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 Library – councillors 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.