Wellington Scoop

Strange days

phoenix woollongong

by Lindsay Shelton
What a strange year. “Our” Wellington Phoenix moved to Australia and we were all sent invitations via twitter to watch their games in Woollongong. Not that we could actually travel there. There was however no immediate sign that they were planning to become the Woollongong Phoenix.

For almost all of us, domestic flights were the only possibility, if we felt a yen for travel. And we’ve accepted the need to wear masks on planes. But not on buses or trains.

We haven’t adjusted so well to the need for covid scanning. Every time I paused to scan at a shop entrance this week, several people have hurried through the doors without stopping to register.

We received an invitation from the city council which reminded us of what we had lost by the closing of the Central Library – the temporary book warehouse in Johnsonville was opened to the public:

Looking for some special summertime reading? On the hunt for that perfect picture book? Or maybe you’re missing all those classic graphic novels? We’ll be opening part of our Te Pātaka Collection Centre to the public for a pre-holiday exploration. You’ll be able to browse and borrow books from select parts of our off-site storage collection, including fiction, Large print, graphic novels, teen fiction, children’s fiction and comics and picture books

But it was one night only. And browsing was limited to sixty minutes. No such restrictions when we had a real Central Library, open for unlimited browsing every day of the year.

Te Papa opted out of curating a summer exhibition and handed control to the Wearable Arts people – who created a show with 38 garments for an entry price of $22.50. A WOW dinner with a drag show was sold out – somewhat stretching the credentials of the national museum.

convention centre rising

The Convention Centre started looming, across the road from Te Papa. We remain divided between those who don’t believe there’ll be many conventions, and those who believe all sorts of new activities will be found for the white elephant.

crane over town hall

A crane was installed through the roof of the Town Hall.

Wellington Town Hall strengthening project

And we saw some photos of what was happening inside – proof that strengthening is actually being done, at last. There’s no doubt that when the Town Hall reopens – ten years after the slow-moving council closed it – it will be in real demand. Sadly missed, like the Central Library.

No strengthening however for the 1950s Municipal Office Building next door. Its structural level didn’t measure up to the demanding new standards. So councillors have supported demolition. Leaving an unanswered question about who will pay to replace it, to provide the classrooms and office space that are promised to VUW for the National School of Music that it is to be attached to the restrengthened Town Hall.

A private developer has been mentioned. We haven’t been told who, though suspicious locals remember that the $150m Convention Centre deal was done without a tender. We’re still waiting for details of what deal is being discussed, on our behalf – though the excuse of “commercial confidentiality” will probably be brought out again to keep everything secret.

Anyway, it’ll be years before the Music School arrives in Civic Square. In the interim, surely the council has someone on the staff who’s imaginative enough to create some daily activities in the abandoned space.

Most of the staff are no doubt preoccupied about balancing the budget. They told councillors that a 23 per cent rates increase could be needed next year. Councillors haven’t said what they think about it. Have they been shocked into silence?

Well, no. Most of our councillors in fact say very little about Wellington. As Benoit Pette pointed out, not one councillor said anything when the Airport announced it would be taking 50 per cent of the adjacent golf course and asphalting it for parking planes.

Wellington.Scoop does however publish occasional opinions from councillors – Jenny Condie and Diane Calvert have been willing to write several times about what they are thinking. Teri O’Neill wrote once. And the mayor, too, once or twice.

Andy Foster has also tried a new way of communicating. But few people know about his Mayoral TV – it’s a YouTube channel where there are 42 videoed mayoral reports. The site has three subscribers, and only two of his reports were seen by more than twenty viewers. Can I encourage Andy to write some more for Wellington.Scoop, where we can bring him to the attention of thousands of people every time. (We set a thirty-day record of more than 100,000 pageviews during the year.)

Communications have been one of this year’s failures for the council-owned Wellington Water. After criticism of its long silences, it spent $354,000 on hiring PR consultants, who brought a brief period of information which flowed at the same time as sewage was flowing into the harbour and water was flowing into the streets.

No surprise at the response from the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union:

“Instead of pipes, Wellingtonians got press releases from highly-paid spin doctors. It’s no wonder rates bills are expected to spike across the region. Wellington Water’s spend on PR contractors for one year was the equivalent of that year’s entire rates bill for around 130 households. This is a disgraceful waste of ratepayer money that was sorely needed to deliver core services.”

No such troubles with personal communications – we’ve all learnt to communicate via zoom calls during the strange days of this strange year. We’ve also learnt about the efficiency of home deliveries. I’m still getting my Supreme coffee beans delivered – freight free – in elegant brown cardboard boxes. Within two days of ordering them online, they’re in my letterbox. I’ve learnt to shop on line too – it’s equally easy and efficient. (Not books … I’m talking about Barkers).

But there’s no need to have meals delivered any more. And there are no restrictions on unlimited browsing at Unity Books. Let’s hope that our government’s world-leading anti-covid policies will continue to keep us as one of the world’s most open societies.


  1. Traveller, 24. December 2020, 16:09

    Strange indeed. The council moves the Central Library into a warehouse in Johnsonville, and then opens it for one night only with restricted time for browsing. Bring back the Central Library in the centre of the city.

  2. Max, 25. December 2020, 8:07

    Of course don’t forget, on top of the Library book warehouse in Johnsonville there are three Pop Up Library locations within the central city: Arapaki on Manners Street, Te Awe on Brandon Street (access also from Panama Street) and He Matapihi within the National Library.