Wellington Scoop

No swimming: a wasted 12 years


by Lindsay Shelton
Twelve years ago the Wellington city council said it didn’t want to have a large empty building site in Mt Cook. A year later it got what it didn’t want. It allowed the Boys Institute swimming pool to be demolished to make way for a supermarket. The prime site has been empty ever since.

The pool’s life could have been extended for years. The supermarket company eventually gave up on its building plans and the empty site is now owned by the Chinese Embassy. No sign of anything being built yet.

The demolition of a swimming pool, and the consequent demise of a swimming school, was something the council should have stopped. It was one of the first subjects that I wrote about after wellington.scoop was created.


by Lindsay Shelton – January 8, 2009
Even a five-year-old is aware of what’s been lost. “They smashed down my swimming pool to build a Pak’n’save,” she said as we were driving down Tasman Street the other day.

We agreed we wouldn’t want to shop at a supermarket that had destroyed a swimming pool. And the Boys’ Institute pool in Tasman Street was a special one – not only the oldest indoor pool in Wellington but also popular with tens of thousands of boys and girls who had attended swimming lessons in the pool for more than 90 years.

It would have been sensible, as well as public-spirited, if the owners of the new supermarket – which now seems likely to be a New World rather than a Pak’n’save as first reported – had decided to keep the pool and incorporate it into their new complex, whenever it is to be built. A pool as part of a supermarket could even have been good for business. Parents could have done their shopping while the kids were taught freestyle and backstroke.

But the damage has been done. The building which housed the swimming pool since 1914 has been demolished. Only the street frontage (with YMCA signs on both side walls) is still standing. Contradictorily, the remains of the pool are now visible. They are being used as a base for propping up the wall of a neighbouring factory.

Demolition was opposed unsuccessfully by the Mount Cook Mobilised group which was formed in 2007. Around 250 residents attended its first public meeting and more than 1400 signed a petition which asked the council to keep the pool and upgrade it.

“There’s more to a city than putting up new buildings,” said spokesman Peter Cooke. “We have to maintain the culture and character of the city.”

But the council failed to listen and the swimming pool building was demolished.

A council officer expressed pointless concern about demolition being permitted before redevelopment plans were known. Development Guidance Manager Dougal List was quoted in Capital Times a year ago as saying: “We do not want a large vacant site in this prominent location for a long period.”

The council may not have wanted a large vacant site. But it wasn’t willing to stop it. The bulldozers moved in. The result: a new wasteland in a prominent inner city location.

Mount Cook residents have been asking why demolition was allowed before plans for the site were approved. The community could still have been using the pool. But it’s all too late.

Apparently the site isn’t only to be a supermarket. Four six-storey blocks of apartments could be included, with so many carparks (almost 200 in early plans) that concerns have been raised about traffic impact in this residential area where the narrow streets are already congested at peak hours.

The city council once thought about protecting and enhancing the area. Early in 2005 it staged the launch, by Prince Charles, of the New Zealand Urban Design Protocol, “which aims to make urban design an essential component in New Zealand towns and cities.”

In May of the same year, the council’s Urban Planning Update announced “the need for more refined provisions for the protection and enhancement of character in Berhampore, Newtown and Mt Cook.” Three years after those brave words were published, anyone can see that the council hasn’t been able to protect or enhance Mt Cook’s popular (and historic) swimming pool.

The same council publication reported that Wellington had been given a New Zealand Planning Institute award as the national leader in urban planning. The judges must be embarrassed to see the destruction of a swimming pool and to know that grassroots urban planning concerns have been ignored.


  1. Curtis Nixon, 5. January 2020, 12:13

    Totally agree Lindsay. So far the only signs of life are tagging and plenty of ducks in the winter when a pond forms. Good for the wildlife I guess.

    My holiday beach swimming led me to the conclusion that all New Zealand kids need to be taken by their schools to surf clubs and taught swimming in the ocean. Pools are a great starting point but don’t give the skills or experience of ocean swimming.

  2. Lezie McGrind, 5. January 2020, 14:20

    Mt Cook Mobilized’s opposition to the loss of the Mt Cook community center was in my opinion weak. It was a terrible destruction of a much needed community center. Kids can learn to swim safely in swimming pools so the pool had a big value. Swimming skills learned in a pool translate to kids being safer when they are in water. We also lost a YMCA that had gymnastics and many other positive activities and programs for kids.

  3. Concerned Wellingtonian, 5. January 2020, 16:46

    Remind me who was Mayor twelve years ago. [Kerry Prendergast was mayor from 2001 to 2010.]

  4. Polly, 6. January 2020, 10:08

    Thank you for great memories of the Boys Institute (cannot remember when it became the Boys and Girls) but as an old Tech Girl, I could swim and also used to go down there for cricket lessons!
    Many years later I took my 3 children there for swimming lessons and one daughter became a member of a wonderful gymnastic team…
    A great loss and I also attended the public meeting and signed the petition but the Council as usual took no notice.

  5. Diane Calvert, 6. January 2020, 13:36

    On a positive note, In 2018, I’m pleased to have achieved support from my Council colleagues on saving Khandallah Summer pool- only 2 of the remaining Council owned outdoor swimming pools and the only one in a park setting surrounded by other recreational facilities. $1.1 million has been set aside in 2022 to upgrade the facilities and provide some heating to a reasonable outdoor temperature. This will help extend its operating hours and visitor rates.The pool will be 100 yrs in 2025 and was originally built by the local community.

  6. Henry Filth, 6. January 2020, 13:36

    Why hasn’t anything been built there? [The Government of China has announced it will be building a new Embassy on the site.]

  7. Henry Filth, 7. January 2020, 18:55

    Thank you

  8. Kelly M, 17. January 2020, 6:52

    Henry a new Chinese Embassy is an unfavorable substitution for a whole community center. The community had opposed the Council’ decision. That is not what local government is for – going against the community’s interests.Though we see a lot of that now.
    Diane pointing out Khandallah’s upgrades only reflects how abysmal the Mt Cook community centre loss was for Mt Cook residents (*who do not live in Khandallah).