Wellington Scoop

The Reading mystery


by Lindsay Shelton
I agree with Leviathan at eyeofthefish when he writes about the closure of Reading Cinemas: So far, no one is talking much sense about the Courtenay Central close-down … I can’t figure out why it should be closed down, so suddenly, from some unspecified potential seismic risk.

In an article headed “Reading too much into it,” he goes on:

Yes, the Courtenay Central development is a bit of a dire mess, with an awful ground floor retail cock-up, which is bordering on criminally incompetent design, but I don’t think that is the actual reason. The building is steel framed, built about 2001, with cinema dividing walls upstairs built from light steel framing and layers of plasterboard (from memory – I watched it get built). If there was any seismic damage, I would have thought that the base of the steel columns at ground floor would have shown the damage, but this would have been blatantly obvious.

Is the building poised to collapse? Absolutely not. Do I have any evidence? Absolutely not. Would I ever go there to the movies myself? Absolutely not.

But he doesn’t have seismic concerns – he doesn’t want to go there because of its “rooms that are devoid of any architectural features. I try and go to the Embassy as much as possible, for obvious architectural and historical reasons. Similarly, I went to the Paramount…it’s a bloody tragedy that the Paramount has closed down.”

We can all agree with that.

The confusion about Readings was compounded by this somewhat scaremongering report in the DomPost:

Reading Cinema’s Australian head office refuses to guarantee the street frontage of the Courtenay Place building is safe for pedestrians beneath. The company, which owns the central city complex that was abruptly closed after a damning engineers’ report, refused to answer any questions put to it on Monday by Stuff. It refused to say whether it had been safe for the last 18 months, during which time it was open and people had gone to movies under the belief they were in a safe building, or whether it would release the report to the Wellington City Council.

As the DomPost hasn’t seen the engineers’ report, it’s pushing things a bit to brand it as damning.

But most of the confusion has come from remarks by the City Council’s business engagement manager Phil Becker, who told RNZ’s Summer Report: “We’ve been advised that there is no damage.” But then contradictorily he said the council had no details on what “the problems” were. No damage? But problems? He hasn’t seen the report, either.

“I think it’s speculation at this point to say that it is unsafe. The reality is the engineers are there to do a job to understand what the actual areas of concern are. At one end of the spectrum it might actually turn out that the building’s fine so again it’s very much speculation at this stage until they do what they have to do. It’s very much speculation and Reading themselves have confirmed that they don’t know yet either.”

No damage? But areas of concern? They don’t know. He doesn’t know. And yet he said there are “risky parts” which are not, however, caused by damage from the 2016 Kaikōura earthquake.

Readings’ comments have been restricted to brief notices stuck on the closed front doors. The council’s media release talks about “several discrete areas on the cinema levels of the building that may perform at an unacceptable level during a major earthquake.” (That’s a quote from Becker again.) The council says the building has been closed because of “preliminary engineering assessments,” though it hasn’t seen them. Then it states that further investigations are underway, and the building has been closed “as a precautionary measure to facilitate them.” To facilitate the investigations? Not to protect customers or the shop owners who’ve had to close down? Someone needs to establish some clarity about what’s going on.

Leviathan, for one, has confidence in the building:

I physically watched the construction of Reading Cinemas – watched the construction of the steel skeleton, watched the creation of the concrete floor diaphragm at First floor level, and watched the installation of the false floors and dividing walls in the cinemas themselves. Took some photos of this at the time, but these, like my memories of exactly what I saw, are now lost in time. As far as I can remember: double timber or steel framed walls, multiple layers of Gib board. Not what you might call an earthquake risk in any known way. I am at a loss to explain why anyone would shut the building down to repair Gib walls. Total lunacy? Could any engineers out there care to reply?

Let’s repeat his invitation. Who can shed some light on the dangers, or lack of them? Who can calm things down and get rid of the confusion?

UPDATE: Three stores reopen at front of Reading’s building


  1. City Lad, 16. January 2019, 19:55

    Perhaps Reading Cinemas intend using their insuring company to fund demolition of this horrible building?

  2. Tom, 17. January 2019, 14:55

    City Lad, It’s pretty difficult to pull the wool over the eyes of insurance companies, but I dare say that Reading could be hoping for what you suggest – and so am I frankly.

  3. Rumpole, 17. January 2019, 18:33

    Hilda and I can easily understand why Reading Cinemas have never been able to lease out sustainable parts of the ground floor area. “Horrible” is an understatement.

  4. Cecil Roads, 17. January 2019, 18:48

    Dear Rumpole and Hilda: A question of taste! Reading Cinemas suits Courtenay Place to a t. A tacky capital T indeed that for refined people is an area best avoided.