Wellington Scoop

Chinese money? Chinese workers?

The Wellington City Council seems pleased with a memorandum of understanding that it has signed in Beijing. The signing ceremony took place in front of a banner stating “Wellington Airport Expansion Project Signing Ceremony.” A photo shows the banner behind Councillor Jo Coughlan, who sits between the bosses of a Chinese property development company and a Chinese construction company as the three of them exchange signatures.

The photo is in Friday’s DomPost, as part of a report from Collette Devlin who travelled to China with a Wellington group led by Mayor Wade-Brown. But the council itself has said nothing about the document that it has signed.

Does the banner mean that the council has signed up for a longer runway to be built? Such a deal seems unlikely, as the council is only a minority shareholder in the airport, and Infratil’s plans for extending the runway have not yet been finalised or costed. In fact, the specifics of the Beijing agreement are somewhat confused in the DomPost report. Devlin first writes that the two Chinese groups have agreed to support a string of Wellington projects, not only the airport runway but also a convention centre, new hotels, and the redevelopment of Shelly Bay. Later she says these projects are only “under discussion.” And then there’s a caption that says the agreement is for “collaboration” with the council.

Make of that what you will. The photo shows Kevin Lavery and Celia Wade-Brown watching and smiling as the document is signed. It must have been the high point of this week’s visit to China, which included a Wellington business delegation led by Cr Coughlan. The delegation included Wellington Company managing director Ian Cassels, Willis Bond director David McGuinness, Morrison & Co chairman Rob Morrison, and Port Nicholson Block chief executive Jason Fox.

Would McGuinness be happy for a Chinese construction company to build Willis Bond’s projects instead of the usual Wellington contractor? He seems to be focusing only on Chinese finance. The DomPost quotes him as saying that the Chinese investors are looking at options for the convention centre and hotel, which his business is involved with. Fox, who the DomPost says is leading the Shelly Bay planning, is more cautious. He said “it is still early days.” As for the airport company, there’s no quote in the report from Rob Morrison.

Nevertheless the Chinese seem ready to start work, even before budgets have been finalised or business cases have been prepared or tenders have been sought:

Beijing Construction Engineering Group president Dai Binbin said his company worked with the best private sector entrepreneurs in China and asked Wellington to be confident in his business. In 2013 the company constructed Manchester’s City Airport project in the UK. The Wellington delegation had impressed his investors and fostered confidence in the business people of Wellington, Dai said. “This is just the beginning. We are interested in every project, there are a lot of other things to be done.” Businesses in China were encouraged to go abroad and look for opportunities and the Chinese Government would work in support of the projects they were involved in, he said.

Fu Wah Properties president Chiu Yung said discussions had started during a previous visit to Wellington. He said completion of the projects would attract more international tourism and thus more demand for hotel rooms in the city. “I look forward to being part of the tourism element of Wellington and I extend my gratitude to the Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown, who brought a brilliant delegation of business representatives to Beijing. Fu Wah Properties chief engineer Henry Lau Rics said he looked forward to working with Wellington. “It’s a beautiful city with lots of opportunities and we can see the [Chinese] government further supporting us in Wellington,” he said.

One definite result from the trip is that the mayor of Beijing will be coming here next year to “further promote the sister city friendship.” There’s also mention of financial support for the long-discussed Chinese garden on the waterfront. And there’s to be an annual soccer match between the Wellington Phoenix and two teams from Beijing.

But as for the arrival of a big Chinese construction company in Wellington. Such planning should await the completion of the inquiry into the terms of employment for Chinese engineers who’ve been working on locomotives at the Hutt railway yards – there’ve been allegations that they were being paid $3 an hour. Announcing the inquiry, the Rail and Maritime Transport Union expressed concern about the danger of local workers being replaced by cheap labour from overseas. A possibility that which would do nothing to help the council’s aim of improving the Wellington economy.

September 13: Two days after the signing ceremony, the council released details, saying the deal is “to explore funding for proposals for Wellington International Airport’s proposed expansion and hotel, the convention centre and hotel and housing developments in Shelly Bay.”


  1. Esjay, 12. September 2015, 18:32

    No matter who the ambitious company may be, the return on investment is paramount. When there are Convention Centres in Adelaide, Sydney, Gold Coast, Cairns, and soon to be at Auckland, Queenstown and Christchurch, the question remains why Wellington would want to pursue yet another venue. Wait a minute, a concession toward Pokies seems likely. And Wellington Airport has yet to announce how many long haul airlines will be operating to and from Wellington. How good is that? As Infratil’s representative, the Mayor must have smooth lips! No doubt there is a missing link in the equation.

  2. syrahnose, 12. September 2015, 19:07

    If Kiwis don’t have the will or the long term foresight to extend the runway and build an event centre or high quality hotels or other world standard infrastructure and the Chinese are willing to put the time, treasure and effort into all that, good on em. And if they have to or want to bring in their own workers to ensure the work gets done when locals aren’t competent or able to finish the project on time, like they sometimes have to do in other undeveloped countries, then so be it. It’s their money, it’s their risk. Ultimately, all of Wellington would benefit, not just a few workers who wouldn’t get the work anyway because Wellingtonians are too poor or stingy to build the basic infrastructure expected in capitals elsewhere in the world.

    Way to go city council. You are doing an end run around the narrow interests stopping progress here and finding a means to do it without raising rates further. Increasingly higher rates drive businesses, consumers, renters and citizens away from Wellington’s centre. Shucks, if maybe some of you asked the Chinese to invest in a light rail — or more bike paths that hardly any citizens will ever use – you’d get what you want faster.

  3. Traveller, 12. September 2015, 22:30

    Didn’t the council promise that it wouldn’t commit to a longer runway till a business case had been written and assessed, and till a long-haul airline had committed to Wellington flights? Does the Beijing ceremony indicate that such promises have been discarded?

  4. Ian Apperley, 13. September 2015, 9:02

    Ummm… Syrahnose: “finding a means to do it without raising rates further. Increasingly higher rates drive businesses, consumers, renters and citizens away from Wellington’s centre.”
    Rates just went up somewhere between 5 and 6% for most people and we are locked into increases of nearly 50% over the next decade.

  5. Elaine Hampton, 13. September 2015, 11:32

    As ratepayers aren’t we entitled to an explanation instead of this secret skullduggery. What does this mean to Wellingtonians? Syranose you assume a lot. Where is the business case?

  6. Esjay, 13. September 2015, 18:46

    Good one Elaine. This City Council has voted in its LTP to “go for the Doctor” by voting for the $90million plus $32million in interest to partly fund the runway extension. Without doubt the Mayor as a Director of WIAL has a conflict of interest, yet she is permitted to participate behind the scenes to ensure that this proposal remains uppermost in the work routine of council officers. As ratepayers, we cannot legally stop paying our rates by way of protest. There is no opposition so we MUST accept a turmoil of political philandering like it not.

  7. JC, 14. September 2015, 8:11

    Just because an MOU has been signed up, it doesn’t mean that the Council has raced off and committed to anything prematurely. The MOU can be conditional on the business case and resource consent processes, and anything else.

    Why do commenters on this website assume that there is some “secret skulduggery” going on? Please, don’t always assume the worst of people. Actually, I don’t know why I’m bothering to write this because I know that, no matter what is said, there are people out there who will post negative feedback on articles relating to the Council without fail. It seems to be a knee-jerk reaction.

  8. Island Bay Rules, 14. September 2015, 14:39

    Esjay as ratepayers we ‘can’ legally stop paying our rates, all it takes is a bona fide legal representative to take your rates payments and hold them on your behalf after issuing a receipt to register your payment.

  9. Esjay, 14. September 2015, 16:07

    JC: most submissions to the LTP did not favour the Council being involved with the runway extension. How and why is the Mayor pressing on ahead as if there is no tomorrow? Perhaps you should also look at the impact on rates once payment of Council funding steps in.

  10. Nora, 14. September 2015, 16:08

    Not so long ago when our street lights were not working I rang the council and was told they would have to ring Hong Kong!

  11. Esjay, 14. September 2015, 16:09

    Island Bay: yes but it will cost those who choose not to pay an additional 10%. Have I got this correct?

  12. Jacob, 10. September 2017, 12:07

    As hopefully people are realising, nothing comes from China without strings attached. No, they don’t work any faster than anyone else, they have all of the same regulations to work around – just in China regulations are weak and if the government needs to kick people out of their houses there is zero consideration. The money comes usually with the requirement to use Chinese labour at the best case, and fiendishly devious contract at the worst – I have seen both in action, particularly where they see the standard contracts we write and insert clauses where they know we don’t usually look, or insert technical sections in commercial clauses knowing full well the reader won’t understand the implications, or engage the correct parties. Be aware that nothing is as it seems with them.