Wellington Scoop

Saving the Library? First: draft proposals and practicable options

by Lindsay Shelton
We’re told that today’s meeting of the Wellington City Council is to “expedite” decision making on the future of the Central Library, after last week’s meeting was postponed for a week, to get more information and advice.

The informal five-page paper prepared for today’s meeting claims there will be an “expedited process and timeline.” But I’m not persuaded.

Consider the fact that last week staff were proposing public consultation starting this month and ending late in August. Does the new plan expedite this consultation? Well no. The new plan is for consultation in August and September.

Unless I’m getting it wrong, this is a delay – not even starting to consult till the month when it was originally meant to have been completed. And finishing more than a month later than originally planned.

So if consultation isn’t being expedited, what else?

At today’s meeting, which starts at 1.30, councillors are being asked to support

the preparation of a Statement of Proposal ….. to outline the reasonably practicable options, their advantages and disadvantages of each, high level indicative costs and the Council’s preferred option.

As staff will be writing the report, it’s a reasonable guess that staff will be deciding what will be the “reasonably practicable options.” There’s no mention of councillors being enabled to participate in this choice.

The staff are also today asking councillors to add $2m to the 2020/21 Annual plan “to fund the completion of detailed engineering and architectural design and costings and the initiation of an appropriate procurement process.” For the preferred option? Or for all the reasonably practical options? They don’t make this clear.

But it does seem that the councillors won’t get to participate, till staff have chosen what they consider to be reasonably practicable options … and only much later in the year councillors will be allowed to choose a preferred option. A slow move towards getting the Central Library reopened, and painfully slow progress to enable councillors to represent the public’s concerns about this.

Staff explain the need for $2m:

Regardless of the option eventually chosen to house Central Library services, there is considerable work that needs to be undertaken before construction can commence. In order to better understand the benefits/risks and detailed costs of any of the building remediation, service upgrade and refurbishment schemes, it is necessary to have (as a minimum) developed design for each work package.

And further:

Currently, we have concept structural designs for three potential remediation schemes and a condition assessment for the building services, however we have no concept design or even scope for any potential refurbishment of the building … The design process is a major contributor to the … ‘critical path’ for this project, in that it is time intensive and without it, the next phases of the project cannot commence. The proposed process brings forward several streams of work, relating to the design that can be applied across several construction scenarios for the current library building. This design work will mean that once a decision is made on the building solution, the project will be sufficiently advanced as to reduce the overall project timeframe by between six to nine months from what was set out in the officers’ report to Council.

They’re referring to the report given to last week’s meeting, where discussion and decisions on the Library were postponed. The report gave three options, which I summarised before the meeting:

The most expensive option – for 100 per cent resilience – was estimated as costing $200m. The actual strengthening cost was however only $133m, with the remaining $67m being spent on building services and new fitouts. The mid-range strengthening cost was estimated as $151m, but it turned out to be $89m, with $62m for building services and fitouts. And then there was an even lower estimate for strengthening of $36m, which would ensure that the floors were held securely in place. (And to this total, staff wanted to add $54m for building services and fitouts.)

Because the meeting was postponed, councillors didnt get to discuss these options. Today we may find out if they are the ones favoured by the staff. And there should be time given to discussing the fact that last week a leading architect said the estimates were “ludicrous” and a structural engineer said they were “unacceptable.”

And what’s the timeline for the new expedited process?

Don’t hold your breath. The staff want to be given a month to write the Statement of Proposal. Then sometime in July they want to have a council workshop where councillors will discuss their draft proposal. And then at a council meeting on 21 July, staff intend that councillors should adopt the statement of proposal. With the delayed public consultation to follow.

It won’t be till October that councillors will be allowed to choose their preferred option.

The October decision is to be followed in November and December by detailed project costings. The costs will have to be added to the Long Term Plan. Which means: more consultation in March and April next year. With the project and its funding not being finally confirmed till June next year.

Then … tendering will take three more months. So don’t expect any work to begin till the end of next year. That is, if councillors can decide what they want for the Central Library. And if the money can be found.

As for the public’s clearly stated wish to have the Central Library reopened as soon as possible. The timeline of the expedited process ends with the start of construction. Not a clue about any reopening.

Unique and irreplaceable? So when will it be reopened?
Library estimates “ludicrous … unacceptable”


  1. Concerned Wellingtonian, 3. June 2020, 9:25

    The words “informal five-page paper” describe the material perfectly. It is a disgrace, unsigned, undated, not suitable for serious consideration by any self-respecting statutory authority.
    No wonder that the WCC prefers to discuss stuff behind closed doors without the public present.
    Finally, let me say that councillors should be properly briefed by senior officers about their duties and these include conduct at meetings including such things as raising Points-of-Order where we saw a very young councillor allowed to go astray a month ago. Councillors, please insist on higher standards, better advice and attributable reports from your officers.

  2. wendy, 3. June 2020, 9:33

    Where is the public in all of this? Why are they being consistently ignored. Why even consider spending huge amounts of money on council staff proposals without authentic public input at the start – not the finish! No way is this genuine public consultation, it is just WCC pushing their agenda to limit public choice. Little wonder the public are frustrated and have no confidence they will ever be heard.

  3. Sarah Romans, 3. June 2020, 9:47

    Please bolt the floors onto the walls quickly and reopen the ‘heart of the city’. Then later at leisure consider the base isolator matter which might require another quick closure, carefully planned.
    The lack of the central library has been so sad over the last two months, when Wgton needed to be showing itself to be caring for all citizens.

  4. Peter S, 3. June 2020, 11:50

    A major flaw in council processes is that public consultation is always done at the end of the planning process, rather than at the beginning. The public consultation on the central library should have started the day after it was closed last year. For major issues like the library, the public consultation should be long, widespread and use multiple methods, like surveys, public meetings (with councillors), social media etc. Not just some boring link from the WCC website. Now a whole year has been lost!

  5. michael, 3. June 2020, 12:58

    Why can’t this council just fix the building as other building owners in Wellington have done, and leave all the fancy upgrades for a few years until we can afford them.

  6. D'Esterre, 3. June 2020, 14:49

    I am right now listening to the Council meeting. It’s as if we the citizens do not exist, and our forcefully-expressed opinions do not matter at all.

    I regret to say it, but it looks to me as if the councillors are – yet again – kicking the can down the road. Less talk, more action, say I. Any chance of that? Lord: was that a pig that just flew overhead?

  7. Sue Esterman, 3. June 2020, 18:55

    Fix the damn building so it can be reopened. Forget about upgrading it inside, let us just use it. Then take all the time you need to work out if we need a new one, in the future.

  8. Northland, 3. June 2020, 19:42

    I agree D’Esterre I think the Council and staff are ignoring this website at the least, and like the crew of the Titanic, they are just sailing on regardless.

  9. Michael Barnett, 3. June 2020, 19:58

    The response to the Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquakes has been a gross overreaction and Wellington is suffering badly. The central library is a wonderful building in the right location. Forget all the consultation and requests for more reports. Get on and fix what is needed and open it up with out further delay. Get on and do it. That’s what the people are asking for.

  10. Hilary Phillips, 4. June 2020, 12:49

    Am I missing something here? Why has the WCC taken so long to even begin to discuss the Central Library? Why are they being so patronising towards the public? Why haven’t they fixed it already, if it needs fixing? Why are they talking about expensive upgrades now? What the hell’s going on?
    When the Library was closed last year, I was away overseas. I immediately emailed the Council, asking what their plans for repairs and reopening were, and was told there weren’t any plans.. What? This is the most used public amenity provided by the Council, and they had no plans for it?
    So now they’ve finally started talking about it, but that’s all they’re doing. No public consultation, no real information – just lots of our money spent on more talking..
    Why are the mayor and councillors being so obtuse and obstructive about this? Just what’s going on? Are we all missing something here?

  11. Alana, 4. June 2020, 16:16

    The work continues on the unwanted convention centre – unwanted I think by most people in Wellington if we had been given a say on it – but nothing has been done to rebuildthe Central Library in over a year. Why doCouncil staff have such power when councillors are elected to make decisions about priorities? The library should be right behind the Town Hall and St James in the priority queue.

  12. Rumpole, 4. June 2020, 19:15

    Hilda and I are both unimpressed by just one developer being given exclusive sole rights to the convention centre site. The City Council needs to be held accountable for this improper favouritism and extravagant expenditure.