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Council votes for plan to sell part of Central Library building, to help pay for strengthening

library vote

Wellington.Scoop
A majority of Wellington City Councillors today voted for a plan which would enable the council to sell part of its Central Library building to private investors.

The proposal, from Mayor Andy Foster, would allow part of the building to be sold to private investors to set up a public-private partnership, enabling the upgrade, already approved, to go ahead on time. The Library was closed in March 2019.

The council will retain ownership of the section of the building used for library purposes.

Nine councillors voted in favour to “note the proposed capital program exceeds the debt to revenue limit of 225 percent and options such as rephasing and reducing the program need to be considered”.

The motion will go out for consultation under the long term plan and will be voted on again at a later date.

RNZ reports that Andy Foster said “thinking creatively” was the only way to deliver the reopening of the library on time and under the council’s targeted debt level.

“We will still own our library. We are not privatising our library,” Foster said. “There’s obviously some office space … the landlord of that office space might not be council. If you think it is the most important thing that the council owns office space that is leased out … maybe you can say let’s buy it back when we can afford to do so.”

The idea was good governance, he said. “You can create a controversy about it if you want to but that will be because it suits politically, not because it is good governance.”

NZ Herald: Mayor ploughs ahead with plan for part privatisation of Central Library building.
DomPost: Amendments to amendments of amendments

Earlier report from Wellington.Scoop
The DomPost reported this morning that Wellington Mayor Andy Foster has a plan to sell half of the Central Library building to private investors.

Damian George reports:

It’s understood Foster will table the proposal today at a council meeting to discuss his draft 10-year plan, as he attempts to work out how the council can pay for mounting infrastructure repairs across the city over the next decade.

The DomPost quotes Wellington City councillor Fleur Fitzsimons, who holds the council’s libraries portfolio, as saying that the mayor’s proposal contradicts a vote against privatisation last July.

“The council has made a decision that the central library shall remain in public ownership, be strengthened, and opened. We need to own the decision and get on with implementing it.

“Selling the public library building is not the answer to the city’s financial woes, it may be appropriate for other buildings in Te Ngākau Civic Square, but not our public library.”

In the NZHerald, Georgina Campbell quotes a statement from Mayor Foster when the council voted against privatisation last July:

“We are not going down that track as far as I can see and I don’t think there is any appetite in council to do that.”

Earlier this week the DomPost reported the possibility that strengthening and reopening the Central Library might be delayed by up to three years. But it quoted the mayor as saying this should not be allowed to happen.

50 comments:

  1. Dave Armstrong, 18. February 2021, 9:33

    Breaking: The privatised Wellington Central Library will be called Transmission Library. It will be a public-private partnership. It will open on time and it will come in under budget, unless it doesn’t, and it will not be bailed out by the ratepayer, unless it is. [via twitter]

     
  2. Helene Ritchie, 18. February 2021, 9:51

    The Central Library could have been fixed and opened 8 years ago when engineers commissioned by the staff recommended this in a report which was never presented to the Council. It was never damaged by an earthquake (according to one of original architects who stated this at a public meeting in 2019), contrary to a the myth perpetuated by the Council in the recent consultations. It could still be fixed and opened for about a quarter of the cost of the ‘nice to have new build’ library project voted by the Council, if that is no longer affordable. (What has changed in the few months since that vote? The fiscal challenges must have been known by the Council then.)

     
  3. Dan Henry, 18. February 2021, 10:01

    Can’t we sell the Convention Centre instead? [via twitter]

     
  4. Toni, 18. February 2021, 10:36

    Dan it is highly unlikely that anyone will see the convention centre as a good investment. It is going to cost us millions each year to prop up, while the council drops things like free swimming for under 5 year olds to save $120,000/year, and advertises for “creative storytellers” to tell us how well they are doing.

     
  5. KT, 18. February 2021, 11:02

    He’s surely not proposing to sell the library, I’m sure he means selling the four floors of office space above it; it was occupied by the WCC and it doesn’t need it. Why not create the opportunity here? Before we spin out. [via twitter]

     
  6. Max Harris, 18. February 2021, 11:08

    This is a terrible idea – part-privatising the Central Library – which I thought had been ruled out. Privatisation opens the door to higher fees, with money that should be reinvested in the library being paid to shareholders. Let’s keep the Wellington public library public. [via twitter]

     
  7. Steve W, 18. February 2021, 11:48

    So he’s trying to keep most of the books “off the books”?

    Ironic.

     
  8. Half pie, 18. February 2021, 12:22

    Here’s a brilliant idea: Public facilities are for the public … Now that’s so novel! Since when do we ratepayers pay rates for private sector benefit? Remind me – Convention Centre, waterfront land for buildings, Shelly Bay, Singapore Airlines etc etc…
    What are my rates for? Rubbish? Oh no I pay for that on top of my rates.
    Do not privatise the library or even half privatise it. Just fix it and open it.

     
  9. Rebecca Matthews, 18. February 2021, 12:59

    Mayor also moving a 40% reduction in library resources budget for next two years. Fewer books.

     
  10. Anne Goulding, 18. February 2021, 13:05

    Public libraries are a public good and should remain under public ownership. The public library is one of the last truly free public spaces left in communities; the privatisation of this vital public space would be detrimental for the people of Wellington. [via twitter]

     
  11. Ray Chung, 18. February 2021, 13:15

    I made a submission to Council on the Central Library that it be sold to a private developer with the proviso that the lower floors be reserved and leased to the WCC in perpetuity for the Central Library. To me, this is a win-win solution as the city still gets its library without the risks and expense of developing this. The developer can make their profit selling or leasing the upper floors and the council gets an income from the rate revenue. Wellington City has an excellent cash flow through rates so is better off paying this through OPEX as opposed to CAPEX where the council needs to borrow to fund this. Jill Day said then that the council doesn’t like selling its property because it doesn’t have much, but then two weeks later she voted to sell council land at Shelly Bay. A councillor, I think it might have been Fleur Fitzsimons, asked why I’m proposing that a private developer builds this rather than the council, to which I replied that the council has an abysmal record of developing buildings on budget. Just take the Town Hall and St. James Theatre as examples. I stand by this proposal and support Andy Foster for proposing this.

     
  12. Blue van, 18. February 2021, 13:19

    Do you really think they are proposing to sell the library part of the building and charge for membership/borrowing? It will be the office part. 40% less over two years, fewer books? Yeah, makes sense because there is no where to put them until the library reopens!

     
  13. Half pie, 18. February 2021, 13:26

    Rebecca thanks. What are your proposals to reduce the rates, fix the pipes and ensure affordable housing? 40% book reduction sounds nearly half pie, but then most of the books are hidden in the back of Johnsonville so this might even be progress? Anyway are you going to fix the library in an affordable way so that we can use it again and soon? When?

     
  14. Claire, 18. February 2021, 13:34

    If you sell the office areas of the building, that’s fine. A few floors could be owned and run as the Library by the Wcc. The convention centre should also be sold – no problem having that run privately. Having fewer books for a year or two is no problem, I like this attempt to save money.

     
  15. Wattheheck, 18. February 2021, 13:34

    Well here we go again. Public Private Partnerships have been mooted since Local Government reform of January 1990. A few have tried and most found to be an avewit; to my knowledge only one actually benefitted the partnership. The on going saga of Transmission Gully should serve as a warning.

     
  16. michael, 18. February 2021, 13:52

    As far as I can tell, the WCC has failed to meet the criteria set out in the Local Government Act:

    (1)The purpose of local government is—
    (a) to enable democratic local decision-making and action by, and on behalf of, communities; and
    (b) to meet the current and future needs of communities for good-quality local infrastructure, local public services, and performance of regulatory functions in a way that is most cost-effective for households and businesses.
    (2) In this Act, good-quality, in relation to local infrastructure, local public services, and performance of regulatory functions, means infrastructure, services, and performance that are —
    (a) efficient; and (b) effective; and (c) appropriate to present and anticipated future circumstances.

     
  17. Toni, 18. February 2021, 14:22

    Can anyone explain why we are paying $1.3 billion to LGWM for years of expensive consultation and reports with no results (apart from 30km speed limit in the city). Now WCC has forked out for a “health check” by consultants who state that LGWM is at risk of failure while the Mayor says it has not delivered what Wellington wants.
    And yet, as the council starts focusing on public services and how many they can dump, the Mayor continues to support LGWM. Surely this funding should be withdrawn and put to far better use until there is a much more proficient and functional strategy in place for Wellington transport.

     
  18. Louise Aitken, 18. February 2021, 14:24

    Why not look for better options than just selling?! Putting critical assets into the ownership of the communities that benefit from them is very common. It is called Social Enterprise / Community Enterprise. Akina Foundation
    is happy to help to show how this could be done. [via twitter]

     
  19. Half Pie, 18. February 2021, 14:33

    Claire. What’s civic about our civic centre right now? Nothing! How about returning the Council to the upper floors of the library ( after it has been fixed and reopened. Oh no! The Council has locked itself into a rental lease contract with the private sector – PWC on the Terrace? So now it needs to sell off half the library to pay the private sector to make sure our civic centre stays clear of anything civic? The Council’s logic sure beats me.

     
  20. Ray Chung, 18. February 2021, 16:04

    The council’s logic defeats me too! I don’t know what others think but I go down to the Johnsonville library every week and there are fewer books there than there were in the old library. I can always find new books to borrow so it’s not a big issue, but where are all the books from the Central Library? Andy’s wish to reduce the library budget by 40% doesn’t tell us much. Will this mean fewer books bought and do we already have books that we’ve bought but haven’t displayed yet or will this reduction mean some other saving somewhere? For example, why is the old Johnsonville library on Moorefield Road sitting empty? Why doesn’t the council rent this out and make some money out of it? It always seems it’s easy to criticise someone else’s ideas but you need to come up with some way of saving money instead of suggesting ways of spending more. [The books from the Central Library are stored in a warehouse in Johnsonville.]

     
  21. Rebecca Matthews, 18. February 2021, 17:57

    Vote to support sale of half library building and cut book buying budget by 40% passed, but I didn’t vote for it. Will go into our long term plan for consultation. [via twitter]

     
  22. Fleur Fitzsimons, 18. February 2021, 17:59

    All is not lost: we can stop privatisation of the Library & get stronger commitment to cycling in the end if we hear this is what Wellingtonians want, please make sure you make a submission peeps, one thing I will say about local govt is campaigns work – just look at living wage! [via twitter]

     
  23. Kara, 18. February 2021, 18:03

    Forget building the convention centre. Yes I know the foundations are down, but redesigning the structure that sits on top will be a good move. What is urgently needed? Housing. What is NOT urgently needed? A convention centre.

     
  24. Peter Kerr, 18. February 2021, 18:10

    “Will go into our long term plan for consultation”.
    But, of course. What else would we expect? We waste our time voting for this constipated organization. A new citizen’s assembly (or whatever you want to call it) is overdue.

     
  25. michael, 18. February 2021, 20:19

    I see no reason for having elected representatives when they do not represent us, so why should we pay for them, or have to put up with them?

     
  26. Pseudopanax, 18. February 2021, 20:58

    Fleur; Does that mean you will listen to your constituents’ strong campaign in Newtown against blanket Type 4 zoning across the suburb as proposed in the Draft Spatial Plan?

     
  27. Northland, 18. February 2021, 22:35

    I submit that Wellington City Council need to stop wasting money. As mentioned by Helene, the Library could have been strengthened more than adequately for a fraction of the cost that is planned. LGWM could have been pared down to the office cleaner and achieved about the same results. The Convention Center is a needless frippery. Can they please stop treating ratepayer money like it grows on trees?

     
  28. TrevorH, 19. February 2021, 7:20

    Governance in Wellington has hit a new low with a deeply divided Council that seems unwilling to face up to the enormous infrastructure deficit that has been created through irresponsible spending, particularly over the past decade. We urgently need commissioners to save the city.

     
  29. John, 19. February 2021, 9:38

    Wellington governance is a joke. Please get commissioners before this group do more damage. Also need Statutory Manager to handle the management.

     
  30. KT, 19. February 2021, 10:03

    I know we are meant to be up in arms that a proposal to consult on selling part of the library building is going to be consulted … but … if we are talking about the four office levels, and if they were converted to apartments … why wouldn’t we look?! [via twitter]

     
  31. Claire, 19. February 2021, 10:34

    I am not up in arms. I agree with not owning a building. Or part of a building. Or even just renting floors for a WCC run library.
    KT yes how about some apartments. That would give a European style of more people in the CBD after hours, stimulating retail and hospitality. Aiming for that in Lambton Quay also.

     
  32. greenwelly, 19. February 2021, 11:50

    Given her vote to support this and to reduce the Library collections Budget, one imagines that Deputy Mayor Sarah Free’s Green Party library card must be in danger of being cancelled.

     
  33. Claire, 19. February 2021, 12:52

    I would be concerned by the $45 million to be spent on cycleways that has been proposed. This surely cannot be a priority in the next three years at least. Many more people flush the toilet, and drink water than cycle.

     
  34. Julienz, 19. February 2021, 13:12

    As long as we have a library for which there is security of tenure and a locked in annual occupancy cost, then who owns the building seems irrelevant. What is wrong with the library floors being leased to the council for a 999 year lease at a peppercorn rent with the right for the private owner to let out the higher floors as offices or apartments at market rates.

     
  35. John Rankin, 19. February 2021, 14:12

    If the office space above the central library is surplus to WCC’s requirements, it would be lower cost and lower risk to knock down the existing building and just build a new base-isolated library. Say $100m or so. Did WCC consider this option?

    @Claire: a central library able to hold a large book collection and provide other modern library services is a special-purpose building. Unlike general office space, it’s not a commodity, so it makes sense for WCC to own a central library building. A private developer would love to own and lease out a central library building on Civic Square, because it would have a captive tenant, unable to move elsewhere.

    If WCC sells the floors with office space, it will be up to the new owner whether to keep these as offices or convert them to apartments. This will be solely its commercial decision. I agree with other commenters that apartments (in a newly base-isolated building) could be a good idea, but I don’t think WCC ought to be telling the purchaser what it can do with its new asset. WCC’s interest is in getting the highest price for the asset it is selling.

     
  36. Dave B, 19. February 2021, 15:42

    @ Claire, your disinterest in cycleways and your disapproval of spending money on them is acknowledged. But what is your answer to improving safety for the growing number of cyclists? 1) Do nothing – it’s the cyclists’ problem? 2) Actively deter cycling on the roads and suppress its growth? 3) Reduce speed limits and on-street parking for motor traffic to make the roads safer? 4) Spend a tiny amount of money (compared to what gets spent on roads) to create safe cycleways? What would you do?
    If you are really concerned to cut spending in other areas to free-up money for things that are urgent, how about campaigning for less rates-money to be sucked-up in maintaining our gross overdependence on cars.

     
  37. Claire, 19. February 2021, 16:20

    HI Dave. I have always thought an off road cycle route may work. This would be a main off road route. It could go through parkway the green belt etc. And with some of the route along quiet streets with no need for an actual cycle way there. It’s not the time to spend a lot on it. Also some rerouting of traffic in the CBD, so narrow minor streets could be entirely used for a cycle route. This is only my opinion and not meant to be annoying. I don’t cycle. I do use public transport.

     
  38. Ray Chung, 19. February 2021, 17:00

    There are so many good comments here so I’m not sure where to start but the first one about base-isolation. Despite people who use this saying it’s the beginning and end of earthquake protection against earthquakes, it in fact only minimises the effects of some earthquakes. If you take the Christchurch earthquake as an example, having base isolators here would have made little difference. Sure, buildings can be designed and built to minimise as many different types of earthquakes as possible but base isolators is only one method for a particular type of shake.

    Governance! This is something that I’ve been hammering on at for while! Who oversees what the council budget and whether it’s fit for purpose and whether there can be significant savings. I’ve had this discussion with numerous councillors and they all say that they’re only responsible for one employee, the CEO, and it’s up to her to make and present the budget. But what councillors do we have who are capable of understanding this? I consider that the council makes little or no effort to economise because they don’t need to. For example, where did this $50 million that they have to spend on installing water meters come from? So yes, we need some sort of governance. Is it possible to get the auditor-general to go through this budget?

    Re the library, the council can make it a proviso of selling to a developer that the lower floors are preserved for the library at a set rental with the only increases made at the inflation rate. It doesn’t matter who owns the building.

    We have to stop spending on unnecessary projects and get the critical infrastructure problems fixed. How many millions will it cost to introduce and pay for new Maori Wards? All these niceties can be deferred until we get into surplus and reduced rates.

    Fleur and Rebecca, you can be sure that ORCA, our Residents Association, will continue to be active in consultations on this DLTP but this has to be genuine consultation and not just a pretense of it while you just carry on with what you intended anyway.

    Michael, excellent point about paying for our elected representatives when they don’t represent us. So how do you feel about Jill Day’s proposal to pay iwi to have voting rights and pay them to attend Council sub-committee meetings? Ratepayers will have no say who they are or what the expectation of them will be but yet she wants ratepayers to foot the bill. I say that there should be a freeze on all proposed new spending for the rest of this triennium and hopefully, we’ll elect more financially capable councillors who have no political agenda next year.

     
  39. Dave B, 19. February 2021, 19:02

    Thanks Claire, at least you have thought about it. What you suggest is great, where it is possible. But there are many places where cyclists need to go, where there is no convenient park or quiet side-streets. They need to get from A to B just like anyone else, and if the only route available is a dangerous main road, then what? Thorndon Quay is a good example where there are hazards and no easy alternative. Council has looked at extending the Hutt Road cycleway along here but businesses objected to losing their on-street carparks. So the danger for cyclists remains. Unfortunately where cycleways are most needed is often where they are hardest to install. But where lives and limbs are at stake, I don’t think we can afford to down-prioritize them.

     
  40. Claire, 19. February 2021, 20:22

    Dave Thorndon Quay is widish so I would extend the footpath having a shared path for cyclists but segregated from walkers.Then extend parks out into the road.
    It’s all a bit tricky. But you can save money by using quiet streets and making some for cycling only as I said. I’m not a transport engineervbut it seems they do over engineer at times.

     
  41. Dileepa Fonseka, 20. February 2021, 14:37

    For all the talk of a divided council, it looks like Andy Foster got all of his eleven amendments through without any ‘backroom deals’. He got everything he wanted. [via twitter].

     
  42. michael, 20. February 2021, 16:08

    I would like a detailed report on what, if anything, the council has done to reduce its costs.

     
  43. Ray Chung, 20. February 2021, 20:55

    Michael, I’m with you! Barbara McKerrow was asked to investigate budget savings at the beginning of Covid19 as the council income and revenue was going to take a hit like the rest of the country. Her reply was the budget was so tight that she couldnt see where this would come from but she’d try to get 1% savings. If they had $50 million salted away for installing water meters, there’d be a lot more there! Yes, let’s get the Auditor-General in there!

     
  44. Ray Chung, 21. February 2021, 15:19

    Hi DaveB, where is the ratepayers’ money that you’re referring to in maintaining our independence on cars? Do you mean parking? I’m keen to look at any way of saving money so perhaps looking at your view and how to save ratepayers’ money, how about implementing a road toll for cars coming into the CBD like Singapore, London and many other cities?

    I was just thinking, have any councillors suggested any ways of saving money or do they all think that’s Andy’s job and when he does, they’ll vote against it? It seems to me that our councillors only know how to spend ratepayers’ money and are clueless on how to save it.

     
  45. michael, 21. February 2021, 20:10

    @Ray Chung: The budget can’t be that tight when they recently advertised for a “creative storyteller”. Guess they think that is essential to try and convince the ratepayers they are doing a good job.

     
  46. Ray Chung, 21. February 2021, 21:11

    There was an article in the DomPost yesterday saying “… anyone who really wants to be a politician probably shouldn’t be one, and great leaders should prove themselves in the ‘real world’ of the private sector first.” There are a few who have satisfied the latter and as for the former, there are others whose time to go has come. Has the “storyteller” position been filled yet?

     
  47. Peter Kerr, 22. February 2021, 10:06

    Ray, are you about to announce your candidature for Mayor soon? The tenor of your comments gives that impression.

     
  48. Claire, 22. February 2021, 11:05

    Anyone who can get Adelaide Road developed will have my vote. The sooner a development project group is set up the better. It’s time to give Kainga Ora the power to acquire sites on Adelaide Road.

     
  49. D'Esterre, 23. February 2021, 12:16

    Ray Chung: “To me, this is a win-win solution as the city still gets its library without the risks and expense of developing this.” I agree with pretty much everything you say. Except for the Library. Read what Helene Ritchie says above. We’ve fairly recently seen the report to which she refers. To be sure, the Library now needs an upgrade (deferred by successive Councils) but that wasn’t why it was closed in the first place. The type of floor connection in common use when the library was built is now known to be a vulnerability. Thus those connections need to be remediated, and that’s what the report recommended. Helene points out that this is a relatively inexpensive process. It should have been done long since. Had this happened, we wouldn’t be having all of this carry-on now.

    Let’s be having the floor connections fixed; the library can then be reopened. Clearly, the WCC cannot afford an upgrade: this work must be deferred until there is the budget for it.

     
  50. Wellington.Scoop, 23. February 2021, 12:24

    Comments are now closed, as we’ve reached the maximum that our system can handle.

     

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