Wellington Scoop

How many council staff are needed to change a light bulb?

embassy apr 2013 2

by Lindsay Shelton
The Wellington City Council has owned the Embassy Theatre for years. So why can’t it fix the lights?

A third of the lights on the facade aren’t working, and the centre ones are way out of alignment. It’s been like this for weeks – a disgrace for a landmark building which is the focus of Courtenay Place.

You’d think the city council would take pride in ensuring that the Embassy always looked at its best. But the lights on the Embassy have been going out every year. And I’ve become a bit obsessed by their continual failure.

Like most Wellingtonians, I have a soft spot for the Embassy. I went to movies there when I was a teenager. I was proud when the Wellington Film Festival moved in. Then I joined the Trust that was set up by Bill Sheat to save and restore the beautiful old building when no one else wanted it. Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh were among the members, and a lot of the elaborate restoration work was carried out by Weta Workshop. We worked like maniacs for six years to raise money. Finally we transferred ownership to the city council – that was the deal when it agreed to pay to complete the job in time for the world premiere of the third Lord of the Rings.

When we handed over the building, the lights were perfectly adjusted. But within a couple of years, some of them started to go out, and the council never seemed to notice. The faulty lights have looked particularly bad during several film festivals, when the theatre should have been at its best.

Once, when I couldn’t find anyone on the staff to pay attention, I rang the mayor. (It was Kerry Prendergast in those days). She probably thought my complaint was mis-directed, but she ensured that everything was fixed within 24 hours.

A couple of years ago I met a council officer who agreed that he was the responsible person. He promised to ensure that the lights would be monitored. Unfortunately, I’ve mislaid his card. So this article is a plea to him or to anyone else at the council who’s responsible for changing light bulbs. It should be a matter of pride. The lights need fixing. The Embassy is looking grotty at night. It should be a building that the city is proud of, rather than one that shows signs of being neglected.


  1. Trish, 9. April 2013, 10:28

    Perhaps the council guy could also look up and see that the two advertising panels are still promoting the Centre of Middle Earth. I don’t think that the film is still on. Perhaps they are getting ready for Part 2.

    It is comforting to think that the council is feeling so comfortable with ratepayers’ money that they no longer need to sell that the advertising space which used to bring in $100,000 per year. But maybe that income could at least pay for some lightbulbs.

  2. Pauline, 9. April 2013, 16:57

    Have sympathy, as there is a street in Wadestown, Mairangi Road from Margaret to Lytton Streets, which more often than not has no lights on at all…When I rang the Wellington City Council today was rather surprised to be told by the officer who answered the phone that there had been a number of complaints and she would ring Auckland again.

  3. Trish, 9. April 2013, 17:22

    Pauline – I think you should feel lucky that they were not passing your message to China. I am pretty sure that the lights are provided by the lines company, Wellington Electricity, which has become wholly Chinese owned since the MED was sold by the council.

  4. Michael Gibson, 10. April 2013, 11:58

    For what it is worth, our Complaint Ref. is 2135703
    I simply don’t know what that is in Chinese – the lights have been out of action for over three weeks now.

  5. Guy, 10. April 2013, 16:03

    Lindsay – you’ve hit the nail on the head – but there is more. That advertising panel at the top of the Embassy? Which seems to have no use? Advertises next to nothing? Sometimes shows a weather forecast, sometimes a big swish of paint? Totally useless… Such a contrast to places like Piccadilly Circus and Times Square, where advertising space is fought over. If the Council has nothing to advertise on their sign, perhaps they could give free advertising to community based organisations? Or, if they need to start reducing their looming debt mountain, perhaps they could sub-lease it to Adshel or Phantom, and make a decent whack out of it.

  6. Richard MacLean, 11. April 2013, 12:05

    We’ll get someone to go and sort the lights out.

  7. Michael Gibson, 11. April 2013, 14:03

    The P.R. man to the rescue again! Thank you, Richard!
    In the meantime: what have the Ward Councillors been doing? My comments on them are as follows:
    Foster: a ‘time-server’ – now at a bit of a loss without Poole to make sure he gets the reports he & the ‘establishment’ desire.
    Morrison: He rang me the other day to say that Planning was “not his thing”. Why is the Council set up in such a way that people like him are on Planning Committees? Part of the McKinnon, Ahipene-Mercer, Foster-Poole liaison group, so has never had to do anything other than row in with those relics of the Prendergast years.
    Coughlan: has better things to do, though was seemingly in her element on a recent business trip to China.
    Thank goodness that the DomPost is finally beginning to make the comments in public that some of their journos have been making in private for three or four years. [abridged]

  8. Guy, 11. April 2013, 14:30

    Thanks Richard! And the advertising screen ? Have you got a contact for who is in charge of that? I’m thinking: Arts and Artists – if we dont have adverts, can we have really cool artistic displays? I’ve got one ready to go – can I go first?

  9. Phil C, 12. April 2013, 22:09

    Imagine the old days: council man rings council works depot and says “fix the lights”. Council works guys finish smoko and meander on over with a variety of light bulbs. Nowadays, council executive contacts council operations department to contact council finance department to obtain a purchase order to underpin a work order to obtain services from the outsourcing provider XYZ Electrical Limited who then respond to council saying the purchase order does not support work at such a height and thus needs to be reissued etc etc.

  10. Neil, 16. April 2013, 13:35

    In the old days the Municipal Electricity Department used to patrol the lighting system once a week after hours. The pole number of the failed or failing light would be identified and a crew would be sent out next day to fix it usually before the fault was reported by the public.
    Obviously far too efficient and effective. Now it takes a week just to push along the paperwork to achieve not an electronic sausage.

  11. Guy, 16. April 2013, 19:18

    Light bulbs have now been replaced! Facade all correctly lit! No idea if much paperwork was involved. Monstavision sign still only showing weather reports. Report card for Council: could do better. Must try harder. Needs to do homework.

  12. Pauline, 17. April 2013, 20:24

    Mairangi Road is also lit again… had lights on all day Monday…and three nights now. So thank you Mr McLean. But I have to agree with Neil – there should be regular check ups as it would appear the blackouts occur all over the city and nothing gets done unless members of the public alert the council.

  13. Driver, 17. April 2013, 23:02

    Before control was out-sourced, council staff were pro-active and would usually fix broken street lights before residents had time to complain. All the street lights on Cobham Drive at the end of the airport runway were out last night. I wonder has anyone at the council noticed that this roundabout is dark?

  14. Mike, 18. April 2013, 22:37

    I reported a lighting fault to the WCC: it was attended to the next night by a Downer ITS streetlighting patrol, with feedback by email. Exemplary performance from WCC and their contractors – well done!