Wellington Scoop

“High priority” but nothing to show for it


by Lindsay Shelton
Justin Lester said this week it is “a high priority to bring the Town Hall back into action as soon as possible.” But he didn’t give any evidence to connect his words with any real plans.

He said the same thing in May last year. And nothing happened.

His predecessor also made statements about the Town Hall which didn’t result in any action. In June last year, Mayor Wade-Brown announced: “This coming financial year, the Council will start strengthening the Town Hall.” There’s five months to go in the financial year, with no announcement of anything scheduled.

It’s hard to tell whether or not the restrengthening depends on a deal with Victoria University to convert the Town Hall into the centre of a new Music Hub. The idea was announced two years ago. The NZSO has agreed. But not the university. Kevin Lavery said last year the deal would be in place by October. It didn’t happen.

This is now the fourth year that the magnificent 115-year-old Town Hall has been closed. Councillors have twice voted unanimously to strengthen it. But no work has been started.

After the first vote, in 2013, Mayor Wade-Brown proclaimed:

“The Town Hall is a historic landmark building. The money we will spend will future-proof the building for the next century. Music performance and recordings will benefit hugely. Today we showed leadership for Wellington’s heritage and public safety. We have excellent economic opportunities to lead earthquake engineering, community resilience and architectural services globally. This is a critical commitment to a strong future for Wellington. We cannot expect private owners to upgrade and strengthen their heritage buildings if we don’t show this commitment.”

That unfulfilled claim of “leadership” was made more than three years ago. With no leadership being shown.

A year ago, a council consultation document for the Annual plan described how slowly things were moving:

The Wellington Town Hall earthquake-strengthening project is on hold while we reconsider issues relating to ground conditions and the building’s proposed foundation design. As part of confirming the proposed base-isolation system and to manage costs wisely, we commissioned further detailed geotechnical investigations late last year. Geotechnical engineers advised that the building’s proposed foundations will need considerably more strengthening than earlier thought to counteract the impact of liquefaction. We have chosen to have our engineers review our strengthening design to evaluate alternative options. There are various ways of approaching the issue; we’re taking the time to properly consider them all.

And last July, a council insider spoke frankly about the slow process of making decisions.

For the Town Hall seismic strengthening and upgrading, we are reviewing changes to the relevant codes, technology and costs, and the lessons from seismic upgrades following the Christchurch earthquakes….The main construction work is currently planned to start on site late in 2017, subject to finalising negotiations regarding the establishment of a national Music School, refurbishment plans for adjoining buildings, and acceptable costings. There will be preliminary / exploratory work beginning on site in the current financial year. We plan to … develop documentation for tender and building consent and issue it to market at the end of the 2016/17 financial year, or in the 2017/18 financial year if resource consents or cost issues cause delays.

None of which sounds like the “high priority” approach as twice signalled by Justin Lester. (This week’s statement was in this DomPost report.) He has however shown he can move fast with his housing plans – he announced a housing task force in October, it met for the first time in December, and specific proposals are due to be put to the council very soon. We need to encourage him to apply the same speed to finalising decisions to ensure that our Town Hall isn’t closed for another four years.

2015: Rex Nicholls on why the Town Hall should be reopened
2014: Peter Jackson on why the Town Hall must be saved


  1. Elaine Hampton, 18. January 2017, 22:58

    Our Town Hall is a magnificent civic facility, it shouldn’t have to earn its keep. It is known for its acoustics, the best venue in Wellington, but it shouldn’t be sequestered to one entity. Perhaps the council wants to dissuade citizens from using it so they can justify the enormous ratepayer subsidy for a so called convention center and museum.

  2. Laura Denim, 22. January 2017, 17:31

    Its politics. Lester’s words are meaningless.

  3. Concerned Wellingtonian, 22. January 2017, 18:41

    They have lost the use of the reasonably nice Council Chamber in the Town Hall building So they now have their meetings in a horrible Committee room which must be the worst meeting place for a Council in the country. If they can’t be ashamed of this, then there’s little hope for the beloved and beautiful public auditorium.