Wellington Scoop

The Town Hall … will work ever begin?


by Lindsay Shelton
Good to see the mayor smiling optimistically inside the Town Hall yesterday, one day after his city council announced it was seeking “proposals” for work on the heritage building. But things aren’t as straightforward as they may seem.

The plan is for the Town Hall to be strengthened so that it can become part of a National Music Hub in which the NZSO and Victoria University would be in partnership with the council. But after two years of negotiations, the university has not yet agreed to participate. As the DomPost has confirmed:

A spokesperson from the mayor’s office said the only thing that could stop the project going ahead now was Victoria University not fully committing. Victoria University … said in a written statement it was continuing to negotiate with the council and should have enough “clarity” on the deal in the coming months to seek conditional or final approval from its governance body.

Councillors first voted in June 2013 to strengthen the Town Hall. Nothing resulted. They voted a second time for strengthening in May 2015. But work didn’t start.

Between these two votes came the Music Hub plan. The NZSO has been committed from the start. But as yesterday’s report revealed, Victoria University has not yet signed up for the partnership. It did however participate in a decision 18 months ago to hire Athfield Architects to develop concept designs. But when that announcement was made, the university was still being cautious:

The concept designs will be pivotal as we explore the feasibility of partnering with Wellington to create a renewed vision of education, music and creative arts excellence

In April last year, the university’s vice-chancellor Grant Guilford signed a letter in the DomPost which said

Wellingtonians … can be reassured that the Wellington City Council, Victoria University and the NZ Symphony Orchestra are making good progress on the proposal to turn the town hall into a world class music hub…

But after two years of negotiations, “good progress” isn’t encouraging enough, in spite of Justin Lester’s smiles. Yesterday’s images of the mayor inside the Town Hall – which no one else can enter because it’s been closed for more than three years – are a reminder that in spite of the unanimous decisions in 2013 and 2015, and all the statements and the expectations, a definite commitment to starting work on strengthening the magnificent auditorium is still elusive.

And what is the council seeking from its “request for proposals” that is now being advertised:

The …purchase of building services engineering for the Town Hall development project. The key outcomes that we want to achieve are quality design documents so that cost certainty can be achieved throughout all phases of design and construction. Council requires Building Services Engineers experienced in delivering building services engineering in a building that is undergoing a seismic strengthening upgrade together with an interface with user group requirements within the building.

The categories are specified as

Building maintenance and repair services, new industrial building and warehouse construction services, specialized public building construction services, heating and cooling and air conditioning HVAC construction and maintenance services, electrical system services, building site preparation services, specialty building and trades services, civil engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical and electronic engineering, instrumented control systems design and engineering services.

The deadline is 20 February. But if there’s no confirmation of Victoria University’s involvement, will the city council once again fail to start work on strengthening the Town Hall?


  1. Traveller, 3. February 2017, 12:21

    The council should get serious. It should set a date to start strengthening the Town Hall, with the NZSO as its partner – it would be great for the city to have the national orchestra as its partner in the beautiful building, whether or not the university makes up its mind.

  2. Susan Says, 3. February 2017, 12:23

    Thanks for this summary Lindsay. It is encouraging that the Town Hall refurbishment/restoration is back in the headlines but less encouraging is the uncertainty around the whole enterprise. The tender deadline seems to be very close and I hope that the tendering process is more transparent than the one for the movie museum.
    Your final question is the critical one and we need to keep pressing to get some answers so that there are some definite timeframes around the restoration.

  3. Morris Oxford, 3. February 2017, 12:32

    VUW’s involvement probably depends on using the Karori campus as a bargaining-chip. Oh dear!

  4. Lindsay, 3. February 2017, 12:53

    The council’s lethargy about fixing the Town Hall (it baulked at a cost of $60m) contrasts with its speed on agreeing to pay $130m (later increased to $150m) for a convention centre and movie museum. But that project now also seems to be in limbo, with no start date.

  5. Ben, 3. February 2017, 15:21

    Given the partnerships proposed does this mean the Town Hall will still be available for public hire and use by others, or is it to be strictly the domain of the NZSO and university?

  6. Wellingtonian, 3. February 2017, 15:38

    Can we get some clarification please? Are there concept plans, detailed design drawings completed? Approved by the Council? Approved by the public? It would seem that the Council is in no way ready to send out tender documents.

    Re base isolation – apparently Te Papa was ok in the November earthquake, but I believe that the new over-100% Market Lane apartments (which are base isolated) suffered severe shaking. Is base isolation the best safe solution for a crowded public building such as the Town Hall?

    The Town Hall has survived structurally through countless and major earthquakes since 1904, without base isolation.

  7. CC, 3. February 2017, 16:01

    It would have happened yesterday if Jackson/Weta wanted it to showcase their wares, if Infratil or Willis Bond could clip the ticket at 20% or if the CEO of the Business Roundtable decided to designate it as vital infrastructure that would enhance the profits of the largest businesses in town.

  8. Elaine Hampton, 3. February 2017, 16:05

    Ian Athfield; concept designs; new industrial building and warehouse: Ye Gods.
    We want our Town Hall to be available for the public in its current iconic state. We need a lot of clarification, what is being hatched? The Town Hall is a venue that can stand on its own merits, not hocked off to obscure the fact that a music school is not going to get traction on its own. I think it far more important than the Convention/Film Museum. And as has been said before, there is something wrong with the building code when the damaged buildings are new builds. The Town Hall stood up to the latest shake .

  9. Traveller, 3. February 2017, 18:23

    The council’s “request for proposals” doesn’t seem to include any work on seismic strengthening.

  10. Reader, 3. February 2017, 18:29

    It is not clear what is going on other than another PR mayoral stunt. Nice picture, nice video, front page headlines for a failing newspaper and it seems to convey that something is happening when nothing is happening.

  11. Alexandra, 5. February 2017, 8:22

    The Town Hall should not have been closed and could have been used. Its closure is just being used to support the WCC building a new and not really needed $150 million venue (at the ratepayers’ cost). Justin Lester smiling is meaningless.

  12. Marion Leader, 6. February 2017, 9:33

    I wonder if Alexandra knows that, well after the Town Hall was “closed”, it was used by our wonderful NZSO and a very large number of technical people from Hollywood to record the sound-track for the last two “Lord of the Ring” films. She is fully justified in wanting an answer about the Town Hall being closed.