Wellington Scoop

Save our Library – WCC failing to recognise the public’s concern

concern about library

Opinion from ICW
Inner City Wellington (ICW) calls on the Wellington City Council to update the Wellington public about its intentions for the Wellington Central Library.

On 19th March last year Mayor Justin Lester announced that the Central Library – “one of the city’s busiest buildings with 3,000 visitors a day including 500 children” – was being closed and, “even though it was not technically earthquake prone it gave WCC cause for concern that there were significant vulnerabilities with the building that need to be addressed”.

This devastating announcement was the result of a report from engineering firm Aurecon based on new MBIE seismic assessment guidelines for buildings that had pre-cast concrete flooring systems.

Since then there has been an enormous volume of articles regarding the library, and a huge public outcry calling for the iconic building to be strengthened and reopened. However, there has been little feedback from the city council, even after the following developments.

∙ May 7th 2019: it was reported by the DomPost that Paul Eagle understood the only option was to demolish the library. Three days later Mayor Justin Lester said demolition was likely. But then he reversed his opinion, saying there would be options available to strengthen the building to 100 per cent, 67 per cent or 34 per cent. And later he said his first priority was to strengthen the building, rather than pull it down.

∙ May 15th 2019: a peer review of the Aurecon report was issued by WSP Opus.

∙ July 16th 2019: Wellington.Scoop reported that at “a packed public meeting, a leading architect and a leading structural engineer both insisted that the library could be strengthened and reopened. And they estimated a cost considerably less than the $100 million that had been stated by Justin Lester”.

∙ July 17 2019: Justin Lester announced a “Library Charter” which said the Central Library would not be demolished “unless there is no reasonable alternative.”

∙ July 31st 2019: Professor Ken Elwood from Auckland was engaged to lead a group of construction and engineering industry experts to find the right way forward for the library. There were also suggestions another peer review might be considered which implied the process might not be streamlined, but become one of endless reports.

∙ Nov 20th 2019: in an interview with Damian George, Mayor Andy Foster advised he expected the engineering report on the library “in January or February”, with options for the strengthening work and respective costs.

In February, Wellington.Scoop asked why the report had not been released.

On March 17, the council disclosed a meaningless range of possible costs to strengthen and redevelop the Central Library, but provided no details of the huge cost differences. The costs, which ranged from $96 million to $205 million, were part of the engineering report which the council had said it would release but failed to do so.

April 14: A Mayoral update signalled a range of projects WCC believed could be ready for construction in 6-18 months. These included Civic Square without any mention of the Central Library.

April 30: A press release issued by the WCC about a “Rates Rise Of 5.07%” specified a “new central city library network” but failed to explain the inference that the Central Library was to be replaced by a network of small libraries around the city.

Concerns are further heightened by information on the WCC website that the “future of the Central Library is part of the Council’s bigger Te Ngākau – Civic Precinct redevelopment programme of work” and this would incorporate issues such as “finding options for the Central Library building” and the “development of a strategy for future library services that will meet the needs of our community”.

ICW requests urgent clarification and assurance that this means ensuring continued use of our existing central library building.

Apart from the Town Hall, St James Theatre, and the city’s new Convention and Exhibition Centre multi-year projects, the draft Annual plan makes no mention of the Central Library. Instead, under Social and Recreation Key Projects, it refers to a “Central City Library Network”.

While the public continue to clamour for information on the library, it appears the Council is determined to lump the library into a “redevelopment of the Civic Square” without acknowledging public concerns and requests, or consulting on its future.

The Central Library should be the council’s first consideration, with any further development of Civic Square being tied to the library, just as it will be tied to development around the strengthened Town Hall.

ICW ask for a clear and unequivocal response from the WCC that our Central Library will be strengthened, and a date given for remediation work to begin.

Inner City Wellington represents residents, organisations and property owners who live, own and operate in the central city community.


  1. Tania, 5. May 2020, 10:39

    I miss our public library. The boys and I often went every two weeks to choose books and videos. I occasionally would listen to music while at the library as well as taking CDs home. Now we rarely go. The temporary library in town is not child friendly. You can’t choose a children’s video to watch – you have to order it. It’s not the same, it’s squished, nowhere near as user friendly. Our central library needs to come back ASAP.

  2. michael, 5. May 2020, 11:13

    Well said ICW. All we want is our library back. WCC: just strengthen the building NOW and organise any other flash plans you are considering to be done in stages when the city can afford them.

  3. judy siers, 5. May 2020, 11:44

    Perhaps, if the WCC would put their cards on the table, openly discuss the options, and show resolve and determination to reopen the library, some benevolent fairy god-parents might emerge.
    There are many examples of Wellingtonians who have given generously to the city. Most recently is Mark Dunajtschik’s Children’s Hospital in Newtown, and Susan Price’s gifting of Chevening in Kelburn to Heritage NZ.
    The procrastination about finding a solution to the demise of our city’s much-loved Nikau Central Library is depressing and disrespectful to its loyal users. Wellingtonians deserve better. It’s time to think of positive pathways for the future.

  4. Love the library, 5. May 2020, 11:47

    This is all so very depressing and sad. They make it seem as if nothing will happen for years, if ever, as they find it all too difficult and have put it in the too hard basket. 🙁

  5. Sam Donald, 5. May 2020, 12:07

    The Wellington Central Library is one of Wellington’s best buildings and every possible effort should be taken to retain it for current and future Wellingtonians to enjoy. While the project may not yet be shovel ready, what should be fast-tracked is the Council’s decision to restrengthen it as a matter of urgency. $ spent on local structural engineering and geotechnical expertise will stay in our community, as will most of the construction costs. Talk of redirecting the construction of the recently commenced convention centre to become a new central library is flawed as the location is inappropriate. Civic Square has the potential to be one of New Zealand’s finest public spaces and a revitalised library should be a key component of this.

  6. Adrian, 5. May 2020, 12:08

    Remind me again who the WCC is supposed to serve?

  7. Al, 5. May 2020, 12:11

    I miss our central library! A jewel in the crown of our city. An important part of our intellectual and cultural life. We need it sorted ASAP. Just terrible how this fiasco drags on and on. Come on WCC!

  8. Marie Burke, 5. May 2020, 12:16

    Please bring our library back. Strengthen it as soon as possible and make it a priority before other developments not patronised by as many people as the library was and should be.

  9. Sally, 5. May 2020, 13:15

    The Wellington Central Library was great! We want the library we had returned to us. So WCC – do the right thing! Just get on and do the strengthening that is required, ASAP please.

  10. Penny, 5. May 2020, 13:56

    Reopening the library should be top priority

  11. Ellen, 5. May 2020, 14:06

    We want our library back.
    Agree with ICW that we need to hear what the options are now, and get on with providing a full size public library that Wellingtonians can use.
    The Annual Plan should address this so please make a submission on it.

  12. Suan M, 5. May 2020, 14:11

    The Wellington city council is looking at a ratepayers’ revolt, if the Central Library is not prioritised, especially under current trying circumstances. To walk past every day, with lights burning on all floors yet devoid of any human presence, reinforces the inadequacy of the current council membership to achieve for the greater good.
    Get over the vanity projects and internal bickering and focus instead on the environment and basic human necessities.

  13. Ken, 5. May 2020, 14:21

    ICW’s request for information from publicly-funded consultants’ reports is completely reasonable. How can we respect decisions that are made without access to the evidence base? If a decision is too difficult for councillors to make, it seems like a good opportunity for a Citizens Assembly to be given a trial.

  14. Richard Scales, 5. May 2020, 14:36

    WCC has a golden opportunity, right now, to fast track the re-opening of the Central Library. T
    Let us, by whom I mean our councillors whom we elected to serve us, forget who dithered about replacement v strengthening, cast aside past loyalties and factional differences, and do what the we are paid to do – make carefully considered decisions and then act upon them.

  15. BrooklynBrooklyn, 5. May 2020, 14:50

    I miss Central library so, so much. This article makes me want to scream with rage. Instead, I am crying.

  16. Richard May, 5. May 2020, 14:56

    The lack of transparency about not only the Central Library but also about details of the so called master plan for the civic centre gives rise to conspiracy theories. I remember the former CEO of the Wellington City Council stating that he was not in favour of central libraries. If this was his agenda, then it is playing out with the so called “new library network”. The city has no spare funds to embark on a fancy civic centre project in the next 5 years without ramping up rates which is politically unwise. Therefore proposals to repair the library to an acceptable level that would last for 10 years should be on the table as suggested by architects and engineers who have good experience of these types of structures,

  17. Lesley Maxwell, 5. May 2020, 15:17

    Our priority is our Library, our Library, our Library. WCC please get on with it.

  18. Andrea Skews - Karori Residents Association, 5. May 2020, 15:18

    I think this stinks of fast tracking a plan for their own gain. I feel there is a plan to use the library for council purposes and they simply don’t want to tell the public until it’s a done deal. The engagement and communication in current local govt is non existent.

  19. Michael Gibson, 5. May 2020, 15:26

    Comments about our rights to see the evidence about the library are spot-on (thank you, Ken). Consultation on the Annual Plan starts in a couple of days’ time and I will be quoting the Local Government Act 2002 where section 82 gives as the first of the Principles of consultation: “that persons who will or may be affected by, or have an interest in, the 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”.
    I also plan to quote from the Twelve Principles of Consultation quoted in OEWU v. Telecom 1993:”there must be sufficiently precise information given to enable the person to be consulted to state a view etc.”
    Because of the lack of information from the WCC I have already asked O.I. questions in order to become informed, and encourage others to do the same.

  20. Pauline Swann, 5. May 2020, 15:57

    Back in May 2019 in the DomPost Professor Goulding of Victoria University said Wellington could look at a number of libraries including Christchurch’s recently rebuilt one for direction. Christchurch’s library had “given people hope that their city is coming back” and there was a good mix of quiet reading spaces and technology heavy ones. Professor Goulding believed a large central library is still needed in the city. “There are economic benefits for having a large multipurpose site and it’s a matter of civic pride as well.”

  21. Peter Kerr, 5. May 2020, 16:25

    What are O.I. questions? [Official Information Act]

  22. Pseudopanax, 5. May 2020, 16:36

    Reopening the Central Library should be given the same priority as fixing a broken sewer pipe. It’s an absolute scandal that it was closed … another example of the Earthquake Industry doing the damage before a quake has even happened. The tyranny of Project Fear has destroyed so much of our heritage and has robbed current and future generations of many buildings and iconic architecture. We are about to witness the demolition of Wakefield Hospital to add to the depressing long list. If the new “Seismic Guidelines” show “even though it was not technically earthquake prone,” why not let the thousands who want to use it decide for themselves. Put a note on the door: “Enter at Your Own Risk”.

  23. Brendan, 5. May 2020, 17:33

    The big money decisions seem to be beyond the ability of the council. They don’t agree on most things and when they do it is usually a minor ‘no brainer’.

  24. Dave Bond, 5. May 2020, 18:09

    Adding my name to the demand that the council fix the library. Pronto.

  25. Tom White, 5. May 2020, 18:15

    I visited Wellington Central Library, my favourite building in Wellington, 3 to 5 times a week. For many years.
    So it is personal. It was about the access to literature, but it was about a whole lot more – including enjoying a free/lowcost place that welcomed everybody and that offered a wonderful combination of public and private space. I tautoko all the above comments.
    Why would WCC councillors let this running sore continue? It reflects so poorly on them all.

  26. Geoff Palmer, 5. May 2020, 18:39

    I was told by Cr Iona Pannett that spending $100m on the library would be wasteful because it could be underwater in 50 years time due to sea level rise. Apparently, the Town Hall ($112m + $20m contingency fund) and the Convention Centre ($180m and rising) — both just down the road from the library — are exempt from sea level rise.

  27. Barbara H, 5. May 2020, 18:55

    I think it is disgraceful that the WCC is not being seen to be doing something to get the Central Library up and running again. How can a city NOT have a library! Get on with it!

  28. Andrina, 5. May 2020, 19:22

    The WCC instead of squabbling and infighting should get its act together and strengthen the iconic Central Library. For over a year now thousands of citizens have been deprived of a wonderful asset.

  29. Peter S, 5. May 2020, 19:58

    So we will get both the Annual Plan (rates increase) consultation and Central Library report this month. We need to hammer those councillors (metaphorically of course), so they are in no doubt about how the people of Wellington feel. Just so you know, their emails and phone numbers are publicly listed (on the WCC website). Time to contact them directly. You can’t trust them all to be looking at websites such as this.

  30. michael, 5. May 2020, 20:37

    The claim that the library will be under water in 50 years is bollocks considering the WCC has actively supported the Shelly Bay development (right next to the sea), the town hall, new buildings on the wharf, and they are looking at strengthening the waterfront markets! For heavens sake stop all the pretence and just get the library open as it is NOW = one million visits per year says it all.

  31. Northland, 5. May 2020, 21:10

    Yes the Council is unable to make timely decisions. Yes they seem unable to communicate adequately. Yes they seem unable to brook any level of perceived risk. And yes, unfortunately, they are not taking any notice of forums like this. The only thing that will get noticed is the sound of the next ballot box.

    Surely there is a ‘Save the Library’ community group? There must be. If the ‘Basin’ is good enough, then how much more worthy the Central Library?

  32. Liz, 5. May 2020, 21:21

    We want a Library. Not a conference centre. Do you hear the people.

  33. Pablo, 5. May 2020, 21:21

    In the interim try some of the great suburban libraries, Karori is an outstanding example.

  34. Henry Filth, 5. May 2020, 22:06

    Once upon a time, things happened in Wellington: Civic Square, the Central Library, Midland Park, the list goes on.
    What happened that nothing happens?

  35. Sean, 5. May 2020, 22:09

    Pablo, branch libraries no more offer an alternative to the central library than a petrol station forecourt shop provides an acceptable replacement for a quality supermarket. A branch library holds well less than 10% of the volume and variety of the central library and every branch duplicates the same meagre stock.

  36. Wellington Inc, 5. May 2020, 22:41

    Save the Central Library! Looking after the people who live in Wellington is more important for the local economy than attracting visitors. We need a rethink of the council’s strategy

  37. matt, 5. May 2020, 22:54

    Absolutely disgusting that it has taken this long and still no answers on the library. Once again the WCC are showing little regard for what the people of Wellington want in their city. Our councillors should listen to the people they are supposed to represent.

  38. Jonno, 6. May 2020, 0:14

    Surely it’s cheaper to upgrade than to dismantle and rebuild from scratch?
    I’d prefer if we just keep it – it’s a landmark and an institution.

  39. Alan, 6. May 2020, 7:25

    Look how many years the Town Hall lay empty before work finally started. Procrastination is the name of the council’s game it seems. It doesn’t appear to matter who is elected, the same mentality exists with every newly elected group.

  40. Nicola Kirkup, 6. May 2020, 7:45

    Why has the convention centre still not been canned? If there ever was a viable business case for it there certainly isn’t now.

  41. Dame Fiona Kidman, 6. May 2020, 9:15

    Libraries date back to the 7th century B.C. They are a central and essential part of cultural life, the first point of reference for readers and researchers, throughout the world. Many capital cities have fine and beautiful built for purpose libraries. Wellington has one too, although it is not in use. It is a place where,in the past, people flocked to its fine reference sections, students sat with heads bent over their assignments, books at hand, children listened to and discovered stories,hard-up people had access to computers, in short, a hive of literacy and learning. Without access to our building and its resources, we are reduced to being a shabby little town without a heart. Is this really what WCC wants? Its not what I want. I want whatever work needs to be done undertaken with alacrity and our library re-opened and restored to us.

  42. Concerned Wellingtonian, 6. May 2020, 9:28

    The very worst proof of councillor incompetence is that they are proceeding with the convention centre without making any decision on reopening the library.

  43. Bev Marshall, 6. May 2020, 9:46

    It would be a tragedy to lose this central part of Wellington life – the Central Library is essential for education, relaxation, new experiences, social life, children’s development, culture and community.

  44. Andrew, 6. May 2020, 10:03

    As a long time Wellington resident (born and bred), I am increasingly disappointed (and embarrassed) with both our city councillors and WCC officers over the lack of commitment and progress on reopening our iconic Public Library. I, along with hundreds of fellow Wellingtonians, attended a public meeting last year to hear a panel of experts describe options to strengthen the building to enable its reopening. The City Council needs to urgently inform the ratepayers and the public of their plans and intentions.

  45. Michelle Reid, 6. May 2020, 12:13

    I feel this ongoing closure very personally. I looked forward to my weekly visits to Wellington’s central library so much and was incredulous after reading of its closure literally one hour after I’d borrowed books.That was 14 months ago. 14 months!! I can understand the need for expert engineering assessment. What I cannot forgive is the lack of WgtnCC disclosure to us – the public who elected you to act on our behalf. I urge all councillors to listen to the increasing public clamour to get this building back in use as a priority. It is a cultural & social hub for us all and we sorely miss it!

  46. Dr Sea Rotmann, 6. May 2020, 12:47

    Hear, hear, dear Councillors – hear your community tell you loud and clear that we want OUR Central Library back, and not having you waste OUR money on a Convention Centre that was always dependent on fantasy forecasts for visitor numbers from overseas – now that ship has truly sailed, put OUR money where WE need it. 100% agree with Dame Fiona Kidman just how utterly important access to libraries and books is – especially for the most vulnerable in our community, who have increased manifold due to this pandemic. This library is an ESSENTIAL SERVICE.

  47. The O'Donnell Family, 6. May 2020, 13:18

    We miss the library so much. Excursions into the city with the kids always included the library. At lunchtimes during the working week I could go pick up books for myself and the kids and even grab a coffee, have meetings, get printing done.
    It was a great place to bring kids when they were babies on cold wet days or days when our flat got too cold and we could hang out read books and keep warm. I had a mental list of handy places I could go and breastfeed and change nappies…the library was top of that list. It was more than just a place to get our books from. And we are so sad it’s not there anymore. It’s like the city has lost its heart.

  48. Peggy Klimenko, 6. May 2020, 14:28

    I agree with ICW: the Council must be upfront with ratepayers about its intentions regarding the Central Library. The contents of the Elwood report must be made public: we the ratepayers have paid for it, after all, and we’re entitled to know what conclusions have been reached.

    “new central city library network”
    What the hell is this? Wellington already has a network of branch libraries: what it needs urgently is to have its Central Library reinstated. In the Civic Square.

    “even though it was not technically earthquake prone it gave WCC cause for concern that there were significant vulnerabilities with the building that need to be addressed”
    So: there was no urgent need to close it in the first place. Let’s be having it reopened, then. The citizens can decide for themselves whether they wish to take the risk of using it. In my view, the Central Library is as essential to the city’s proper functioning, as are water and waste pipes, decent roads and carparks. Please, WCC: treat us with respect; take note of our perspectives, and give us back our Central Library.

  49. Hannah Gower, 7. May 2020, 12:37

    The city library is an essential part of what makes Welllington – a place where people value literature, music and culture. Something outside of shops and consuming and a place that is friendly to people from all walks of life. Wellington is not the same without it.

  50. Wellington Inc, 9. May 2020, 17:58

    50 comments so far, all giving good arguments in support of saving the Central Library. Why haven’t any councilors contributed their views? The silence is deafening! [Comments are now closed, as our system has reached capacity.]