Wellington Scoop

Priorities, resilience, and costs

by Ian Apperley
News on a few fronts this week, with reports on Wellington City Council priorities for 2017, while the council also starts to boil the frog on earthquake measures.

The city council has figured out that we need some stricter rules on earthquake readiness, not just across commercial buildings but for our homes as well. They’ve been sleeping on this one for years and now there’s substantial evidence coming out of Christchurch that there need to be changes to buildings to make us more resilient.

However, the costs are wildly optimistic, with readers assuming that it could cost around $1,500 to strengthen their homes. I spoke to a few tradesmen, and they told me that such a price is unrealistic, particularly with the newer health and safety laws demanding increased scaffolding use. I asked how much it would cost to remove my brick chimney, reinforce the roof tiles, and strengthen the piles under the house.

My house is a substantial 1950s ex-state house on a hill in Strathmore. It’s two stories high, plus the roof, at the front, and so would require scaffolding. The cost of that by itself is estimated at around $8,000 to $12,000. Then the removal of the chimney and the strengthening, somewhere around $3,000. So, a cost of $11,000 to $15,000.

Ouch. Worse, I was told that removing the chimney could weaken the house and it might not need to be removed if it had reinforcing steel in it. Sounds complex? It is.

People in Christchurch were killed in the CBD and our Mayor says “people need to know they are safe in high-use public areas.“ Making the CBD safer makes a huge amount of sense given that it fills with tens of thousands of people during the day, weekend, and for events. But there are other factors that you’d expect to be considered as well.

We don’t read about investment in storm water, sewage, water, electricity, gas, or other critical infrastructure and services. It’s pointless if your chimney is standing but you can’t go to the bathroom. We could have a city of houses that have stood up to a quake and we’d still have to be evacuated.

You would expect to hear that they were zoning areas by risk. For example; living on the flat in Miramar you are far more susceptible to being knocked over by an earthquake than living on a hill. In my home, unless quakes are over 6, I don’t feel them. Even the 7.8 wasn’t that intense. The point is, some areas carry more risk than others.

We don’t see the word “subsidise,” when for a Council that is flush with cash you’d expect that. Even central government is considering this. Supporting the cost of chimney removal and strengthening, where it’s needed, makes sense.

In another article this week the Dominion Post looked at the city council’s priorities and plans for 2017.

A lot of the article is about strengthening the city, which is good. However there is little detail on what that could look like. It does say that the Council may fund landlords to strengthen buildings. If they are going to do that, then to be fair, they need to consider funding houseowners as well.

The Convention Centre/Movie Museum is top of the list – $150million for a project that was chosen without going to tender, has had clouds of secrecy about it, and is not yet ready to build. It’s beyond me why we are focusing on this when the Council cries broke over building a $20m water reservoir.

As an aside, it was Iona Pannett who said they might need a “public-private” model to build that reservoir. I asked a Civil Engineer about that and he just about choked on his coffee; “You usually start considering private-public partnerships when the cost is over $1 billion.”

We still don’t have a Town Hall, though the WCC has agreed it should be strengthened. There’s no timetable, we’ve been waiting for more than three years, and no doubt will be waiting longer again.

We’ve talked about basic infrastructure in the context of resilience; we need to add transport to that list. In the last six years very little has been contributed to transport by the Council. I struggle to think of anything substantial other than the Island Bay Cycleway, which the Council is hoping will just fade into distant memory.

Chris Laidlaw deserves to be called out on his incorrect statement around water quality:

“Coastal waters are in a good state and freshwater systems are “OK”, but there is a long way to go to achieve overall water quality, and everyone needed to play their part,” he says.

This is patently incorrect. On his Regional Council’s website, seventeen beach and river sites carry a “Moderate Risk of Illness”, while seven fall into the “Caution” category. That means there are twenty-four sites out of forty-three sites are not in a “good state” and are clearly not “OK.” More than half of monitored sites risk illness.

Laidlaw sort of backs off from his statement by then saying;

“There needs to be more ‘goodwill’ within the community if the problem is to be fixed.”

Your guess is as good as mine over what he means.

The top issues that face the Wellington region are counted as Transport, Housing, the Economy (no mention of WREDA in all this), Arts and Education, and water quality.

Missing from the narrative is climate change, with Local Government New Zealand warning that entire communities are likely to need to be relocated.

When you consider the increased intensity of storms in Wellington along with the fact that we have the highest rate of sea-level increase in New Zealand (thanks to us sinking on the plate in addition to rising sea-levels) you’d expect this to be top of mind. You’d also question (as Local Government New Zealand does generally) why we’re not thinking about moving the airport, instead of planning to spend tens and tens of millions of dollars on extending it.

It seems the priorities and the approach are still very much disconnected. We’ll check back on progress in a few months on progress when the City Council starts its annual planning process.


  1. CC, 23. January 2017, 9:09

    John Milford, the CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, shares concerns about the security of the water supply.

  2. TrevorH, 24. January 2017, 7:43

    If Wellington is to remain a viable place to live and conduct business the city’s priorities must be all about resilience. It is unacceptable to expect people to go without water and sanitation for up to 100 days in the event of a major earthquake as current “planning” seems to assume. The city will be abandoned to rats and looters long before then. Forget the damned convention centre and reallocate the funding to strengthening and building redundancy into our water supplies, including the critically important emergency supply for the hospital. Councillors must be held to account on this.

  3. City Lad, 24. January 2017, 11:38

    The proposed $150m convention centre is to be funded through 100% debt. And the council paid many millions in excess of capital value for the land. The annual running costs will be another burden on ratepayers. Infrastructure and strengthening the Town Hall and historic buildings should be given priority over schemes of grandeur.

  4. Leviathan, 24. January 2017, 14:19

    Ian, you can remove your chimney yourself. Just climb up on the roof, armed with a hammer, and start loosening the bricks, and toss them down the chimney hole yourself. Its quite fun! Have someone else down below clearing the bricks out of the fireplace when its safe to get them. I did mine when i was a child, with my mother. So: you can do it.

  5. TrevorH, 24. January 2017, 14:29

    Oh pardon me, I forgot we will have Council financed neighborhood singalongs to get us through, as announced in the recent resilience initiatives package after the 7.8 quake.

  6. Troy K, 24. January 2017, 14:39

    The Town Hall is up to code and should and could be used.
    The WCC-proposed $150million convention center/movie museum is a prime example of WCC financial mismanagement. It is part of the odious debt the economic hit-men at the WCC keep creating for the ratepayers. It’s a ponzi scheme.

  7. Sekhmet Bast Ra, 24. January 2017, 15:06

    Emergency water tanks are a great idea for all to use on a day to day basis. Chimneys removed for all and compulsory solar panels for new residences looks more like a furthering of the authoritarian Green agenda under the banner of ‘resilience’. If a thing is worth doing, it is worth forcing people to do it, that is the way of authoritarianism.

    Time will tell, if someone is building a new house and chooses a diesel generator and fuel for an emergency power supply in lieu of the solar option and the council then states a diesel generator is not an option. At that point it will be clear what their real intentions were.

    Not everyone in Wellington is on Mr Lavery’s salary, or for that matter the ‘living wage’. Pensioners and beneficiaries who are fortunate enough to own their own homes would be severely challenged to fund the work required for compliance. We also wonder how the council would go about enforcing compliance? Red sticker everyone who fails to comply? Such action would certainly up the population of homeless and beggars out on the street.

  8. Ian Apperley, 24. January 2017, 16:55

    Ooooh that’s a good idea Leviathan. That I can do.

    (Hopefully not famous last words)

  9. Charlie, 29. January 2017, 15:17

    Why would public-private partnerships not work for projects valued at less that a billion bucks – e.g. $20 million? It strikes me as a concept that should scale down perfectly well. I am not understanding your response to this, and no insight has been provided.

  10. Troy K, 30. January 2017, 7:43

    @ Charlie, that would not solve the problems of homelessness (the privatization of public housing) or make the houses the private developers build affordable. It would just make more profits for private investors while the ratepayers/taxpayers fund the building projects.

  11. Sekhmet Bast Ra, 21. February 2017, 15:52

    We’ve been watching announcements from the WCC ever since this article was published a month ago. In our earlier comment we asked if compulsory removal of chimneys for all residences and compulsory solar panels for new buildings were genuine actions that may improve ‘resilience’ for the city should it be struck by natural disaster.

    We found this report published about three weeks ago to be very interesting, especially where it says: “A fruit tree in every garden is one of 30 ideas to make Wellington more resilient”.

    Back in 2009 we planted a peach tree and for the past three years it has produced lots of great peaches. Last year we had enough to share with our neighbors, and it appears this years harvest will be even larger.

    Just one problem with the idea of a fruit tree in every garden for the purposes of ‘resilience’ and that is when it comes to ripened fruit ready to eat there is a window of one month at the most when your fruit tree is actually going to be providing something to eat. If the ‘big one’ happens to strike outside of the time when ripe fruit is available, the idea is about as practical and effective as liquor ban signs are for preventing drunkenness in the CBD.

    When we see ideas like this put forward for serious consideration, it does appear what the council is really doing is furthering the Green/Labour environmental agenda under the guise of ‘resilience’.