Wellington Scoop

The council votes for extravagance, when it faces the need for austerity

The Wellington City Council had a chance last week to show that it was ready to take a stand against unnecessary extravagance. But instead, councilors voted for extravagance.

The subject of their vote was expenditure of $375,000 on designer toilets on the waterfront, a plan which council staff had advised them not to support. The project – dubbed the lobster loos – has been debated for more than a year; there’s been little public enthusiasm, specially as conventionally-designed toilets could be provided for less than a third of the price.

In April, the council’s vote in favour of the costly toilets was driven by Mayor Prendergast, who wanted them to be a work of art.

But since then, financial pressures on the council have become clear, with repairs to leaky homes likely to cost an unbudgetted $100million. Facing the need for austerity, councilors could have been expected to set an example by showing financial caution. But this didn’t happen last week. A majority opted for the extravagance, including deputy mayor Ian McKinnon though he has acknowledged that the council is facing tough financial decisions.

Councilor Andy Foster led the anti-extravagance fight. He proposed that the money not be spent. Voting with him were Mayor Celia Wade-Brown, and Councilors Cook, Pepperell, Pannett and Ritchie.

Their six votes were outnumbered by the eight councilors who voted against them and supported the extravagance: Councilors Best, McKinnon, Lester, Ahipene-Mercer, Gill, Morrison, Eagle and Marsh.

Like the deputy mayor, Councilor Morrison could also have been expected to vote against the extravagant expenditure, as he has also acknowledged that the council is under increasing financial pressure. The seriousness of the situation was highlighted in the DomPost this morning, with its report predicting a rates rise of 8 per cent if councilors continue to fail to prune their spending.

But the designer toilets decision showed that the council hasn’t yet been able to bring itself to start dealing with its financial problems. It ended the year in the same way that it had started – with an enthusiasm for big spending at the expense of ratepayers.

Yet a better decision was within reach.

The waterfront toilets problem – if there is one – could have been solved in a much more striking and much less expensive way.


  1. Dianne Buchan, 23. December 2010, 9:58

    I am exceedingly disappointed at this Council decision. Even if money had not been an issue, the public has clearly shown through the Annual Plan process that they are not in favour of this structure – especially in an area where open space is at a premium. Lack of finance is now another reason for the Council to opt for a more simple, less intrusive and less expensive structure, if toilets are needed at all in this area.

    This decision is especially concerning because of the Council’s recent decision to take back the management of the waterfront from WWL. If this is the sort of decision-making we are in for, I can see a return to the massive public protests of the 1990s before the end of 2011.

  2. The City is Ours, 30. December 2010, 12:14

    We are equally disappointed at many of the Council’s decisions … In these times of economic uncertainty, let’s make sure those who use this facility – presumably out of towners and tourists – pay for the privilege when taking a leak in the most expensive toilets in the country.

  3. Maximus, 30. December 2010, 12:18

    While I too am amazed that the Council has proposed to go ahead with this, I was also intrigued at the recent rebuilding of the toilet blocks in Courtenay Place. I question the media’s focus on WCs on the waterfront, when a similar focus on other areas could be maintained. And by media, yes, I also include Scoop with Lindsay Shelton’s unhealthy continuing focus on the perceived badness of everything WWL. Your bias as a previous head of Waterfront Watch is still showing strongly.
    To recap: existing WCs in Courtenay Place were torn down and replaced at a cost of over $600k – with not a murmur of protest. Cost could presumably have been saved by just refurbishing those and building new additional WCs elsewhere. Heaven knows we need them, especially on the waterfront, but also elsewhere in the city. Rosamund Averton will know where!
    But the proposed spending of $375k on 2 WCs on the waterfront keeps getting a hostile reception from Scoop. I question why.

  4. Stan Andis, 31. December 2010, 9:21

    The answer for Maximus is straight forward. The City cannot afford any more extravagance to build monuments. I don’t want my rates to increase by 8% and I don’t want the city to cut its services.

  5. Maximus, 31. December 2010, 11:31

    So why was there no protest from you when they rebuilt the Courtenay Place WCs just a month ago?

  6. lindsay, 31. December 2010, 11:46

    The waterfront lavatories generated extra attention because there were several council debates – and several split votes – about them. As far as I know, there wasn’t any council debate or dissension about rebuilding the Courtenay Place versions, though I recall seeing a report which claimed (dubiously) that they were unfit for Rugby World Cup visitors. I agree with Maximus that we should all have challenged the cost. There should equally have been a debate about building them in the first place – the choice of such a prominent site has always been weird.

  7. Stan Andis, 2. January 2011, 9:05

    Councillors make up their own minds and political agendas with little consultation and you should be aware of that Maximus.

  8. ViV, 2. January 2011, 12:59

    Never a truer word said Stan.