Priorities could be changing at the Wellington City Council.
We learnt last week that Mayor Justin Lester does not see the waterfront Chinese Garden as a priority. This was a change from last year, when the council pushed through a resource consent for the much-debated $11m project. The mayor’s statement is no doubt an acknowledgement of public opposition, as well as the appeal that’s been lodged at the Environment Court by Waterfront Watch.
Then there’s the question of council priorities for the city’s heritage auditoriums.
The magnificent Town Hall has been closed for more than three years, and though councillors have twice unanimously voted to strengthen it, there’s no timetable for the work to begin. A month ago the mayor raised hopes when he said it was a “high priority” to bring it back into use. But he didn’t offer any evidence, and we pointed out that he’d used the same words eight months earlier.
Yet suddenly, a strengthening plan has been announced – not for the Town Hall, but for the yellow-stickered St James Theatre. A council staff member says it’s to be closed after next year’s Arts Festival for strengthening work that’ll take a year.
In terms of two yellow-stickered public buildings, the council seems to be moving faster on the St James. However there may be light on the horizon. The council is at last seeking “proposals” for strengthening the Town Hall. Applications close this week.
Councillors have not only been unanimous in their support for strengthening the Town Hall, even if their unanimity has come to nothing so far. They were also unanimous in backing the new Film Museum and Convention Centre, voting last August to spend $150m on this new building. Mayor Wade-Brown said the decision “gives the green light to this key economic development project.” But six months later, no starting date has been announced, with no explanation for the delay except that the decision is “conditional upon getting final go-ahead from [Peter Jackson’s] Movie Museum Ltd.” What’s happened to delay the final go-ahead?
Council critics have often said that the city should be prioritising infrastructure, rather than tourist attractions. The critics may therefore be pleased to read today that the mayor acknowledges there’s work to be done on the basic stuff. Quoted in the DomPost this morning, Justin Lester says:
“From the first of July next year, we’ll be looking at fast-tracking infrastructure projects … we’re also looking at the Prince of Wales reservoir water storage, also a cross-harbour pipeline coming straight from the Hutt.”
When Ian Apperley wrote about this last month, he said it seemed the priorities and the council’s approach to them were still very much disconnected. The council will soon be starting work on its annual planning process – another chance to re-prioritise its priorities.