Wellington Scoop

Big spending

by Lindsay Shelton
Looking back to the early days of Wellington.Scoop, there was plenty of evidence about how the Wellington City Council was torn between controlling its spending, and spending more on big projects that seemed, to many of us, to be unnecessary. Has anything changed?

By Lindsay Shelton – November 26, 2008
A new Manners Mall. “As part of our commitment to improving the city, the Council has completed the upgrade of Manners Mall and the surrounding area.” This was the announcement in February 2004 in the Wellington City Council’s “Rates News”. The upgrade – with design input from Athfield Architects and Wraight Landscape Architects – cost $1.6million and included flashing lights in the paving and powerpoints for buskers and street performers.

But less than five years later, the council doesn’t like its upgrade any more. The pedestrian Mall is out of favour.

The Council thinks it should be put back to how it was: a two-lane road with traffic going in both directions.

This would somehow strengthen the Golden Mile by reducing bus travel times.

Feedback has been sought. A booklet has been published. And the cost? The cost, says the Council hopefully, could “potentially be funded over the next five years using money already budgeted for bus priority and urban redevelopment work.”

The Council, of course, has a record of changing its mind at the ratepayers’ expense.

The popular and well-used Frank Kitts Park, created on the waterfront in the 1980s, is to be redeveloped and rebuilt. The council has selected a design from Wraight and Associates, the people who helped to design the Manners Mall. (The practice was restructured and renamed in 2003.) The $4million cost will be met by the council-owned Wellington Waterfront company (which was kept afloat with $3.9million in “temporary additional funding” from the council last year.)

The council’s pleasant Cobblestone Park on Vivian Street is also to be remade. Designed and built in the mid-70s in modernist English character style, it features well-developed trees and well-worn lawns in front of the striking red School of Architecture.

The cost of remaking this little park is a million dollars. Again, the design is by Wraight and Associates (obviously favoured by the council, they were also chosen with Athfield Architects to design the $18million Waitangi Park).

Is there a chance that the council might have second thoughts about the cost of wiping out the Manners Mall less than five years after it was created? There are small signs of apprehension. The Council website talks of “tough decisions” to be made about priorities.

Mayor Prendergast has been more specific. The Dominion Post reports her as having a goal of cutting $3million off council spending every year for the next decade, to keep rates in line with inflation. “We can’t keep doing everything we have been doing.”

But the messages are contradictory.

In the same newspaper, the Mayor announced that the council was commissioning a report on the cost and viability of a 10,000-seat indoor arena which could be built above the Stadium and would cost “about $100 million.”

The Council already owns the Events Centre (now renamed the Vector Arena), the Town Hall, the Ilott Concert Chamber, the Michael Fowler Centre, the St James Theatre, the Opera House and the Embassy Theatre. Why does it think the city needs another, bigger space? The answer seems to be that it’s desirable for us to see international music acts such as Stevie Wonder, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, even Kylie Minogue.

Then there’s the $46million which the council plans to spend on an indoor sports centre in Kilbirnie, if it gets resource consent. Not everyone likes this idea. “The council is mad to build the centre in Kilbirnie,” Cr Andy Foster told Capital Times last year. “The cost is astronomical, and it is an inferior location.”

And that was before the council started to think about the need to cut spending.

It shouldn’t be difficult to make decisions about what is absolutely necessary.

Reconstructing parks which already exist? Tearing up a pedestrian mall less than five years after it was built? $46million for netball, basketball, and volleyball? $100million for one-off concerts by Kylie and Stevie?

How tough are tough decisions?

Content Sourced from scoop.co.nz
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  1. michael, 9. January 2020, 10:07

    Spot on Lindsay. Unless the council starts to behave responsibly and focus on what really needs doing (ie: infrastructure, the library etc) there is going to be a ratepayer’s revolt as we cannot continue the way we are going. The WCC must recognise that ratepayers are not a bottomless pit and start listening to the myriad of concerns regarding vanity projects and rising rates.
    As I see it the major problem is that the council have changed their focus because they have outsourced the bulk of council’s core responsibilities, and by doing so have limited control and flexibility, particularly when these services are underperforming.
    How about looking to the UK where a 2017 report showed that “73% of councils indicated that they had started … insourcing a service” and “45% reported having completed the process” And the same report stated that “promised efficiencies of outsourcing have failed to deliver, with contract management fees, variation fees on work and difficulties in specifying complex services leading to cost increases”, and around “64% of local authorities cited greater efficiency as their reason for returning to insourcing and near to 60% said they were doing so to improve quality.”

  2. Traveller, 10. January 2020, 13:00

    If only they’d gone ahead with Kerry Prendergast’s idea of cutting $3m from city council spending every year for a decade …

  3. Curtis Antony Nixon, 10. January 2020, 19:22

    When public authorities and agencies start to treat the citizens of this country as customers, instead of electors, we are really in trouble.

    Actually doing things – (building, setting up, and running, services and infrastructure) – is passe and boring to today’s modern public servant. It’s all about money and ideas in the corporate world. And government bureaucrats want to keep pace, and eventually work for, private business so they constantly import business concepts and language into council or government.

    Add to that the “no fault environment” where architects and engineers can design and build the high rise buildings that failed in the Chch earthquake, without any holding to account. Let’s see if there is the proper apportionment of blame after the Whakaari volcano tragedy.

  4. Dan Tosfery, 13. January 2020, 11:39

    I’m thinking WCC needs a new marketing slogan. How about ‘Let’s Make Wellington Great Again’ (LMWGA)?