Wellington Scoop

Five years. Ten years.


by Lindsay Shelton
The French President’s announcement yesterday that Notre Dame would be rebuilt in five years was a reminder that it’s taking twice as long to strengthen and reopen Wellington’s Town Hall.

Almost six years ago, city councillors first voted to strengthen the Town Hall.. The building was closed at the end of 2013 for the work to begin. Since then there’ve been three more votes – each unanimous – agreeing that the building would be strengthened. But each vote was followed by delays and more delays. And this year we’ve been told that the Town Hall will not be reopening until 2023.

“We will rebuild Notre-Dame Cathedral, more beautiful than ever, and I want this to be finished in five years,” Mr. Macron said. “We can do it, and we will mobilize to do so.”

If only the city council could have been so resolute.

Some work on the facade of the historic building began last year, and at that time the council said the major strengthening would start “later in 2018, once the brickwork is secure.” But it didn’t happen. The council’s project managers then said they intended to appoint a contractor and start work in November. It didn’t happen.

In February Naylor Love were named as the “preferred tenderer” for the major strengthening, and councillors unanimously approved the $112m budget. Yesterday, as nothing more had been announced, I asked the council if the Naylor Love contract has yet been signed. And the answer was positive – it was signed about three weeks ago. And preparatory/setup work has begun. At last!

I also asked what is happening to the Municipal Office Building. It was due to be vacated after Labour weekend, but there still seem to be plenty of council staff in residence – including a recent addition of library staff who apparently have nowhere else to go.

They can’t stay there for long. In the council’s own words: “Heavy and noisy construction work is due to start in the Town Hall in the New Year – meaning the MOB will be unsuitable for occupation.”

The MOB itself requires strengthening, before it can be leased to Victoria University as the new home for the music school. And though there isn’t yet a timeframe for this work, councillors have agreed that the wall adjoining the Town Hall needs to be strengthened now “for maximum efficiency and exposure mitigation” as part of the Town Hall construction programme. For this, $5.9million has been added to the 2019/2020 Annual Plan.

All of which indicates that – now the major job of strengthening the Town Hall is beginning – all the last occupants will soon have to leave the Municipal Office Building. A challenge for the council to identify where these staff members will be based. A sad situation for Civic Square, which (with the exception of the City Gallery) will be surrounded by empty buildings. But a hopeful – distant – outlook for 2023, when the Town Hall will (let’s hope) at last be open again.


  1. Guy M, 18. April 2019, 11:06

    Lindsay – Macron saying “Five Years” is like Trump saying “We are building a wall”. It’s an uneducated wish list, rather than an actual thing. Doesn’t mean it is at all likely to happen. I’d say it will be more like 15 years work on Notre Dame.

    Similarly with the Town Hall – massively complex project. Not a quick job.

  2. steve doole, 18. April 2019, 13:34

    Strengthening and rebuilding of the nearby St Mary of the Angels church was no small or simple task, and didn’t take ages once started. A movie of this brilliant job was shown during Architecture Week last year. The Council might have its buildings back in use faster by using a similar approach.

  3. Nora, 19. April 2019, 9:59

    In 2012 CEO Kevin Lavery was quoted as asking councillors to seriously consider the future of the Town Hall and said the project was a lot of money for zero return! However Mayor Celia Wade Brown said the Town Hall wasn’t saved in the 1970s to swing a wrecking ball – it had cultural heritage values for Wellingtonians. And now here we are 6 years plus down the track. So get on with it.

  4. michael, 19. April 2019, 11:39

    There is little doubt that discussions have been going on within the council for several years regarding Civic Square, with little or no transparency concerning this. We want genuine assurance our iconic Civic Square is going to be saved. And we want action now! We do not need vanity projects while our Civic Square is laid to waste.

  5. Leviathan, 19. April 2019, 17:54

    I’m impressed by the way that Macron simply stated that it would of course be restored, unequivocally, and it reminded me of the words of Gerry Brownlee after the 2011 earthquake – that … 4 or 5 buildings would obviously get to stay – being the Arts Centre, the Cathedral, the Canterbury Museum etc. As it was, and as we know, nothing is so simple and so short-lived as the truthfulness of a politician’s words – here we are 8 years later and the ChristChurch cathedral has not even been touched yet, and the Catholic cathedral is still just containers and hay bales. So: don’t trust Macron.

  6. Rumpole, 19. April 2019, 20:37

    The Town Hall is a strategic asset of Civic Square. The 2013 closure followed by at least 6 years inflation means costs have soared. The closures of the Civic Administration Building (2016), and recently the Central Library were made without sufficient public notice. Abuse of ratepayers must cease.

  7. Local, 20. April 2019, 10:20

    According to the mayor on RadioNZ today, $15million has already been spent on planning and design.. about a third of what the original strengthening was going to cost. All we have so far is an ugly barricaded town hall. And losing our library to boot…

  8. michael, 20. April 2019, 17:13

    How hard is it to determine what needs strengthening in Civic Square and get on with it instead of procrastinating for years and leaving it looking like a war zone? The longer it is left, the more likely the land could be sold to a developer. Perhaps this is the council’s long-term aim? And, forgive me for sounding paranoid but, as transparency within the council is in short supply, it is little wonder I and others expect the worst.

  9. tom, 20. April 2019, 18:24

    The truth is that five years to restore a place like Notre Dame is an irresponsibly short period of time for what can only be described as the most complex restoration job in recent history – it should be taking 30 years.

    As for our Town Hall, I’m pleased that the Council has decided to base isolate the building (this is where at least half the cost is going) and this should mean that restrengthening in the future is kept to a minimum and will hopefully mean it survives most earthquakes. The earlier, cheaper figures were always for a bare-minimum strengthening job and such operations are only ever temporary (after all it was last done in the 90s). That it took so long to come to this decision is just something we’ll have to live with – and all of us concert-going mandarins should count ourselves lucky that the Council has decided to spend such a fortune on what many people regard as subsidising the hobbies of the elite.

    I can also report that the strengthening work has begun; a recent email from the NZSM said that work had started within the last week and that negotiations with the WCC concerning the music school in the MOB have almost been completed and an announcement can be expected in May or June. The MOB building will also need significant strengthening and fit-out works for the NZSM and VUW have turned down the opportunity of buying and developing the building themselves so it seems inevitable that the Council will be funding all this work and then leasing it to VUW and the NZSO. I’m sure this deal will not go down particularly well with most ratepayers – so again we should count ourselves lucky.