Wellington Scoop

The scandal of the Town Hall – closed for eight years?

by Helene Ritchie
According to a timetable received by councillors this week, Wellington’s Town hall is to be closed for at least eight years. The issue is not that it should be opened immediately but that strengthening should be immediately continued without delay.

It is a scandal that someone in the Council has stopped work on the strengthening despite no Council resolution to stop the work. Mayor Celia Wade-Brown and the CEO have to answer.

It is scandalous that Wellington’s (public) Town Hall has now been closed for nearly three years, languishing. It’s dead inside. Empty. Further, it is scandalous that the world class organ, removed, has been part stored in the South Island, part in an earthquake prone basement… It needs to come back to its home.

There is absolutely no guarantee today that anyone will lease the Town Hall.

In any case, there is a serious question about whether the Town Hall should be closed to the general public and to a range of events, activities and use, and instead be the preserve of whoever leases it, if ever. And the costs will be greater as the Town Hall structure will have to be tailored for this “private” use.

A capital city without a historic concert hall is a capital city without culture. A capital without a historic Civic Chamber is a capital without a revered place where democratic debates are held and decisions made affecting the city’s future, present and past. Wellington has this majestic heritage concert hall with world class acoustics, deserving in quality and style of any country in the world and of the capital of Aotearoa New Zealand.

The city council has misled the public in “our 10-year plan” by saying that there will be a music hub there – when there already was one: the Town Hall…before the Council closed it down – and without disclosing that the Town Hall would be closed for eight years.

Nowhere in the public document does the Council tell the public that it intends to keep the Town Hall closed for eight years, with planned completion of strengthening in 2019/20. Had the project not been halted, it would almost have been finished by now. Instead the Council has gone off on a wild goose chase…… with 8 to 28 “big ideas”, including significant (approximately $90million) ratepayer funding (in the long term plan) for the failed ratepayer-funded Hilton Convention Centre.

I have surveyed Wellington people, as part of my personal consultation on Wellington’s ten year plan. By far the majority want the Council to get on with ratepayer funded strengthening and to open the Town Hall again for public and concert use.

It must be saved, the strengthening must be started and completed in short time so that the Town Hall is opened again for public use. The Council just needs to get on with it and stop faffing around.

Helene Ritchie is a Wellington city councillor.

Wade-Brown and Prendergast disagree on Town Hall