Wellington Scoop

At last: a real vote for the Town Hall

Wellington Town Hall strengthening project

by Lindsay Shelton
Yesterday’s Town Hall vote seems to be more real than the previous three.

Wellington city councillors have now voted four times to strengthen the Town Hall. Each of the previous three votes (2013, 2015, and 2017) was unanimous. As was the case yesterday. But the first three votes didn’t result in any work beginning.

This time it’s different. Yesterday’s vote approved a contractor: Naylor Love, whose experience includes the equally massive job of strengthening Parliament Buildings. Work is to start in March or April. Councillors were told

Naylor Love has provided for a construction period of four years. This has been assessed by the technical experts and procurement panel as a reasonable estimation of the time required. The programme will remain subject to progress on the in-ground works which will only become clearer 6 -12 months into the project. The programme duration will be re-assessed on a regular basis.

Councillors yesterday approved a new and increased budget for the work: the estimated cost is $112.4 million excluding contingency. The public were excluded when a confidential paper about terms and conditions of the contingency was discussed.


But there was no secrecy about evolving plans for the Municipal Office Building, next to the Town Hall. It’s to become teaching rooms and offices for Victoria University’s School of Music, which is expected to be leasing the building from the council when it moves into town to be part of the new Music Hub which will have the Town Hall – to be shared with the NZSO – at its centre.

MOB, adjoining the Town Hall, also requires strengthening and redevelopment. It is likely that Council will be required to act as the developer, on the basis that the bulk of cost of the redevelopment will be recouped through a commercial lease of the building. This will be submitted as a separate budget approval. However, the wall that adjoins the Town Hall and MOB needs to be strengthened early in the Town Hall construction programme for maximum efficiency and exposure mitigation. This will require a provision of $5.9 million in the 2019/2020 Annual Plan to continue the MOB design and proceed with the wall strengthening.

There’s much interest in the degree of public access to the Town Hall once it has reopened as the centre of the Music Hub. Councillors were told yesterday that it will continue to be a venue for public performance and musical events, as well as for community, corporate and civic events. All the NZSO’s concerts will return to the Town Hall, while the Music School will be the major user of the Ilott Concert Chamber.

A shared occupancy of the Town Hall with NZSO and the University presents the opportunity to further embed key creative partnerships we already enjoy in the music and music education sectors. Shared occupancy has been designed to ensure continued public access to the Town Hall facilities, while strengthening the city’s ‘creative capital’ branding and ensuring a high degree of utilisation of the Town Hall given the investment in earthquake strengthening required. As well as providing an important return on capital, this occupancy will also provide increased vibrancy and activation in Te Ngākau Civic Square – confirming its place as the local democratic and cultural heart of the city

And more details include a decision that the Council Chamber, renamed the debating chamber, will be altered so that it can be used for performances as well as council meetings.

Council will retain approximately 40% of the total occupancy of the Town Hall. NZSO and VUW will share access to the remaining 60% in return for a rental stream at market-derived rental levels. Three shared performance spaces will open in the strengthened Town Hall. The Music Hub adds to the stand-alone earthquake strengthening scenario for the Town Hall through the following –
 The provision of a recording space designed to meet the needs of the NZSO to allow for film scoring and other recording work;
 Level two will incorporate a new practice and performance space in the north-west corner above the Mayor’s office;
 Extensive fit-out throughout the Town Hall with tenant spaces paid for by VUW and the NZSO; and
 The debating chamber space will be altered to provide extra seating for performances and practice sessions and the gallery will be refurbished in order to allow for larger audiences, better viewing angles, improved acoustics, and a better end user experience

And the financial deal:

The key approval linked to the Town Hall decision in June 2017 was the granting of a long term lease to the NZSO and VUW. A Collaboration and Redevelopment Agreement (CRA) was concluded in 2018. The long term commitment from the tenants realises a total rental stream in excess of $31m ($15m on a NPV basis) over the term of the lease.

A key outcome of the Music Hub is that it will …

…provide the Wellington public with opportunities to experience and be inspired by music and musicians in a central city setting and reinforce the city’s reputation as a vibrant, arts-rich place to live

And the Town Hall’s importance as a centre of the city’s heritage was spelled out in the papers given to councillors yesterday:

The Town Hall is the irreplaceable civic and symbolic heart of the city and is the centrepiece of Te Ngākau Civic Square. As such it has significant cultural value for Wellington as a focal-point for democratic, social and community activities. The building has fine interiors and contains a world class auditorium and concert chamber. Wellingtonians often have a personal connection to this place and have stories of the events and celebrations that they have enjoyed, collectively and individually…Historically the Town Hall was the centre of municipal administration providing a venue for democratic processes. It is the place where Mayors and Councillors made decisions that helped shape the city, and has been since the building opened on December 7th, 1904. The approach to strengthen and carefully adapt the building for new uses is sympathetic to its history and reflects Wellington’s wider concerns with ensuring a resilient city that can prosper into the future.

So after four identical and unanimous votes, city councillors have made the right decision, though it’s been a long time coming.


  1. Michael Gibson, 28. February 2019, 9:10

    I record again that, last year, the Mayor told a well-attended lunch of the English Speaking Union that the Council Chamber in the Town Hall would be ready for use in “June 2020”.
    I am waiting for a reply to my email asking him to confirm this.

  2. Wellingtonian, 28. February 2019, 10:04

    Sounds too good to be true…..but one day……

  3. Ben Schrader, 28. February 2019, 10:16

    While I applaud the Council vote to strengthen and refurbish the Town Hall and create a Music Hub about Te Ngāku Civic Square it’s still not clear whether the full Council intends to return to the site. The publicity says that Council will take up only 40% of the Town Hall – not enough space to house all its officials – and develop the MOB for the School of Music. This will provide a lucrative income stream.

    But where will the rest of the Council be housed? Is the plan to continue to lease expensive office space on The Terrace or return to a refurbished or rebuilt Civic Administration Building? If it’s the former then the rental income from the MOB and Town Hall doesn’t seem so rewarding. If it’s the latter then the Council won’t be paying rent to someone else. The full Council’s return to Te Ngāku Civic Square would also enhance the space’s role as ‘a focal-point for democratic, social and cultural activities’ in Wellington.

  4. Wellingtonian, 28. February 2019, 10:58

    I agree with Ben..civic square without civic? And by the way, the Council is no longer “Council”. It is split up into CCO entities, and/or contracted out to various private entities, and scattered all over the city, not only renting on the Terrace. If you are lucky you will find the Service Centre in Manners Street and WREDA somewhere up the road from there…..
    Anyone know where the regional council (GWRC) is hiding these days?

  5. Concerned Wellingtonian, 28. February 2019, 14:43

    The Regional Council is also hiding its responsibilities. For instance it spends a lot of its little energy in pretending that Metlink has nothing to do with it. However it is 100% responsible for Metlink which in reality is part of the council.

  6. Pauline, 28. February 2019, 15:57

    GWRC is up Walter Street! past the Salvation Army….

  7. Ms Cynic, 28. February 2019, 17:39

    The reality is they had no option ..the councillors had tied the Council into a long term lease agreement with the NZSO and VUW. It doesn’t take a genius to see through this. So …the council had no option but to approve the cost escalations, or face having a half demolished interior of the town hall for ever…and contract penalties. I am tiring of the political grandstanding (mayor and councillors congratulating themselves and saying how hard the decision was) every time the council makes another unanimous decision on the Town Hall! Now just get on with it.

  8. Tony Jansen, 1. March 2019, 12:00

    Reading between the line, the bulk of the Council will no doubt move into expensive new premises. I was involved with the opening ceremony and ground breaking for the beginning of the construction of the Civic Square. It should always be the heart of democracy and culture in Wellington. The council’s plans will turn this space into another part of the University’s fiefdom.

  9. michael, 1. March 2019, 17:52

    Tony, I agree. I suspect the “Civic” Square will go and WCC will hide out somewhere up the Terrace , making it harder for people to reach and annoy them. I question what has been behind WCC’s persistence in getting Victoria to move onto the Civic Square if, by doing this, there would not be enough room for them to move back. Unless of course they plan on ruining Civic Square by building a big new flash building on Jack Ilott Green and ignoring the promises made to the thousands of people who petitioned to keep the green.