Wellington Scoop

A chance to transform Wellington

by Andy Foster
To help mitigate some of the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government asked for worthwhile projects to reduce unemployment. It received more than 1500 ‘shovel-ready’ public and private sector projects from around our country, including Wellington. This is our opportunity to transform Wellington.

The thinking today is the same thinking behind the important infrastructure projects our city created during the Great Depression, which have left us a valuable legacy.

Wellington City has tended to be overlooked in recent years, so we wanted to submit a compelling proposition.

The City Council participated in 3 separate proposals:

our own city projects;
projects through Let’s Get Wellington Moving (LGWM); and
a Regional project list.
We also included an ongoing ‘pipeline’ of work over succeeding years.

It’s challenging to define a precise total cost (some projects aren’t scoped yet, some benefit multiple cities). However altogether, Wellington City related proposals add up to around $4 billion.

What is our unique challenge?

Before Covid 19, Wellington had very significant infrastructure needs to address growth, resilience and connectivity. The 2018-28 Long Term Plan had mapped out rate increases of 7.1, 6.8, 6.2 and 7.0% over the next four years. That excluded LGWM, additional water infrastructure investment, Civic Square, ‘pop up’ libraries and Covid-19 impacts.

The pandemic further limits our community’s ability to afford everything and the Council’s ability to deliver. Therefore, prioritisation and Government assistance become even more critical.

Wellington’s $650 million ‘shovel ready’ list would generate more than 2,200 jobs. The 10 projects include water reservoirs, flood protection and wastewater projects; the Convention & Exhibition Centre; the National Music Centre in Civic Square’s Municipal Office Building; Wellington Museum strengthening; the Island Bay cycleway; and various housing and urban development projects.

Projects not ‘shovel ready’ but considered possible within 6-18 months include Frank Kitts Park; Sludge dewatering plant; the Civic Square/Library precinct; upgrading the TSB Arena; a Trails initiative and CBD laneways and ‘innovating streets’.

A further pipeline of water, resilience, environmental and community projects is proposed for following years. One with more immediate job-creating potential is an environmental restoration package including Miramar peninsula’s planned Heritage Reserve, and expanding Predator Free Wellington.

Through LGWM, $8 million is proposed for immediate (temporary) projects. $80 million is proposed for sub 6 month (permanent) safety, walking, biking and bus initiatives in and around the central city. Collectively those will be transformational in driving further mode shift and reducing our transport carbon footprint.

For enhancements commence-able in 12-18 months, $370 million is proposed for walking, bus priority, cycling and roading. NZTA has included $800 million for LGWM.

Some key Regional projects include Centreport/Ferry terminal, Cross harbour pipeline, Petone – Grenada, rail upgrades and electric buses, Transpower’s Central Park substation, and the Petone – Ngauranga shared path/breakwater.

I’ll highlight some projects which I’ve seen questions about:

Central Librarycouncillors were briefed on the library / Civic Square just before Covid arrived, and a paper is now well advanced. It is planned, with library engineering information included, for release early next month. I am looking forward to making this long awaited information public.

Frank Kitts Park – a key component of this project is fixing the earthquake-prone underground carpark, which is a revenue earner, and also houses 100 Underground Market businesses weekly.

Convention Centre – many people have suggested we stop construction. However we’ve already spent the thick end of $60 million on land, design, foundations and materials like base isolators and steel. We have contracts for construction, so stopping construction would incur very significant damage claims from contractor, sub-contractors, suppliers – and importantly, put 800 plus people out of work.

It would also damage Council’s reputation as a reliable client for future construction projects, and that risk would likely be priced into future construction tenders. So we could spend perhaps $80-90 million but have nothing to show for it. That would be terrible.

The business case was predicated on domestic/Australian custom. Should the convention market not have recovered when opening in 2023, then the building’s large flat floors could be partly repurposed.

Sludge Dewatering Plant. The broken pipes under Mount Albert, and the consequent trucking of sludge from Moa Point to the Southern Landfill has put sludge right in the news. The long term problem with sludge is that when dewatered (to 22% solid) and put in the landfill it requires 4 parts rubbish to every one part sludge. Until we find a solution to dewater sludge to almost complete solid level, we will keep filling up landfill space. We accelerated funding for sludge dewatering, and have a paper coming in September with proposed solutions.

Let’s Get Wellington Moving – this deserves an article on its own, but includes CBD safer speeds, CBD bike lanes, Newtown connections, Island Bay Cycleway (will need some more talking I think), extensive bus priority, implementation, better / raised crossings (etc).

Collectively it is an ambitious, exciting, transformative multi-year programme for our wonderful capital city. We just need that extra funding and a collective determination to deliver.

Andy Foster is mayor of Wellington.


  1. Andy Mellon, 22. April 2020, 18:33

    Is the business case for the convention centre public? I wonder if it’s better to lose the $80-90m now rather than run a white elephant for the next X years losing significant $$$ year on year for something no one needs any longer. I also note that the idea of repurposing the building for the central library, for instance, hasn’t been raised in this article. Good to see support for conservation initiatives though. Something I have always tended to agree with Andy Foster on.

  2. michael, 22. April 2020, 18:42

    The library was used by over a million residents per year and is clearly one of the most important public buildings in Wellington. The Wellington public have made it very clear they want it back now as is and where it is. But very few members of the public want or will use the $180 million convention centre. And, if it turns out to be the white elephant we are all expecting, we will then be required to fork out millions more to repurpose it. Why not repurpose it now. Perfect for affordable and social housing, or new council offices.

  3. Ellen, 22. April 2020, 19:11

    Great to see all the thinking going into this and really hope that the post Covid-19 world is factored into decision-making. Reputational damage to a local government entity is paltry in the long term – local government are good payers and will always be around. Let’s use this opportunity to look to the future.

  4. TrevorH, 22. April 2020, 19:12

    Repurpose the Convention Centre now if you can’t stop it; forget LGWM, it’s a joke, and cut discretionary items like the million for “International Relations.” A rates increase cannot be justified.

  5. Lance, 22. April 2020, 19:53

    Wow, upwards of $60M has already been spent on the Convention Centre. Why didn’t that come out in the last election? Meanwhile, for normal citizens, wages are cut (20% or more), housing affordability is at an all time low, and the WCC is contemplating rates increases that will double the actual rates burden every 10 years in constant dollars. Thanks WCC for raising everyone’s rent.

    And if we were worried about 800 construction jobs, perhaps they would have been better directed at actual infrastructure projects that benefit everyone rather than white elephants that benefit a select few.

  6. Peter S, 22. April 2020, 20:37

    This council is on a hiding to nothing if it dares to inflict any rates rise on the citizens of Wellington this year. It’s all very well saying that the Convention Centre is a done deal, when it is obvious that it will be a complete lemon and cost us ratepayers for decades to come. At least we are to get some news soon on our library.
    As has been hammered home on this website, the council needs to conduct a slash and burn exercise on all lame duck expenses, such as the outfit formerly known as Wreda, international relations, corporate welfare to airlines, Island Bay changes, etc. Sorry Island Bay, you’ll have to live with it the way it is for a few years, for the greater good of Wgtn.

  7. Hel, 22. April 2020, 20:56

    Ellen, Council are good payers until they start walking away from contracts. Think what you like about the merits of the convention centre, but Councils should not simply walk away from contracts. Of course they would suffer reputational damage and so they should; regrets have never been a reason for walking away from contracts.

  8. Northland, 22. April 2020, 22:04

    “The thinking today is the same thinking behind the important infrastructure projects our city created during the Great Depression…” Unfortunately for this vision, today we have massively larger bureaucracies, huge quantities of red tape, legally mandated public and iwi consultation and a background of professional consultancy fees that dwarf anything that was around in the Great Depression. Given this, I don’t believe it is possible to embark on a such a large scale program and achieve the ‘transformative’ aims. All it will end up doing is lining the pockets of the professional middle classes in Wellington whilst little is achieved. Just take a look at LGWM’s record. A better approach would be to aim for gradual change and nurture ways of working that deliver more directly and incrementally. In other words an agile mindset. What can we deliver now to make things better now.

  9. Jill Ford, 22. April 2020, 22:14

    Whilst the Old Town Hall is a historic bldg and so has to be renovated, I question the extra expense of the National Music Centre. Instead let’s get a Central Library back up and running and more social housing.

  10. Ben, 22. April 2020, 22:51

    That’s a well articulated piece, open, transparent. Might not agree with everything but I like the initiatives for the environment. [via twitter]

  11. Dave Armstrong, 22. April 2020, 22:54

    Other cities build white elephants then when they fail they repurpose them. I’m so proud that our mayor is talking about repurposing the convention center before it has even been built.

  12. Alana, 22. April 2020, 23:01

    I’d suggest the public are behind rebuilding the Library and Town Hall and St James as priorities – just behind ensuring the drains are working. Everything else – including the convention centre – should be re-evaluated. Cancelling a construction contract under these crisis circumstances would not be a detriment to WCC’s reputation – maybe Willis Bond could be a contributor to the public good in these exceptional times and just let it go.

  13. Andy Foster, 23. April 2020, 7:48

    Thank you for the comments thus far.

    Andy Mellon and others making comment on the business case – the business case and associate papers were always public. They are on the Council website here. There are a lot of crystal balls being employed at the moment. We think, from the advice we are getting, and market signals, that there will be demand for Conventions. However we don’t have to make fitout decisions yet and we will see what the world looks like in a couple of years’ time, to see if any adjustment makes sense. The Centre isn’t due to open until 2023.

    Michael – the feedback on all three times we consulted on the Convention Centre (+hotel, + film museum, + exhibition centre) was always strongly positive, so it would have been helpful if there had been more views expressed at the times we consulted – over several years. Re the library – I agree, and have pushed for the engineering information to be made public as soon as possible. A paper is now being prepared for Council for early May.

    Hel and Ellen – Hel is, as so often, on the money. Council might be a ‘good payer’ Ellen. However if, on a political whim, we were just to pull out of contracts part way through, we would destroy being a partner of choice. Anyone doing business with us would rightly price in risk.

    Alana – If Willis Bond / LT McGuinness were to just ‘let it go’ you would be asking them, their sub-contractors, and suppliers to carry their workforce and other costs until they get them new employment on an unspecified potential future project which hasn’t even been put up for tender yet – all because the Council just changed its mind part way through a contract. Contracts matter.

    Northland – after 3 years of LGWM being a bit of a black hole talk fest, we are now getting things happening. Transport is always the minefield over which there are firmly held opposing views – we won’t satisfy everyone, but doing nothing is not an option, especially as the city grows, and as we seek to reduce our footprint on the planet.

    Kind regards, Andy

  14. Gwynneth Jansen, 23. April 2020, 8:51

    ‘Willis Bond could be a contributor to the public good’ – if only! Still not feeling the love for the Convention Centre; housing is what we desperately need. If we are contributing roughly a third to the construction of the CC, how much will ratepayers contribute in terms of operating costs and to support it through the lean times of minimal overseas travel and smaller gatherings? I’d like to see the books opened on this project (plaintive voice in the wilderness) – and a few others.

    Here’s another idea about the Central Library. How about repurposing it as the WCC’s home? Central position in the heart of Wellington, not as much stress on the building and relatively easy to contact trace if needed. We can continue with the creation of smaller libraries.

  15. Nonnita Mann, 23. April 2020, 9:25

    One priority needs to be to have high standard recycling that we can trust up and running.

  16. Iona Pannett, 23. April 2020, 9:49

    More on the Convention Centre, seems councillors are open to re-purposing but in the meantime, I don’t want to pay many millions for a broken contract or to stop people working when work is so needed. [via twitter]

  17. Sam Donald, 23. April 2020, 9:57

    The shovel-ready convention centre should be sold to the government for a National Art Gallery adjacent to Te Papa, & WCC can restrengthen the Central Library, upgrade essential infrastructure and other resilience & sustainable non-air-travel related projects. [via twitter]

  18. Gwynneth Jansen, 23. April 2020, 10:49

    Thanks Andy for the link to the papers.

  19. Traveller, 23. April 2020, 12:20

    Repurposing the Central Library as WCC offices is an idea worth considering. The council can’t stay forever paying top-of-the-scale rents on The Terrace. And it needs to return to Civic Square – if it places any value on the name of the square. But first, of course, we need to find out how the council intends to pay for all the work that’s needed on Civic Square. Nothing is budgetted as far as I can tell.

  20. Benoit Pette, 23. April 2020, 12:27

    Hi Andy, I am glad you are making a strong link between LGWM and the need to reduce our carbon footprint; it’s not something that I felt you were focused on before (biodiversity, conservation yes, climate change, less so). I am sure you will appreciate the concerns environmentalists have with the second Mt Vic tunnel. Unarguably, this would attract more cars through induced demand, and create more pollution. The answer cannot be “yes but people must be able to move.” And it can’t be “alternative modes will attract people out of their cars”, or else, why would we build the tunnel in the first place? So, since we cannot take any decision without applying a “climate change lens” (as per the climate emergency voted last year), how do we deal with this catch 22? Do we push for mass transit first, a surer way of containing emissions, while we wait for the car fleet electrification? You mention a coming article on LGWM, where I shall be looking forward to seeing these questions issues addressed.

  21. chris, 23. April 2020, 16:14

    For goodness sake focus on basics that we need – infrastructure, water and waste. Why on earth are our services not running… surely they can pick up recycling and at least take it to the tip even if it’s not sorted. Libraries can sort and sanitise books and have contactless pickup. Just think a bit outside the box.These people are all still on full pay! Frontline medics and shop workers take precautions and make it work, so should Council staff.
    Focus on basics, no rates rises, remove the frills and get on with the mahi…please.

  22. Northland, 23. April 2020, 17:28

    Hi Andy. Thanks you for taking the time and effort to peruse comments and provide feedback. This is very welcome and appreciated. I’m encouraged by your acknowledgement that LGWM has been a 3 year long black hole talk fest. Never has a truer word been spoken. My point is that this would not have occurred during the Great Depression. Action would have been far swifter and more decisive in those days.

    Contrary to some other views here, I think a second Mount Vic Tunnel is essential to connect the eastern suburbs and airport to the city and routes north. Hopefully LGWM has done enough of its talking and can now move swiftly into delivery mode. That is what Wellington needs.

  23. John M, 23. April 2020, 21:51

    Andy, please sort out that LGWM outfit, it’s been absolutely hopeless to say the least. We desperately need to address our transport issues and stop this endless procrastination. While you are looking at that, I think it is more than worthwhile pointing out in this new “social distancing” world we live in that public transport is not going to be a great look. Who wants to step on to a crowded bus or train? No one I pick! Bad news I know for the anti car brigade but nonetheless reality! And while you are about it Andy please don’t fall for all that “wildly” nonsense coming out of WREDA/WellingtonNZ – it is millions of ratepayer dollars straight down the drain.

  24. Dave B, 24. April 2020, 9:58

    John, I don’t think cars will be a “great look” in terms of social-distancing either. Only able to carry passengers from your “extended bubble”, no-one else, unless some form of virus-screen arrangement between seats can be viably rolled out.
    Failing this, the effect of a large-scale return to car-travel including necessary social-distancing will be a big increase in the proportion of single-occupant journeys, thereby catapulting us into congestion that will likely be worse than before.
    Train and bus travel will be subject to the same distancing requirements as air-travel. The larger the vehicle, the more possible it is to spread everyone out. Not ideal for efficient throughput, but better than everyone trying to go by car.

  25. michael, 24. April 2020, 10:28

    Why not start repurposing the convention centre now for the council offices, and leave the Central Library where it is = central!

  26. Guy M, 24. April 2020, 11:55

    michael, you’re not thinking this through very clearly. The Convention Centre has been designed specifically for its purpose as a large internally-focussed room with little in the way of external windows, with very large spans between columns and very high floor to floor heights suitable for mass gatherings. It is certainly not the sort of structure that could ever be repurposed as “perfect for affordable and social housing, or new council offices.”

    It would be absolutely totally immensely impractical and impossible ever as any form of housing, certainly not affordable housing, not at all social housing, and also totally unsuited to council offices. Please – leave it to the architects and engineers to design the building. There may be some other possible uses for the building, but any form of housing is not one of them.

  27. Dave B, 24. April 2020, 12:55

    Guy – simple answer – change the design. Sure, this will mean re-work, loss, penalties etc, but this is the price of making a wrong decision to proceed with a convention centre in the first place. And probably far better value in the long term. It’s a pity ratepayers can’t extract damages from whoever signed-off on this to start with.

  28. Guy M, 24. April 2020, 14:08

    Dave B – I’m sure that the architects and engineers have already designed a structure that is as flexible as possible, but the foundations are already in the ground, ready for the columns to go ahead soon. It would be completely the wrong place to have council social housing – it would be a really bad idea to change to that – but certainly, if the Convention Centre does not work out then the site could still work equally well for a number of other uses, probably mainly concerned with Te Papa. But never housing.

    As for who signed it off, surely that would be Lavery and Lester?

    There are a lot of the commenters saying No Convention Centre – but consider this. The City has been crying out for years now for a medium-large venue with a flat floor. The ASB Indoor Arena is one answer, but was designed specifically for sport and is not in the centre city. Shed 6 is really pretty poor. There have been many proposals over the years to have an Arena near the CakeTin, on the concourse, or last year near the Bluebridge Ferry Terminal. Wellington has a large number of events, and currently we have the Town Hall, the St James and the Opera House all out of action, and none of them are large enough. I would assume that although the name says Convention Centre on the box, the building will be readily adapted for other uses like those currently queuing up for the MFC, Shed 6 and the old Town Hall. I reckon this building will end up being well utilised – and certainly, Auckland doesn’t have at present, and won’t have for a few years yet, a venue capable of carrying the load. Wellington’s building might be perfectly placed to take the lead…

  29. Andrew, 24. April 2020, 17:33

    Re the contracts around the convention centre (and not arguing either way on merits), surely there are Force Majeure provisions that can be invoked?
    The ultimate dollar impact of Covid could easily be on par with war, natural disaster etc.

  30. Pam, 25. April 2020, 20:56

    The WCC business case for constructing a large building at Zealandia was wildly inaccurate and required a large ratepayer bailout. I remain skeptical of the projected attendance figures for the conference centre. It was generally accepted, prior to the pandemic, that international attendees prefer either Auckland or Queenstown as conference locations.

  31. Tony Corlett, 27. April 2020, 12:20

    The Island Bay Cycleway has been finished for several years. Stop picking at the scab, thus fuelling the few remaining anti-cycle anything complainers in the suburb. The continuation of the cycleway to the city does need to be completed, but not on Adelaide Road. It needs to go across the back of Wakefield and MacAlister Parks, joining with Hansen Street, thus separating cyclists from motor vehicles for a crucial portion of the way, and avoiding conflict with residents and businesses on Adelaide Road.