Wellington Scoop

Rating the “shovel-ready” projects

Mayor Andy Foster has announced that funding for ten shovel-ready projects has been sought from Crown infrastructure Partners, with the aim of helping the capital bounce back from the worst economic effects of Covid-19. Some of these seem like a great idea, and some … well, rather less so. Let’s take a look and see how they measure up.

Omāroro Reservoir, Mt Cook
They say: This $52 million quake-resistant reservoir is fully-consented. When completed it will hold 35 million litres of water to supply 70,000 people in the CBD and adjoining low-lying areas.
We say: Total no-brainer. It’s already consented and will make a big difference to our earthquake resilience. Let the shovelling begin!

Flood-protection schemes in Hunter Street (CBD), Kilbirnie and Tawa – $47 million total
They say: These projects aim to stop flooding in low-lying areas – the Hunter Street and Kilbirnie areas are also facing problems associated with sea-level rise.
We say: It’s not clear from our friend Google how advanced these projects really are. The only information on the city council’s website is the announcement that they’re looking for funding from the government, but hopefully it’s a bit more than a gleam in the eye of a city planner. And irrespective of its apparent usefulness, the question has to be asked: why are we spending $47 million patching up the effects of climate change rather than – say – spending $47 million on preventing it in the first place?

CBD wastewater upgrades
They say: This $31 million project aims to strengthen the wastewater network in the Te Aro area and take into account its rising population.
We say: Translated into English, the announcement really means “This project attempts to make up the spending deficit on our ageing pipes, and helps cover up the fact that we directed the essential capital into vanity projects instead.” Probably shovel-ready since about 2005, and procrastinated about ever since.

Wellington Convention & Exhibition Centre
They say: Preliminary work on this $180 million 5-star green-rated building has begun.
We say: An entirely stupid idea whose time has passed, given legs because there wasn’t a single politician in Wellington with the brains and the moxie to actually stop the damn thing. It will serve no useful purpose and will be a burden on ratepayers for aeons to come. But hey – let’s not be negative. If we really want some employment benefit out of this misbegotten disaster of a project, our suggestion is to go ahead and build it to keep the tradies occupied, then burn it down on the day it opens – and collect the insurance cheque.

St John’s site redevelopment (Karori) – $25 million
They say: This could feature a mix of housing units and commercial space.
We say: The use of the word “could” is a bit difficult when the projects are meant to be shovel-ready. We presume it “could” be designed, it “could” be consented, and construction “could” start by May next year (the criteria for the funding) if all the stars aligned, and … hey, did you just see that whole squadron of pigs fly past?!

Harrison Street and Nairn Street social housing developments
They say: Two new-build projects, worth $17 million in total, to provide 47 social housing units (232 bed spaces).
We say: Again, it’s hard to tell how shovel-ready the project is. If the designs and consents are in place, then fine – but if not, it looks a bit like the St John’s development; a perfectly fine idea in theory that’s nowhere close to being a perfectly fine idea in practice. The council’s website says that options are still being considered, so the consideration part of the process is going to have to accelerate a lot to meet the required May 2021 start date.

National Music Centre – in Te Ngākau Civic Square
They say: This will involve the $84 million strengthening and reconfiguration of the 1950s Municipal Office Building to provide teaching and office space for the NZSO and Victoria University.
We say: Another demonstration of how slowly the wheels move around the council. The announcement about the music school moving into the old council building was made back in June 2019 and there haven’t been any updates since. Perhaps engineering and design work has been completed, perhaps consents have been applied for, or perhaps it’s all in the same too-hard basket as the decisions about the Library. It would be great if it did get started, because bringing some life back to Civic Square is long overdue, but we would caution against anyone holding their breath on this one.

Wellington Museum (Queens Wharf)
They say: $31 million strengthening of the grade 1 heritage-listed Bond Store and internal revamp to transform the museum visitor experience.
We say: A fabulous idea, but there’s nothing about the project on the council’s website nor on the Museum’s website, and our friend Google isn’t being much more helpful. Perhaps the engineering work and the plans and the consent drawings are sitting on top of a dusty cupboard somewhere, and the tradies can get to work as soon as, but right now this appears to fall into the charitably-described “aspirational” category.

City Housing upgrade programme
They say: $180 million over 10 years. This will continue the ongoing upgrade of the Council’s social-housing stock, by improving kitchens, bathrooms, insulation, heating and ventilation.
We say: It’s pretty much announcing what’s already been announced, but with the government picking up the tab. You’ll recall that the council agreed on a 20 year programme to upgrade the capital’s social housing stock, worth $400 million, back in 2007. The government was contributing $220 million, and the council was meant to come up with the other $180 million … so the request is basically the WCC asking the government to pay for the whole thing. And it’s not really clear if this will create a single new job, because wasn’t this work going to happen anyway?

Island Bay cycleway
They say: $14 million project to further improve the cycleway with an emphasis on safety for cyclists, residents and pedestrians.
We say: If we’re going to throw more cash at the Island Bay cycleway, at least it will be someone else’s money.

Our verdict: On balance, the project list from the city council has some good bits and some less good bits – but more concerning are the requests for funding where the projects clearly aren’t ready for prime time. (And the absence of projects that should be fast-forwarded – yes, I’m looking at the Central Library.)

For an organisation with as many staff and as many resources as the council, what’s most disappointing is not the choices they’ve made, but how few choices there really are. The city lacks vision and leadership, and the project list the council has submitted to the government simply underlines this.

Post-COVID, we need to do better.


  1. Concerned Wellingtonian, 16. April 2020, 10:58

    I agree that “the city lacks vision and leadership, and the project list the council has submitted to the government simply underlines this.” If the old councillors have failed so badly, please could the new councillors use their annual $110,000 to ask some decent questions at their public meetings where we can listen to the answers if there are any.

  2. michael, 16. April 2020, 11:13

    PCGM: Absolutely agree with you.
    WCC decision making drags on for months/years and lacks rigorous scrutiny from our councillors before being rubber-stamped.

  3. luke, 16. April 2020, 13:00

    Petone to Ngauranga cycleway please. It’s years overdue, and there is no safe alternative for less confident cyclists.

  4. Groggy, 16. April 2020, 13:32

    @luke, absolutely and a far better use of money than shovelling more cash to Island Bay. $14m more on top of the (at least) $12m spent to date. $26m for 1.7km. @ $15,000 per metre it could have been coated in gold and still been cheaper.

  5. B O'Sullivan, 16. April 2020, 14:08

    Seriously? A convention centre? The city’s basic water infrastructure is falling apart, there’s a huge epidemic taking place and the Wellington City Council wants to build a convention centre that will benefit a very small number of privileged people?

  6. greenwelly, 16. April 2020, 16:26

    @luke. Petone to Ngauranga is currently still but a figment of an idea, with a back of the envelope price attached. There has been no significant geotechnical investigation of the site, nor any resource consent application…. it’s really not possible to try to claim that a project to reclaim kms of foreshore is “shovel ready.”

  7. CC, 16. April 2020, 17:11

    ‘… the convention centre will benefit a very small number of privileged people?’ Which people, apart from the project manager and the construction firm, will be privileged? Conferences are not going to be ‘in person’ activities for years, if ever. The world has changed but the City Council is still stuck in the pockets of the business, hospitality and travel industries. More was expected of the new intake but obviously they are not up to representing their electors any more than the old guard.

  8. Island Bay Healthy Streets, 16. April 2020, 17:26

    Sadly, Wgtn CC has dropped the ball on the comms around the Island Bay cycleway here. The project is called The Parade Upgrade because it’s a whole street upgrade, incl footpaths, road, cycleway & utilities. That’s why it will cost more than if it was just a cycleway upgrade. [via twitter]

  9. Northland, 16. April 2020, 19:59

    @Island Bay Healthy Streets – with a whopping price tag of $14m for something that is already meant to exist! Are they paving this thing with gold? A quick google of Island Bay’s population gives 8523. That’s $1600 per person for a cycle way improvement! With figures like this, now I know why our rates are so high and show no signs of reduction.

  10. John Rankin, 16. April 2020, 20:38

    If, as the Chamber of Commerce keeps telling us, the convention centre is such a great idea, let the private sector build and run it. Have WCC set up a wholly-owned subsidiary, Wellington Convention Centre Limited, transfer the assets related to the convention centre project to this company, then sell it, either as a trade sale or by floating it on the stock exchange. The new owner can decide whether to continue with the project as is, or relaunch it with a better use, such as housing.

    WCC needs to resist the temptation to turn Wellington Central Library into another vanity project and get on with fixing the building we have. This project seems to have a bad case of scope and budget creep. Unless there are shovels in the ground fixing the central library when the next election comes around, no sitting councillor will get my vote.

  11. Conor, 16. April 2020, 20:52

    Petone to Ngauranga sits under either NZTA or GWRC. They might have bid for it.

  12. Rapscallion, 16. April 2020, 22:38

    If the Parade upgrade ends up anything like the Kilbirnie town centre upgrade, we should be very afraid. I doubt many of these projects are actually “shovel ready” and I can’t see funding for endless consultants’ reports to bring them to that stage being of much stimulus. Are they seriously asking central government to now front with money for the convention centre? Hard to see that getting over the line – unless its main function is drastically altered, it won’t provide any benefit once it’s built.

  13. Alan, 17. April 2020, 7:51

    Who invents such daft terms as “shovel ready”? We all know there is no such thing. Projects are all subject to planning, consenting, risk assessments, consultation (in many cases) etc etc. I doubt if there’s anything ready to go. Bureaucrats are “pen ready” is more like it!

  14. Ian Apperley, 17. April 2020, 9:36

    People are really angry about the convention centre. And the WCC is doing its head in the sand trick. I see the commentary everywhere. Twitter, Facebook, comments on news sites…

  15. Dr Sea, 17. April 2020, 10:03

    Energy Efficiency should be top “shovel-ready” project for NZ:
    – will create lots of new jobs & support construction industry
    – improves housing infrastructure
    – we got the technology & know-how
    – it will save lives, reduce bills, improve health & comfort, benefit the vulnerable. [via twitter]

  16. PCGM, 17. April 2020, 10:56

    Rapscallion – There’s a section in the application form for Crown Infrastructure Partners where they ask what the economic, social, environmental and cultural benefits of the project that’s being submitted will be. I’d love to see what they wrote for the Convention Centre – I reckon it would be the best piece of creative fiction this year, and would be an immediate nomination for the Booker Prize.

  17. TrevorH, 17. April 2020, 11:04

    @Ian Apperley; you are correct, people are very angry that the Council is proceeding with the thoroughly redundant convention centre – welcome to the 1970s, the age of bell-bottoms, Barry Manilow and convention centres! This thing will be a millstone around our necks for years to come. It will stand as a fitting monument to the Council’s arrogance and indifference to the circumstances we now find ourselves in. If a building must be erected because of contracts that have been signed by the Council, then adapt it for some useful purpose like a central library as many people have sensibly suggested on this site.

  18. michael, 17. April 2020, 12:45

    WCC councillors need to revisit the Principles of Consultation under the Local Government Act and start by answering the huge number of questions being asked regarding the convention centre and the Central Library. The Act says that …
    . … persons who may be affected by, or have an interest in, a decision or matter should be provided by the local authority with reasonable access to relevant information in a manner and format that is appropriate to the preferences and needs of those persons;
    . persons who may be affected by, or have an interest in, the decision or matter should be encouraged to present their views to the local authority and should be given clear information concerning the scope of the decisions to be taken following the consideration of views presented;
    . persons who wish to have their views considered should be provided with a reasonable opportunity to present those views to the local authority in a manner and format that is appropriate to the preferences and needs of those persons, and the views should be received by the local authority with an open mind and should be given due consideration;
    . persons who present views should have access to a clear record or description of relevant decisions made by the local authority and explanatory material relating to the decisions, which may include, for example, reports relating to the matter that were considered before the decisions were made.

  19. Cubey-19, 17. April 2020, 18:35

    This sort of insanity has to stop, WgtnCC. The runway extension idea is OVER. The convention centre was never viable and now it should be OVER. [via twitter]

  20. Geraldine, 19. April 2020, 10:45

    All the projects with ‘coulds’ in ‘should’ be replaced by the Central Library seismic strengthening. There are ‘coulds’ with this project too, but at least it benefits any member of the public who wishes to use it (keeping social distance of course). The design process could be ready in the 6 to 18 months timeframe. And while there are questions about future sea level rise, it didn’t stop WCC including the Music School, in the same area, in the mix.

  21. Catharine, 19. April 2020, 16:24

    It would be better to re purpose the convention centre as either a Library or apartments. I can’t see the need for a convention centre given that it will be some time before the borders are opened up and there are plenty of convention centres in the country. Leave it to Queenstown and Auckland. If the council had vision there are other things we could be using to attract visitors. Dare to be different!
    I am also wondering about singling out Hunter Street in the CBD for flood protection. Flood protection from What? Surely Jervois Quay, Wakefield Street, and the entire waterfront are in need of flood protection ahead of Hunter Street. What a waste of funds. Spend the money on water pipes and other thing or on climate change initiatives.
    Harrison Street isn’t ‘shovel ready’. The council presented to the residents a completed plan and were really surprised that it wasn’t well received by the locals. Apart from agreement that the residents at the meeting wanted council housing, there was little else to like about the proposal. No mobility units, double the number of beds that were there, no mixed housing model, lots of space wasted with internal staircases over 3 levels, no recreational areas and no consideration of sustainable values. A very poor showing. But the council feel they have consulted.