Wellington Scoop

$200m strengthening for Central Library, with base isolators, preferred by councillors

After a debate of more than two hours, Wellington city councillors today voted that their “preferred option” for the Central Library is the $200m plan (option C) to strengthen the building using base isolators. This option, with four others, will now be part of two months of consultation, to see if residents and ratepayers agree. Councillors also voted today to keep the Library in council ownership.

A move by Cr Fleur Fitzsimons to have the cheapest plan (option A) chosen as the preferred option was defeated. She said a spend of $200m was unrealistic at a time when the city was facing many other challenges. The cheapest option would also reopen the Library more quickly than the other proposals. But Cr Diane Calvert said this plan would bring the Library to only 49% of NBS “and you can’t sell apartments at 40%.”

A move to have the mid-price plan (option B) chosen was also defeated.

A move by Cr Calvert to have the Central Library demolished and rebuilt as the preferred option failed to get majority support. “When we decide what the new library service will be, then a new building will best fit this – it could be ten storeys to provide for council offices,” said Cr Calvert.

Cr Jill Day said the council would “end up in court if we want to demolish the Library.” She could not support demolition of a building that was only 30 years old. Cr Iona Pannett agreed, saying the Central Library was an iconic building, and the work of one of the city’s greatest architects. Cr Jenny COndie, who supported the Calvert motion, said consultation would show “if heritage people are a vocal minority.”

Councillors also voted today that council ownership of the Library building will be maintained, regardless of the final choice for strengthening. They supported an amendment from Cr Day that any discussions with the construction industry would be done “while maintaining council ownership of the building”. “Civic Square is about the people and we need to make sure that the people feel ownership in that,” she said.

Cr Rebecca Matthews said the possibility of privatising the building needed to be ruled out. Cr Teri O’Neill said: “It would be insidious to privatise the heart of the city.”

Councillors spoke against developers being given a favoured position in the consultation process. “It must be a public consultation,” said Cr Pannett, “including librarians.”

The $200m preferred option supported by councillors today was recommended by council staff.

News from WCC
Today Wellington Mayor Andy Foster and Councillors voted on a number of amendments on the proposed Statement of Proposal on the future of the Central Library.

“Wellington is facing a number of significant challenges but also exciting opportunities to invest in the long term future of the city. This includes our Central Library service, which is why I want the fullest public consultation possible,” says Mayor Foster.

“The Council’s preferred option is to remediate the building to a highly resilient level, which would see the Central Library serve our communities for least the next 50 to 60 years, and reduce the risk of further disruptions which frustrate everyone if we were only to partially remediate the building.

“Today’s debates focused on a number of amendments and views. Councillors were free to express their views, which they did. My objectives going into today’s meeting were to ensure we approached the discussion and consultation with an open mind and arrived at an agreement to launch the public engagement and consultation process.

“The final Statement of Proposal will be released next Monday and kick off a six-week consultation process. I encourage everyone to read about the options and get involved with the consultation events,” says Mayor Foster.

“Knowing how vital the Central Library service is, I am pleased how quickly we moved to set up three interim CBD branches,” says Councillor Fleur Fitzsimons, Portfolio Leader Libraries. “Te Awe Library in Brandon Street opened last week and is receiving great feedback from people using it. These three libraries are ensuring people can continue to connect, and access our services in the CBD, until we can make decisions about Central Library. Over the coming weeks there will be a series events to join, and conversation to take part in, so come along, share your views and tell us what is most important to you about our Central Library.”

The preferred Option C proposes remediating the building to the highest level, including base-isolation. Option C would provide the highest level of safety for people using the building during, and immediately following, a significant earthquake, and reduce the likelihood of significant, costly repairs after an earthquake, or additional strengthening to meet building regulation changes.

Under the Statement of Proposal the Council has to provide all practicable options for the public to consider, along with any options that were discarded. The public can recommended any of the options provided in the Statement of Proposal, including those ones which were discarded.

“The Council and our community need to weigh up cost, speed of delivery and level of resilience. No option can deliver all of those, so there will need to be trade-offs that our community has to consider and, give us their views so to inform the final decision in October,” said Mayor Foster.

Public consultation and engagement will run between Monday 27 July and Monday 7 September. Next Monday we will launch a consultation webpage for people to find information, ask questions, sign-up to receive regular updates, and find out how to share their views. We will also hold Speaker Events, Planning for Growth Tiny House pop-up information kiosk, and Library branch events from mid-August. More details will be available at www.letstalk.wellington.govt.nz/central-library from Monday.


27 July – 7 September 2020: Public consultation and engagement

22 September: Oral hearings

27 October: Council decision on option to go into Long-term Plan

October – March 2021: Detailed engineering and architectural design work on preferred option begins using funding allocated in the 2020-2021 Annual Plan.

March – April 2021: Long-term Plan consultation

June 2021: Long-term plan confirmed including final decision on the future Central Library; tender process for work to begin on preferred option.


  1. wendy, 21. July 2020, 15:40

    But isn’t this all just ‘smoke and mirrors?” I wasn’t at the meeting but have just been told that consultation can still include the “options not proceeded with…” So, regardless of what councillors vote for, nothing is really off the table where the council is concerned.

  2. Codger, 21. July 2020, 16:05

    “It would be insidious to privatise the heart of the city.” This is such a clever way of putting it, Cr O’Neill.

  3. Jackson, 21. July 2020, 16:32

    It’s a shame the video and audio kept dropping out as I’d have liked to hear more of what was discussed today. [The Zoom meetings during lockdown were much more successful with both clarity of sound and image; today’s distant single-camera image was most unsatisfactory and several of the microphones seemed to be failing.]

  4. Pseudopanax, 21. July 2020, 17:50

    Wellington City Library and ratepayers held hostage By the Earthquake Industry; $200 million ransom demanded and WCC agree to pay up.
    Please, quickly … wake me up!

  5. Guy M, 21. July 2020, 19:46

    Congratulations to the Council for their decision today -Option 3 (full strengthen) is the only really sensible decision they could make, and it took a lot of political willpower, but I’m sure that in the long term, it will be perceived as the right decision. Options A or B – only partial strengthening – are just plainly short-sighted and I’m glad the Councillors could see to refuse those options. Options D and E – equally unsatisfactory to me – I’m surprised that Councilors Calvert and Condie proposed and supported those options, but then perhaps they were only putting up a straw person to see if there was enough / any support. As Condie says, the Heritage/Athfield lobby will have to see if the rest of the city really do care about the existing building as much as they do.

  6. Peter S, 22. July 2020, 0:38

    Hang on, am I missing something here? We have councillors voting on a preferred solution, but a day or two ago we had councillors being intimidated by lawyers for expressing opinions on their preferences. The supposed reasoning for silencing councillors was because they are duty bound to listen to the wishes of ratepayers, rather than “influencing” public opinion. But the full council is allowed to vote for a “preferred” solution, and that’s not influencing the public?
    While a fully EQ strengthened, and refurbished, central library will be a great asset for Wellington, the way the decision will be arrived at is typical of what’s wrong with local government. The council elite and their collaborators decide what’s best, the councillors get told what to vote for (instructed by council officers as to a preferred option), and then the public get consulted. Completely back to front to how things should be. Someone please tell me if I am wrong.

  7. Tom, 22. July 2020, 2:43

    Does anyone know how many unique visitors went to the Library each year? [The council reported more than a million visitors a year, or more than 3000 per day, at the Central Library.]

  8. Lindsay, 22. July 2020, 9:16

    Re the possibility of privatisation, here’s what the council said in a media release in July last year:
    Despite speculation, the Council is not in discussions with any third party around partnerships or deals relating to the future of the building. It’s much too soon to be having those conversations. Much too soon?

  9. Sarah Free, 22. July 2020, 9:38

    The advice from our CEO [yesterday] was that Councillors could rule out selling the Central Library building and that’s exactly what we decided to do. There’s still a huge lot of work to do with our communities to be confident of the way forward so please do have your say! [via twitter]

  10. Rebecca Matthews, 22. July 2020, 9:43

    A very good thing that happened yesterday! Keeping our precious library public. [via twitter]

  11. JohnnyH, 22. July 2020, 10:40

    My problem with Option C is that it includes delivering “new and enhanced services”, “modernising how it works as a library” and “exploring partnerships”. Note that these are absent from Option A and largely absent from Option B. These “opportunities” almost certainly means fewer books, reduced reference collections, stack collections going into off-site storage, more Te Papa-esque empty space and a fair swag of the library being handed over to the Museums Trust to be given to Capital E who I suspect are champing at the bit to move in. Option C supporters should be careful what they wish for.

  12. Marion Leader, 22. July 2020, 13:14

    Councillor Free, if the CEO said yesterday “that Councillors could rule out selling the Central Library building” why did you have any part in letting officers table a report saying the opposite?

  13. Ross, 22. July 2020, 13:34

    I still believe the $200m was put in there by WCC officials to scare everyone into their option of demolishing the library so they could get a new one like Christchurch.
    There is no way a strengthening process should cost 50% more than a demolition and rebuild.

  14. wendy, 22. July 2020, 15:02

    Absolutely agree Ross.
    And, when explaining the estimates for a new building the council officers have stated that “as no concept design has been developed, the cost estimates provided are based on industry square metre rates for a “reasonable quality building”. I question whether “reasonable” meets the standard of design they are considering – only need to look at the convention centre!
    Also, as part of their estimate we do not know if this includes base-isolators (the cost of which seems to far exceed “reasonable quality” costing”). We also do not know if the estimate for the new build includes demolishing and removing the current building.
    All of this needs to be out in the public arena now to ensure people are fully aware of what has actually been included in the $160 million.

  15. Mavis, 22. July 2020, 16:01

    As I said before, I just want to go to the Library some time soon. I remember the musty place of my early childhood where librarians wore long skirts, their hair tied back in a bun. We weren’t allowed to talk in there. Silence reigned. So did cardboard catalogue files. How different from the modern only-30-year-old Library which the Council has broken into pieces and is not being reopened for years.

    By the way it’s great that Council has decided to retain ownership of something we already own! But does that decision prevent a “Transmission Gully “ like public-private partnership? I think the officers and mayor still want that. Will that be put out as an option for funding? I bet they won’t tell us.

  16. Tom, 22. July 2020, 23:10

    Shouldnt ratepayers be told how many unique visitors a year were using the library, before a $150 – $200 m decision is made?

  17. Guy M, 23. July 2020, 14:39

    Mavis – your comment that “I remember the musty place of my early childhood where librarians wore long skirts, their hair tied back in a bun. We weren’t allowed to talk in there. Silence reigned.” will have thrown a hand grenade into the Librarian community. While there may be some Librarians still with their hair in a bun and wearing musty long skirts, my understanding is that they would run screaming from the Library vision that you present. Throw out the musty skirts and let down that hair out of your bun. Take off those horn-rimmed glasses and put on some Jimi Hendrix, encourage the children to come in and read a book or do some Lego. Have fun. Electric Ladyland rather than old lady shushing land.

    Library visions of today are that they are an information exchange – a place of learning by doing rather than sitting quietly and primly in a corner. The Council is taking this opportunity for a once in 30 years revamp of the interior, not just in the bookshelves but in the systems of information-finding, not just in the architecture and the structural engineering but in the social engineering of our society. The new Library will blow your musty old skirt and bun away.

  18. Max, 23. July 2020, 18:53

    Aah GM. Mavis was describing 80 years ago. This is now: our modern 30 year old library in the city’s heart is empty with not one of our classy sassy helpful librarians inside. What a waste of a good building designed by a bunch of the best architects in Wellington and the country and providing an excellent and always evolving service.