Wellington Scoop

What next for the Library? Civic Square?

by Lindsay Shelton
Mayor Andy Foster has this week given us a couple of encouraging timelines about progress on resolving some of the most serious challenges facing his council.

The information came in a brief interview with Damian George published in the DomPost.

The closed Central Library: the mayor is

expecting an engineers’ report on the library building to be completed by January or February. That would give the council options for strengthening work and the respective costs.

The neglected Civic Square:

“We’ll be doing a stocktake of Civic Square pre-Christmas and late-February and presenting that to councillors to give them a full picture of what we know and what we don’t know.”


And the empty Municipal Office Building next to the Town Hall, which needs strengthening before it can be occupied by the national music centre:

The council was progressing with plans to establish a home in the Municipal Office Building for Victoria University of Wellington’s New Zealand School of Music and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (NZSO) – scheduled for sometime after 2023.

When the Music Centre lease was signed in June, the council said it would now progress detailed design and finalise costings for strengthening the yellow-stickered building. There’s been no announcement yet on what those costs will be. But the building is rated only 40 per cent of NBS, and needs to be strengthened to 80 per cent before its new occupants can move in.

The “sometime after 2023” date seems to indicate that the MOB may not be ready for use when the Town Hall is reopened, after $112m has been spent on strengthening it (including base isolators). The council has specified 2023 for the Town Hall work to be completed.

But at least there are plans for two of empty buildings in Civic Square to be reoccupied. (In the case of the Town Hall, it will have been closed for ten years – a deplorable situation for which the council bears responsibility.)


Then there’s the Civic Administration Building. Seriously damaged in the Kaikoura earthquake, it’s another abandoned feature of Civic Square. Prolonged negotiations with its insurers have not yet brought a result, so no one seems to know whether its fate will be demolition or strengthening.

At least we now have an idea of when we’ll know something more about the Central Library – when the engineers’ report (led by an Auckland professor who was hired four months ago) is released early next year.

And while we’ve been waiting, we’ve learnt that it is/was the most popular building in the city – with more than a million visitors a year. Which sets a clear priority for getting it fixed and reopened.

As for Civic Square, Damian George discovered that a council-commissioned report was completed in September 2017 – but not made public till this month. The report by McIndoe Urban says Civic Square is a “poorly functioning public space” with an out-of-date development plan.

It’s not easy to find the report on the council website. But what is more readily visible is a presentation from 2018 about Civic Square.

It reminds us that the abandoned and yellow-stickered Capital E Building has an NBS rating of only 20 per cent – something that few people realise as they walk over the top of it on the way to or from the City to Sea Bridge. And the bridge – it has an NBS rating of only 40 per cent, though the council document says that somehow it is “not earthquake prone.” Demolition or replacement of both structures is to be expected.


The 2018 document also tells us that the Michael Fowler Carpark will not revert to open space when the ballet company’s temporary building is removed. The Carpark land is to be sold (according to the document), and a developer has been chosen. Not only that, but plans (above) have been prepared to show what the area will look like when the public open space has been covered by a new building.

Which brings us back to Civic Square. Councillors were told last year:

There is a need to address the earthquake risk to Civic Square around settlement and spread towards the Whairepo Lagoon. Consideration will be given to the necessary improvements to the seawall along this part of the Quays.

Who’ll offer to interpret those words?


  1. Wendy, 22. November 2019, 12:08

    If the Michael Fowler carpark is to be built on, can anyone in the WCC please explain how this will happen when, as part of a $72 million project to eliminate sewage from the harbour, streams and coast, a giant tank was built under the carpark in 2004. It can hold 850,000 litres of sewage to take pressure off the wastewater system and pumping stations in the event of very heavy rain or disastrous power failure, something we can expect more of.
    Assuming this would have to be removed to be replaced with building foundations, who is going to bear that cost and where will a new tank go?

  2. Helene Ritchie, 22. November 2019, 13:21

    As the former Chair of the Civic Centre project, I do not agree that it was a poorly functioning public space. On the contrary, it was enjoyed and utilised greatly by Wellingtonians and visitors young and old and in multiple ways in civic buildings and outside. But instead of enhancing this valuable space, the Council has neglected it, not maintained it, closed buildings for spurious reasons and abandoned it ( except for writing reports).

    I am very cynical too about using the Earthquake-prone excuse. It depends on the engineer doing the assessment. I know of buildings which have gone from 7% Council assessment to 70% NBS engineer assessment with no structural work done.

    There’s much more I could say and do. In the meantime Council should fix the greatly valued heavily utilised public space – our library, and reopen it.

  3. michael, 22. November 2019, 16:13

    Helene absolutely agree with you.
    There has been so much lip service going on about Civic Square yet nothing gets done, apart more and more reports to hide behind. I walked through Civic Square today and, even in its sad abandoned state, there were people everywhere. No matter what they claim, WCC seems to have very little regard for any of our open and green spaces within the central city.

  4. Hel, 22. November 2019, 17:36

    The old civic square was a poorly designed space, the buildings at ground level are generally not engaged with the square, the poorly designed grades and those stupid ponds need addressing. However I don’t think getting on and sorting out the square and buildings needs to be anywhere near as painful and prolonged as Council are making it. I don’t blame Councillors but rather an executive bereft of energy or action.

  5. Henry Filth, 22. November 2019, 22:37

    Where’s the old business case and design brief for the current set-up? Can someone haul them out, dust them off, and see if they need changing. . .

  6. Northland, 22. November 2019, 23:32

    I also agree Helene that Civic Square is/was a great asset for Wellington and not some sort of poorly functioning public space. Did McIndoe Urban ever go there pre-yellow sticker days? (and how much did we pay for the pleasure of that report?). What’s needed now is action and restoration for the buildings and structures that are no longer in use. I’m hoping that Andy Foster has more oomph in him than his predecessor seemed to have.

    I would also like to see some accountability from the architects, designers and engineers of the yellow stickered and low NBS buildings and structures discussed (town hall excepted). Do they accept some responsibility for the current malaise? After all, Wellington’s earthquake-prone nature is not exactly new, and it has always been known that public structures here would need to be built to the highest standards for public safety in a strong earthquake.

  7. Stacey T, 23. November 2019, 7:33

    The only fault with civic square is the landscaping ie the stupid pools and that it has few trees or green space. The Central Library is great and should have been reopened. I suspect the Council have a hidden redevelopment agenda for Civic Square.

  8. Chester M, 23. November 2019, 15:19

    The problem with yellow sticker fever is that the Council caught it and now they have spread it to the Hutt. In my opinion the Council mistakenly went with engineers on the topic of earthquakes and not with seismologists which would have provided the facts about the so called earthquake “safe” buildings in Wellington. They would have told them that no building is going to be safe in the event of a major earthquake of a specific size, depth and wave pattern. We all know this and still live here with the risk.