millions of dollars spent on it that have vanished?

  18. Andrew, 6. January 2019, 22:50

    The council consulted the community on several options, then the mayor threw in his idea at the end which was not consulted on but was chosen… Go figure… One thing that is missing from Island Bay is the crows nest ladder at the park. Where did that go wcc?

  19. TrevorH, 7. January 2019, 7:26

    @Cyclist: it was still there last Sunday. No cyclists though. It’s a major safety concern, not least because of the confusion of old and new road markings down the middle. But apparently Mayor Lester has a plan, indeed he’s had it for some time now.

  20. Farmer Bill, 7. January 2019, 10:33

    I’ve never seen anybody using the Masterton cycleways either. Waste of money and green paint.

  21. Cyclist, 7. January 2019, 19:31

    So what’s vanished from the Island Bay cycleway are the cyclists? Or, were they never ever there to vanish?

  22. Roy Kutel, 8. January 2019, 10:53

    Everybody (pedestrians, car users and cyclists) could have been accommodated with a few speed signs in Island Bay! Cycleway costs and lots of disruption would have been avoided.

  23. michael, 8. January 2019, 10:54

    Let’s face it . . . Councillors flounder from one fiasco to another. I have no idea who is making the decisions but there doesn’t seem to be any coherent form of assessment about anything. The Wellington we all know and love is fast disappearing along with the magnificent views of the waterfront. But at least we will have a new arena that will only be used several times a year, and a flash new conference centre that will remain vacant most of the year. Too bad about the old infrastructure, the transport crisis and the huge lack of quality green spaces.

  24. Ms, 8. January 2019, 20:34

    How come this mayor, Council and CEO are so removed from the priorities of the voters? Have they become some kind of oligarchy with no real accountability? Not even to the priorities of the political parties those elected purport to represent.