Wellington Scoop

The shrinking Music Hub


by Lindsay Shelton
Strange that a council employee is pretending it’s only a “hiccup” that Victoria University has pulled out of the plan to use the Municipal Office Building for teaching and administrative rooms for the proposed Music Hub.

The university has decided not to buy the building, which is next to the Town Hall. This is a serious setback for the Music Hub plan.

The DomPost reports that university vice-chancellor Grant Guildford has this explanation of why the university won’t buy the huilding, as had been intended:

“The impacts of [the 2016 Kaikoura] earthquake on buildings on reclaimed land such as Civic Square poses new design and cost issues which we need to better understand, as well as other related considerations such as what happens to the neighbouring Civic Administration Building.”

Without teaching rooms, the Music Hub faces a diminished future. It was announced by the city council in 2014, as a partnership with the NZSO and the university. The NZSO was an enthusiastic partner from the start. But the university was not willing to make a definite commitment.

When Athfield Architects were hired in 2015 to produce concept plans, the university was still uncertain. Its Pro Vice-Chancellor of Humanities and Social Sciences Professor Jennifer Windsor said:

“Victoria University is delighted to be working with Athfield Architects to explore the potential of this site. 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 for the benefit of the entire community.”

It wasn’t till last May that Victoria confirmed participation – but only for the first stage of the plan – strengthening and reopening the Town Hall:

The redevelopment and fit out of the Town Hall’s main auditorium, the Debating Chamber and Ilott Room to provide central city rehearsal and performance spaces for Victoria’s New Zealand School of Music and the NZSO.

It held back from committing to the second stage (buying the council building), which was intended to a key part of

a nationally significant centre of musical excellence taking in adjoining buildings to provide teaching and administrative space in the Municipal Office Building, creating a central city home for the NZSM and NZSO.

The university launched a fund-raising campaign led by Kerry Prendergast for stage two, but no one is saying how much money has been raised. With or without the $30million that was the target, the university has decided that the second stage is too costly, and the condition of the council building is too uncertain.

Without teaching and administrative space, the university’s music students will have to divide their time between the existing buildings in Kelburn, and the rehearsal and performance spaces in the Town Hall. As a result, the Music Hub will be much diminished.

The Council’s Ian Pike (who must be regretting that he used the word “hiccup”) is however remaining hopeful, saying:

All options for the Municipal Office Building remain on the table and could involve working with the university but selling it to an independent, third party …

Council staff are still working in the office building, but they’re expected to move out when work on the Town Hall (which is still on schedule for reopening in 2021) starts this year. It’ll then become another empty building on Civic Square.

And as the university’s vice-chancellor mentioned, another problem is the adjacent Civic Administration Building, closed since the Kaikoura earthquake and likely to be demolished. Not an encouraging environment for a music school.

When city councillors return from their summer holidays, they face major issues for the new year. Not only the collapse of half of the Music School proposal. But also the likelihood that the $150million Movie Museum will not be going ahead, because of the failure to reach agreement with Peter Jackson.

It seems that the empty space opposite Te Papa will stay empty. And not one but two council buildings alongside Civic Square will be empty as well.


  1. Rumpole, 8. January 2018, 23:54

    Ian Pike’s suggestion to sell the Municipal Building to a third party is most unhelpful. Strategic Council property is not his to give away. Ownership of all Civic Square buildings must remain with the City Council. To do otherwise will keep the Courts busy.

  2. Traveller, 9. January 2018, 8:56

    It seems that the Wellington City Council may have lost control of two of its biggest projects.

  3. CC, 9. January 2018, 9:07

    Does Willis Bond want the Municipal Building to add to its waterfront property portfolio?

  4. City Lad, 9. January 2018, 11:38

    Willis Bond is the council’s preferred developer for the Michael Fowler site. Another commercial honeymoon just like the waterfront.

  5. Loss Leader, 9. January 2018, 11:44

    So this is holiday news? Council hoping no one will see it? So what’s new??
    These are civic buildings. The land and buildings are owned by the people of Wellington. They are not there to just fund Council botchups.

    What a mess is being made of Wellington’s key heritage site and buildings.
    So civic centre buildings are on reclaimed land!! Really! Most of the CBD is on reclaimed land.
    This is all outrageous!

  6. Sarah Huckleberry, 9. January 2018, 11:52

    This is a monumental Council scandal. Is this why the Council intends not to publicly advertise its new resource consent application for the Town Hall but instead simply grant it to itself. The public has every right to scrutinise it and make comment. Does it include these buildings for example?

    Mayor and Councillors: are you really representing us, or frolicking in the waves of Hawaii?

  7. Michael Gibson, 9. January 2018, 12:10

    No, CC, it suits developers much more to leave ownership with us, the ratepayers, then lease properties from WCC for 125 years for virtually nothing.

  8. Jonny Utzone, 9. January 2018, 21:55

    I guess Vic Uni is busy making plans to refurbish Gordon Wilson Flats and make its required 6% return on capital.

  9. Tony Jansen, 12. January 2018, 12:03

    Years ago Bob Jones published a book that was entirely made up of blank pages to lampoon the then Labour government’s “achievements”. The time is right to do the same for the current Wellington City Council.
    Just what actually have they achieved at the halfway mark of this triennial?
    We have sewage and water pipes that are 135 years old, Molesworth Street which looks like a scene form a developing nation having been dug up for years on end and still more to come, big-ticket glamour projects falling over like tenpins because the council including the CEO could not and would not negotiate by the book in an open manner. Sweetheart deals for pet property developers, a CEO who cannot use Email and prefers to leave no paper trail for the deals he signs off on. Oh and a University that is clueless as to how to be a good citizen in our city…..what next?
    Meanwhile the council are beginning to sell off social housing!!
    How about selling off our stake in Wellington Airport which we should not be involved in owning (nor paying for Infratil’s ridiculous expansion plans)and using this money to improve and increase the housing stock in the city (without giving sweetheart deals to private developers)? We could also direct money saved from the outrageously over priced Movie Museum/Convention Centre project to upgrading all the infrastructure in the city – in particular the sewage and water pipes and drains. With ever increasing and worsening climate events, this I would have thought albeit unsexy, is an absolute priority?

  10. Michael Gibson, 13. January 2018, 7:17

    Actually I think our having a stake in Wellington Airport is quite a good thing. What is wrong is that the Airport company is looking for separate ratepayers’ funds for its absurd plans for “expansion”. What is even more wrong is our having a misguided and inexperienced person as our nominated director on the Airport Board, but I don’t know who this is at the moment.

  11. michael, 16. January 2018, 13:15

    If the council expect others to reside there, what is wrong with properly strengthening the Municipal Building and the council returning to Civic Square?
    I find it hard not to believe this is really all about a council agenda to build themselves a new building, and using any excuse to be able to do this.
    It is time the council got on with sorting out the existing problems with our infrastructure and the like, instead of creating new problems in the name of progress.

  12. Mavis, 17. January 2018, 17:20

    Someone (i.e.mayor and Council) needs to pull the plug on City Shapers – that little enclave in the Wellington City Council dedicated to privatising public property – land and buildings, currently and especially in the Civic Centre, headed by Ian Pike who supported a Hilton Hotel on our waterfront, and lost in an expensive Court case. Whose agenda is this? The mayor’s? Councillors’? CEO Lavery’s? Ian Pike’s? Developers looking for cheap public assets?

    First step – shut down City Shapers. Next step – carry out long overdue maintenance to ensure that the Civic Centre is retained as the primo civic and heritage centre that it ought to be. Does the mayor care? Do any councillors care?

  13. CC, 17. January 2018, 20:20

    Mavis – it wouldn’t be so bad if the Hilton was the only legal case that the ratepayers had lost money on. There was the multi-million debt from Wellington Waterfront Ltd deals prior to being taken ‘in-house’ under CWB’s Mayoralty. Since then there have been more than a few others, up to and including the movie museum/conference centre project that has upset Peter Jackson with an uncontested tender among the issues he has raised. The drain of costs now includes the upcoming Frank Kitts Park case which is draining the city coffers to the tune of FOUR lawyers, two for the Council and two for its deal-maker employee.

  14. Mavis, 18. January 2018, 16:21

    CC: Are you saying that councillors are repeatedly subverting the transparent democratic process to use ratepayers’ funds to fight those same ratepayers in a Court…over and over again? It seems so. That’s very wrong.

    Which councillors are going to stand up to be counted to prevent privatising the public’s Civic Centre land and buildings? (Cf. Ian Pike waterfront land and buildings)

    Too cosy? Too comfortable? Don’t care? That’s very wrong.

  15. CC, 18. January 2018, 19:56

    Mavis – this article might be instructive. Who makes the secret deals that councillors are not appraised of? How come the District Plan has no relevance in Willis Bond deals unless the Environment Court becomes involved? Would Peter Jackson have been more accommodating of the movie museum/conference centre deal if there had been an open tender rather than the Willis Bond/L.T. McGuinness deal. How was the Cable/Wakefield site acquired, when Mark Dunajtschik couldn’t get it for his proposed conference centre project? So many questions, so few Councillors with answers.

  16. Rumpole, 19. January 2018, 0:19

    The Council continues using gold plated law companies to fight its citizens through the courts. A bottomless pit funded by ratepayers. Time to blow the whistle and stop this nonsense.

  17. Polly, 19. January 2018, 7:43

    Thank you Mavis and CC (especially the reference to the article.) Let us not forget there are again threats to Jack Ilott Green and the Michael Fowler car park with its trees and gardens. We are constantly being told that with inner city living green spaces are important. But City Shapers (or now Build Wellington?) are not interested.

  18. Mavis, 19. January 2018, 10:49

    The mayor and councillors are giving away priceless public land for pitiful upfront “leasehold” payments which amount to freehold land, as McGuinness says in his article.

    The Mayor and councillors need to retain public ownership of the civic centre – not for one or two developers but for current and future generations. Do they care? Do they understand? Why are we paying them..to represent us?

  19. Rumpole, 19. January 2018, 11:30

    Time to call in the Auditor General for a thorough investigation into property developer favouritism by the City Council.

  20. CC, 19. January 2018, 11:59

    Since you are of a legal bent Mr Rumpole, how is an investigation initiated? An official enquiry needs to be done urgently as there are indications that there may be a sector of the administration that is making up its own rules, and a majority of elected representatives who have effectively been neutered.

  21. Not Rumpole, 19. January 2018, 12:51

    CC: Just gather the evidence (there’s probably enough here for starters but there is more) and write to the A-G. asking for a thorough investigation and the action you want. Check first whether they will use their powers as they often are reluctant it seems. You will have to use your own name – which presumably is not “CC”.

    There are elections too in about 20 months…but…

  22. michael, 19. January 2018, 20:40

    @ Polly: Absolutely agree with you.
    Time and time again the public make it known that they want to retain the green spaces they have, and that we need more, especially with all the new apartment buildings going up and thousands more people expected to move into the city.
    But the Wellington council seems hell-bent on following in the footsteps of major cities that built blocks of small sized apartments with limited or no green space, and which resulted in major social and mental problems. These same cities are now tearing down these blocks of apartments and building housing focused on the quality of living to create sustainable and resilient communities.
    Jack Ilott Green is a large green oasis next to the Civic Centre and is regularly used by workers and residents alike for many activities. For years people have been battling to save it and even after an over 8000 strong public submission in 2016, and agreement by candidates for the council during the last election campaign that it should be saved, the council is still dragging its feet about ensuring the park’s future as a green space and looking to hock off as much of the Civic Centre as it can. I doubt City Shapers or whatever it is called now will rest until Wellington has become an unattractive crowded concrete jungle.
    No point waiting until the next election to change things because, as we have learnt from the last one, the candidates will say anything to get in and then ignore it all.

  23. Polly, 21. January 2018, 16:50

    Back in March 2010 Mayor Kerry Prendergast – when approving amendments to the long term district plan Variation 11 – claimed that adopting the new framework did not represent privatisation of the waterfront. “We don’t sell waterfront land because it is so valuable, we only lease it. All new buildings can only be given 10-year leases and these can only be renewed by coming back to council.”
    Of course, the failed Retail Centre was given a 999 year lease, and the former Overseas Passenger Terminal has a 125 year lease – with more in the pipeline from what we read in the Herald article by Mark McGuinness.

  24. CC, 21. January 2018, 17:46

    In response to Polly: are there now at least three Mayors in a row who must have had their fingers crossed behind their backs when talking about Willis Bond’s waterfront deals? One was married to a property developer, one wanted to attract Chinese money to finance developers, and the latest used to have a collegial relationship with developers through an executive role that he held. How have each managed to have majority support from Councillors whenever waterfront matters have been voted on?