Wellington Scoop

The law and the Library

book shelves in Library

by Andy Foster
Our Central Library is hugely missed by so many of us, a place to go, to be, without cost or expectation, a place to learn, a place to find adventure in the pages of a good book, a place that added life to Te Ngakau Civic Square – the heart of our city. There is strong demand ‘to just reopen it.’

Problem is the Council cannot ‘just reopen it’.

The 2016 Kaikoura quake was massive, but it was 200 kilometres away. It didn’t damage the Library, but it did cause significant damage to the Civic Administration Building right next door, constructed with similar methodology. The CAB remains the subject of ongoing discussion with Council’s insurers, and has not been occupied since.

Our advice is that it was just the angle of the waves from the earthquake that determined which building was damaged. It could equally have been the library. Thankfully we had recently removed the portico which joined the two buildings together.

The Statistics building on Harbour Quays had floors collapse in the quake. Several other city buildings were also damaged and subsequently demolished. Parliament’s Bowen House is undergoing strengthening as are others.

Every one of these buildings was constructed using precast concrete floors. These floors sit on ledges. The simple fact is that in the event of a major quake there is (high) likelihood of the walls moving, meaning the floors could become unsupported. That could be catastrophic in a building with 3000 plus visitors a day, as well as Council staff and CAB and café workers. Reopening requires doing something (major) first.

Because of its significance that also entails a public consultation and decision-making process first, which I’ll cover shortly. Councillors and I will approve a Special Consultation Process and Statement of Proposal on Tuesday. That will allow everyone to have a say.

So what are the options? Let’s start with what we want to achieve:

Get the /a library open as quickly as possible

Ensure the library is life safe in an earthquake

Ensure the library building itself survives an earthquake – so the building is reusable

Minimise costs to the ratepayer

In addition we should consider whether the library building can relate better to Civic Square.

We should also consider how to modernise the actual library service. If you haven’t visited our new Waitohi (Johnsonville) library, or Christchurch’s Turanga, I encourage you to do so. We will ‘build back better’.

Finally the plant (heating, ventilation, AC, plumbing etc) in the building is mostly now 30 years old and most of it in need of replacement regardless of what we do.

There are several different options, and multiple variations on those options. Every option has pros and cons. Broadly the options under active consideration are to strengthen the existing building to varying degrees, or construct a new building either on the existing site, or elsewhere in Te Ngakau Civic Square.

Other options are mentioned but haven’t been expanded on in the officer’s paper for the 21st. They include:

1. A disaggregated model. Essentially several smaller CBD libraries, building on / expanding what is now in place with this week’s opening of Te Awe (Johnston/Panama Streets), following on from Arapaki (Manners St) and He Matapihi Molesworth (located in the National Library), with some less used stock now warehoused but accessible in Johnsonville. This model wasn’t included because of the difficulty in costing it, but would undoubtedly be the cheapest option. It would also enliven a number of parts of our Central City and potentially be more accessible than a single site, but clearly wouldn’t add so much to Te Ngakau Civic Square, even if one of the smaller libraries were located there.

2. Building a single Central library away from Te Ngakau Civic Square was also not assessed in detail because of the difficulty of locating a suitable site, costing such a proposal, and determining how long it might take to deliver. Creative feedback will be welcome on any options.

3. Undertaking minimal strengthening now, and then doing further work ‘in a few years when funds might be available.’ This was discounted because it would involve another future lengthy closure, and probably the need to find and fund another temporary CBD library network.

How do the potential proposed options respond to those 7 outcomes?

First thing is that cost numbers are at this stage based only on preliminary information. For the existing building that is based on the engineering information fully available on the Council’s website.

Those costs will become more accurate with developed design and further with detailed design, and of course finally tendering and agreeing a contract. I am particularly interested in the feedback from engineering, architectural and construction sectors who will undoubtedly be able to make helpful suggestions which might save ratepayers’ money.

For the purposes of comparison, a new building is assumed to be the same size as the existing library, though if a new building were chosen it could clearly be of the size necessary to accommodate the library, or the library plus additional (office) space as the current building does.

One aspect is that roughly a 1/3rd of existing Central Library stock had not been borrowed in at least 2 years. The paper quite sensibly notes that, and the possibility of holding such stock in a lower cost building outside the CBD, as we are currently doing with the bulk of the CBD stock.

Decisions will likewise need to be made about the internal layout and space allocation should the existing building be retained.

What is clear is that every option has pluses and minuses. In essence the more resilient the building, the greater the cost and the longer the delivery timeframe, regardless of whether it in a new or the existing building. You will note that costs have ranges. They are derived only from high level concept designs at this stage.

central library costs 2

(*The estimated one off increase in average residential rates, noting that this would be sustained at that level over the life of building)
(#These will be inevitably indicative, but reflect risk of increasing seismic standards impacting on building life. Personal view is that we in New Zealand should be expecting buildings to last longer)

Why not just decide on an option and get on with it?

The answer lies in the Local Government Act (LGA), the most significant piece of legislation giving Councils wide ranging powers, and imposing commensurate responsibilities.

The legislation is there for obvious reasons. You may be passionately in support of a particular approach to the library and consider that obviously ‘everyone’ thinks the same way. However, judging from even the most initial feedback, our community has a wide range of views on this as on many significant issues. We need to allow people to express those views, and the law says we must do that. Imagine if we just made some other significant decision because we knew ‘everyone’ wanted that, but which you passionately disagreed with.

I would encourage everyone to read the LGA – sections 76 – 83.

Section 76AA and 76 say in effect that the Council has to identify significant assets and services, and when making decisions about them needs to engage with the community to a level commensurate with the significance of the decision. The library service, Civic Square and the dollars involved are all clearly significant. They are of a level that our clear advice is that we must undertake the ‘Special Consultative Procedures’ set out in the LGA (section 83).

Section 77 says Councils must identify all the practicable options and assess them all in terms of their advantages and disadvantages. We are required to have a proposal; that is a preferred option at the outset. The key point is that the proposal may well change as a result of public feedback. That is eminently possible in this case regardless of which is the preferred option at the outset.

Section 78 says Councils must ‘give consideration to the views of people affected by or likely to have an interest in a matter.’ Section 78 doesn’t compel consultation. Section 76 certainly does when significance is considered.

Section 79 talks about the detail of information to be considered.

Section 80 talks about consistency / inconsistency with other decisions /policies of the Council.

Section 81 says Councils must provide opportunities for Maori input.

Section 82 is complex but essentially says Councils have to provide interested and affected parties (the wider public in this case) adequate information, adequate time to consider that information, encouragement to provide feedback to Councils, and Councils must receive that feedback and give it due consideration – with an open mind (clause 1 (e)) Just in case you wonder why Council doesn’t consult extensively on every minor matter Clause 82 4 makes clear that all of this is subject to consideration of the significance of the matter. Essentially this requires a common sense consideration of the scale of the matter versus the cost / time involved in consultation.

The ‘open mind’ requirement is particularly important, and elected members can find themselves unable to participate in decision making if they go too far before or during the consultation process.

Section 83 sets out the specific requirements for the Special Consultation Procedure.

In short – Subject to a decision about the significance of a matter, the Council must consult, must consider all practicable options, must provide all relevant information, must provide the time to consider it and encourage feedback, and must do all of this with an open mind. Elected members can most certainly argue a position but must remain open to the possibility of changing their position in response to public feedback and additional information.

This is about good process. Failing to undertake the process properly risks our Auditor’s wrath, meaning having to do it all again, or the possibility of legal challenge.

We are all very keen to get on and make a decision. We so greatly value our city library services.

That’s why the Council moved with speed to set up what are now three interim libraries across the Central City. That is also why we are undertaking this special consultation now, allowing a decision at the end of October, and not waiting until the Long Term Plan consultation and a decision at the end of next June. It is also why we have allocated an additional $2 million in the just approved Annual Plan to do further design work this year, in advance of the Long Term Plan funding decisions in June next year, so as to speed up delivery of the finally agreed option.

This will be an important decision.

I encourage all Wellingtonians to take an interest, make a submission from the 27th of July. Can I also ask, that in the spirit of being all in this together, you also take time to read all the material, ask questions rather than making assumptions, listen to the views of others who have different views, and consider them thoughtfully, and with the open mind your elected representatives are required to have.

Andy Foster is Mayor of Wellington

Read also: The rumours (about the Library) are true


  1. Helene Ritchie, 19. July 2020, 14:08

    Andy. The Council is putting the public through an unnecessary tortuous consultation (twice according to the consultation document, not once) and thereby delaying the re-opening by years.
    The Council’s Engagement Policy (P.32, para 96) quotes the Local Government Act 2002 and it is clear that fixing the library, and maintaining our public asset, does not require extensive consultation. You clearly have based this requirement on the assumption of a major capital spend, that the $200 million will be pursued, or demolition and new build. Deciding to pursue this has enabled the significance policy to be enacted, and then the most expensive option to be the officer’s preferred option.
    However, all of that is behind us because the Council despite its own policy, has made the decision to consult. So, instead of getting on, fixing it and reopening, the Council has decided to blind us all with five options including demolition; varying ways of financing including selling it; preferential consultation with developers; and to put us through a tortuous consultation with a range of red herrings, before we can get our library back.
    There will no doubt be huge public opposition to selling it and leasing back, privatising, or demolition. I would never accept that and I would hope you would not. We just want it fixed, reopened and maintained by the Council whose job it is.

  2. Max, 19. July 2020, 14:20

    Hi Andy. If you look at Council records you might see that the Council was advised to fix the CAB before the Kaikoura earthquake. It failed to do so. But that has got nothing to do with the Library, or has it? Do developers have their eye on that too? Is that why it was emptied of Council staff, with the Council now beholden to a lease from PWC in their Terrace building? Is that why the insurers have not come to the party for four years? Lots of questions to be answered there … Could you please tell the public the intentions for the CAB.

  3. Jackson, 19. July 2020, 16:38

    ‘Get the/a library open as quickly as possible. Ensure it is life safe in an earthquake. Ensure the building survives an earthquake – so it is reusable. Minimise costs to the ratepayer.’
    Is this one of those ‘pick two’ scenarios? How do you design and build a solution that will survive an unknown event, quickly and cheaply?

  4. Guy M, 19. July 2020, 19:28

    Thanks for the article Andy – really appreciated that we live in a city where the Mayor can sit down and calmly and rationally set out the issues before the public. And thank you too for Scoop for providing the platform to enable this to happen.

    I think I’m quite clear in my mind already that I’d like the WCC to go full bore on the Option C – High Level Remediation – its the only option for me. But also, it is a really small cost to each ratepayer. Another approx $86 per year per ratepayer – is only $1.65 per week, which is less than a third of a cup of coffee – for most of the city’s ratepayers, that’s very affordable and really good value. I want the city to proceed as fast as possible: we need our library back. The current Manners Street pop-up Library is just not a viable long-term option.

  5. Peter S, 19. July 2020, 19:33

    The public consultation should have started the day after the Library closed. Instead, we have lost a year waiting for the engineering reports, which we didn’t need to allow public engagement to begin. The costings that have been delivered after a full year could have been easily estimated by any competent engineer, since there is vast experience with strengthening buildings in Wellington.
    The opaqueness over the fate of the CAB building is also of major concern. As mayor, you should be driving for resolution of this, rather than hiding behind statements like “remains the subject of ongoing discussion with Council’s insurers”. More info please!
    Finally, you can forget about any notion of privatising the Library in any way, shape or form. That will be met with full resistance from loyal Wellingtonians. The only outcome from public-private partnerships is that the private concern always walks away with the money, and the long suffering ratepayer or taxpayer ends up paying more.

  6. michael, 19. July 2020, 21:58

    Curious how the council starts broadcasting their accountabilities under the local government act when it suits them to do so.

  7. Andy Foster, 19. July 2020, 22:54

    Thanks all for the comments so far. Please make submissions when the consultation process opens.

    Helene – I disagree with you. Even the cheapest option is $75 – 90 million, which is not in our budgets. It is significant, and the law is clear. We must consult. There is also no proposal to sell and lease back.

    Max – I am not aware of any such report on the CAB unless it related to the former portico which linked the CAB and library. That was of course removed a few years ago, which may well have saved the library from significant damage. The CAB is not occupied because it is damaged, no more no less. There is no conspiracy involved, just Mother Nature. We are still in discussion with the insurers. Just ask some of the good folk of Christchurch how long that can take.

    Jackson – you ask the right question. If there was an easy answer – cheap, quick, resilient – that would be the obvious way to go. Unsurprisingly there isn’t. Like so many things in life we as a community will have to weigh these things up.

    Guy – thank you for as always clear, constructive and thoughtful comments, and please make a submission.

    Peter – I disagree that consultation could have started the day after closure last March. I agree the last Council could have been quicker to get the engineers together Which took until September, but we needed to have some reasonable design concepts and prices. The engineers’ report and QS took roughly 5 months including Christmas, then Covid has slowed progress from the original early April. I want to get on with making a decision and getting work underway as soon as possible.

    As I noted in replying to Helene, sale and leaseback is not an option being considered by the Council.
    CAB – there is no more to say at this stage.

    Kind regards, Andy

  8. Helene Ritchie, 20. July 2020, 11:08

    Good to hear Andy that the option in the latest report to councillors, where council staff say a developer “may be willing to purchase the existing library building, remediate it and lease council the space,” is not being considered by the Council and has been now been ruled out by you. So is it also ruled out in the special consultation with developers? ( Recommendation 9?).

    We need better clarification regarding any other public private partnership proposal that might be intended by the Council to fund this project.

    It is clear that the public want the Council to retain public ownership of the Library.

  9. michael, 20. July 2020, 11:58

    Andy, you claim sale and leaseback of the Library is not an option being considered by the council. Then why are council officers now, according to the Statement of Proposal, going to spend time and money seeking “an expression of interest, supported by a design brief, to explore what this section of the community thinks about the options presented and how they may be able to contribute”?

  10. Concerned Wellingtonian, 20. July 2020, 12:00

    Have councillors been told not to worry about selling the Library or will they have to wait until tomorrow to find out?

  11. Polly, 20. July 2020, 15:43

    Max Rashbrooke writes in the DomPost:
    “Councillors … should not privatise the building … This isn’t a question of ideology. It’s simply the wrong way to harness the city’s commercial energy, and would work out badly for ratepayers … The city council needs to restore our wonderful library. a beautiful piece of civic life, from a position of strength … The council needs complete control over it.”

  12. Traveller, 20. July 2020, 16:30

    The ‘disaggregated model’ is a terrible idea. It completely misses the point that the Central Library is (or was) the heart of the city. Doesnt deserve even to be mentioned.

  13. Helene Ritchie, 20. July 2020, 17:20

    Guy M. You say you prefer Option C – the most expensive option and one which would not reopen the Library till May 2025 at the earliest (without cost and time overruns. That means the Library would have been closed for at least six years. Option C will not meet our mayor’s stated criteria of “Get the library open as quickly as possible … Minimise costs to the ratepayer.”

    Option A is the only option that meets all of the mayor’s criteria stated above. It is the most cost effective option and the only one which would reopen as early as possible – November 2023. (A Council-commissioned engineers’ report states that Option A would achieve earthquake safety status, 60% of a new building, not the 40% NBS stated in the officers’ current report to the Council.) In any case, we all know of new buildings, strengthened to 100% and more, where damage from earthquakes has occurred.

    By the way, the Library survived the Kaikoura and Seddon earthquakes without damage. Gordon Moller, one of the architects of the library, amplified this at a public meeting last year.

  14. Northland, 20. July 2020, 20:37

    Just get it done. It is not going to be a good look carrying this into the next Council elections. The public won’t be very forgiving to see the Library closed for 3 years and more.

    Guy M, much as I would like to agree with you, it’s not just this expenditure that ratepayers are being asked to fork out for. There’s the Covid 19 fallout, the burst pipes and the spending around the Convention Center all adding up to a massive rates bill. There’s also the very valid point that you could sink another $200m into a fancy new Central Library and have the engineers come along in 10 years time and declare it once again earthquake prone for another as yet unseen and unanticipated type of new earthquake.

  15. Guy M, 21. July 2020, 8:13

    Northland – no, you’re scaremongering about matters that you are probably not a specialist on. If the building is base-isolated, that is the world’s best quality protection against seismic activity, and a system that I think you will find has not failed a building ever since it has been installed. I think it is the sort of system that will cope with earthquakes up to a 1 in 2500 year earthquake (engineer’s calc, not mine) – so it is simply untrue to say that it may be declared earthquake prone again in another 10 years. Buildings in Japan near the epicentre of their massive quake in 2011 that were fitted with base isolators survived the quake. Others did not.

    And Helene Ritchie, I’m surprised at you for advocating for a low-quality result. Option A is a poor substitute for the full Option C. Let me put it this way: Wellington is on a major fault line and many buildings will collapse when the big one comes. That’s not an IF but a when. We don’t know when: our best chance of survival as a city is to have major public buildings like the Library base isolated.

    For far too long New Zealand has been saying “she’ll be right, mate” when it comes to public safety and the time has come for us to put that shoddy Fred Dagg era thinking aside. Every large building in Wellington should, where possible, be installing base-isolation. Every new building bigger than a house (ie 4 stories and above) should be installing seismic protection like base-isolators or other means of slowing down the destructive acceleration effects of large seismic waves. It’s time for us to wake up and stop messing about with half-cocked measures. Do it once and do it right.

  16. michael, 21. July 2020, 9:15

    Guy, what is wrong with taking the more cost effective approach and just strengthening the building and base-isolating it without the huge additional costs associated with massive changes to the inside and outside of the building.

  17. Mavis, 21. July 2020, 9:21

    Every building in the city above 4 floors base isolated! Sounds like jobs for the boys. I just want to be able “to go to the Library” as we used to say in the good old days.

  18. Guy M, 21. July 2020, 13:49

    Michael and Mavis – the more cost-effective approach (ie adding angle supports to the edge of each concrete hollow-core plank in the floor slabs) will get us our Library back quickest, I agree. But it does not guarantee a building for the rest of our lives. Mavis – seeing as you and 3000 other people a day want to use the Library, all year round, I think the WCC has taken the right step – we need the building to be made really safe. Yes, it will create jobs for the boys (and girls) and that is, coincidentally, what we will need in this post-Covid world. More speed by Council would definitely be appreciated by all – not just in closing, but in reopening buildings as well.

    If you want to read more about Base-isolation on buildings, may I suggest that you get a copy of my book Tall: the Design and Construction of High-Rise Architecture (published by Routledge, 2019) – it’s available at Unity Books, Vic Books, Amazon, and if we had a Library, it would be available there too.

  19. D'Esterre, 22. July 2020, 14:04

    Guy M: Northland has a point. The science of engineering and earthquake strengthening techniques are a work in progress. What’s gold standard now may well be outdated in 10 years’ time. Moreover, both percentage NBS – and NBS itself, of course – are moving targets for obvious reasons.

    “Helene Ritchie, I’m surprised at you for advocating for a low-quality result.” I’m surprised at this comment. Low cost doesn’t entail low quality, as any engineer would point out. Ritchie is correct: the Council could have opted for strengthening as per option A. Indeed, had it just remediated the floors, (as recommended in the Holmes Group’s report of 2013), instead of Council staff’s gold-plated option, it would not have been necessary to invoke the LGA, on which the mayor is relying.

    Unfortunately, Council did nothing until last year. And – q’on dit – the rest is history.

  20. Guy M, 24. July 2020, 14:18

    It is exhausting to have to keep on relitigating this point with people, but let me try this once again. Yes, of course engineering and earthquake strengthening techniques keep on developing and improving – if you have been reading the conference proceedings of the NZSEE ( https://www.nzsee.org.nz ) and SESOC ( https://www.sesoc.org.nz ) for the last 2 decades as I have, you will know this is true. Earthquake Engineering continues to evolve. However, cela aussi est vrai – base isolation is currently the “gold standard” and even if new technologies come to pass that better it, a building completed properly with base isolation remediation will stand the test of time.

    If a large quake strikes our city, large buildings without base isolation will fail, and will have to be demolished. It would seem only sensible that if you are going to strengthen a building to last another 50 years, that you equip it with the best system – not just a patch-up and make-do solution.

  21. michael, 24. July 2020, 18:55

    Guy M: Hopefully you won’t be exhausted for much longer. I suggest most of the public are happy to have the library base-isolated but consider there is no need to spend $200 million to do it. The council clearly have their own agenda regarding the library and that involves a lot more than just strengthening it.

  22. Jonathan meikle, 24. July 2020, 19:11

    If base isolation is such a great option, what may I ask happened to the Defence building in Thorndon? While it’s great to have a Library in our city, what were the numbers using it and wouldn’t a smaller building suffice given 1/3 of the books hadn’t been used in a year? [The Library had more than a million visitors per year.]

  23. Guy M, 25. July 2020, 11:20

    Jonathan Meikle – you ask a good question “what may I ask happened to the Defence building in Thorndon?” A report on Stuff back in 2017 at the time of the decision to demolish – originally noted that the building was base isolated, but now that record advises that “This story has been updated to remove suggestions the building may have been built on base isolators.”

    So it appears that the building was NOT built on base isolators, but it does leave open the question of what / exactly how the building performed, and why it did not perform as well as a modern building should. During demolition, the concrete columns showed spalling had occurred and the concrete beams had numerous cracks at the junctions with the beams. Again, this is an argument FOR base isolation – the building would still be existing and occupied today if it had base isolators.

    Regarding the number of books used in a Library – I’d just like to point out that books are often used as a reference source and are not necessarily “taken out” ie enter the record as having been borrowed. I regularly use the Library at Victoria University of Wellington but rarely check the book out – usually just go there to check some information in a book, make a note of the relevant info and then place it back on the shelves. Highly valuable books are used many times like this as reference sources – they don’t necessarily need to have been issued.

  24. michael, 25. July 2020, 12:21

    Guy M – I agree with you re the number of books used in the Library but not issued. I have spent a lot of time there (along with many others) browsing reference books without taking a book out. Unless you know exactly what you want to read, one of the greatest pleasures in a library is being able to physically browse through books, which often leads to other areas of interest. And going by the number of people I see doing this (both young and old) I am clearly not on my own in this.

  25. Pauline, 25. July 2020, 15:14

    Agree Michael, as I said at the Council last Tuesday I used to spend a lot of time browsing reference books and checking newspapers from around the country. Also enjoyed a coffee at Clarks sitting above the children’s library watching them all enjoying themselves.