Wellington Scoop

Both sides now?

by Lindsay Shelton
I suppose it’s understandable that our two biggest councils are always telling us that they’re looking on the bright side of life. Typified by the city council’s Kevin Lavery this week announcing that Wellington is “in great shape … thriving and growing,” but later confirming there are costly decisions yet to be made about how to pay for strengthening the buildings around Civic Square, including the Square itself.

The city council highlighted the “great shape” angle when it released Kevin Lavery’s pre-election report.

Wellington is thriving and growing,” said Mr Lavery. “We are in a good position because of a lot of hard work. We have met and are still meeting challenges from the Kaikoura earthquake while continuing to deliver over 400 high-quality services to over 220,000 people every single day.”

But …

“…the city faces significant resilience issues arising out of the Kaikoura earthquake. Some $257million in lost commercial rateable value, over $200million of capital projects adding pressure to the rates line for seismic strengthening projects for the Town Hall and St James Theatre, contributions to the Unreinforced Masonry programme and water resilience, in addition to that has been $30million for temporary solutions to the closure of the Central Library.”

That’s not all. He needs to add to his list the strengthening costs (as yet unknown) not only for the Central Library but also for the Municipal Office Building, which is to be leased by the Council to the new national music centre. He also fails to mention the Opera House, still in use though yellow stickered, which will need to be strengthened once the St James is completed. (Unless demolitionists appear.)

So much to pay for. So much money to be found by a city that’s in great shape. And in a less optimistic interview with the DomPost, Kevin Lavery revealed that money also has to be spent to strengthen Civic Square itself. The original home of Capital E – with part of Civic Square on top of it – has been empty and yellow stickered for years. And yesterday we were told that Civic Square has seismic issues with precast concrete flooring and frames that need stiffening:

“We’ve been working on Civic Square and struggling with it and understanding more about the engineering implications of Kaikōura for some time, it’s a very challenging site.”

Not only challenging, but also costly.

Lavery suggested politicians would have major choices to make about the square after the election: How safe do they want it to be? Do they want to throw a lot of money at it over the next six years or spread that spend over 20 years to relieve strain on the public purse? “I’m not being funny, they’re the sort of choices they have, they make a big difference on the rates impact.”

There’s more, according to the DomPost:

Wellington will have to “live with more water” thanks to climate change, the city’s share of the tourism market is “shrinking”, and it is “simply not possible” to keep a lid on rates due to a stack of bills the city faces that were never budgeted for.

If rates are becoming out of control (and will there be council candidates willing to oppose endless annual rates increases?) it’s deplorable to find Kevin Lavery still mentioning the extravagantly-unnecessary covered arena as something the council wants to build. And though there’s an evident and undeniable need to save money, it seems he doesn’t want to postpone the $179m convention centre, in spite of the likelihood that it will also be a money-loser for the city.

“There are contracts as part of that already signed for delivery, so there are consequences, but yeah you could leave it unfinished.”

Then there’s the Regional Council which this week congratulated itself because, it told us, the Ombudsman had praised its strong culture of openness. However at the end of its media release, we briefly discover that the praise was qualified:

… the report has identified a number of areas in which the regional council can improve its performance. These included more internal promotion of the importance of openness and transparency and the role of the LGOIMA and associated processes in achieving that, and a range of process issues designed to improve record keeping and performance monitoring.

We are, however, asked to believe that all will be well. The council’s chief executive Greg Campbell (the same person who took personal control of the bustastrophe with the aim of fixing it by last Christmas) looks on the bright side and promises “we’ll work through it and take every opportunity to improve.” Done and dusted, as they say. Like the buses.


  1. Pauline, 25. July 2019, 10:18

    So much waste of money when the top priority should be the Town Hall (promised over 6 years ago) and the Library which along with Clarks Café hosts a million people each year.

    Forget about the Convention Centre, Shelly Bay, the covered arena, etc and why spend millions by demolishing the Amphitheatre on Frank Kitts Park and moving the play area – all it needs is a few more swings. In the holidays and weekends, children love the electric cars and the adults the concerts etc. Drove past last night – the Lighthouse slide was shining and the amphitheatre was well lit … a lovely green vision from the CBD.

  2. Traveller, 25. July 2019, 15:48

    The emphasis on forced optimism, so evident in recent pre-election reports, would be better replaced by a more realistic
    focus on the major essential projects that must be done but have not been financed. When you consider these, the council’s insistence on spending large amounts on projects that are not essential (such as the convention centre with its empty space for costly exhibitions to be flown in from offshore) can be seen as foolish. But it’s not that they haven’t been warned.

  3. Alf the Aspirational Apterxy, 25. July 2019, 16:22

    I have an idea for Mr Lavery for keeping costs down. Why not put major construction projects out to competitive tender? Setting priorities when you can’t afford to do everything is also a useful approach that many ratepayers use every day.

  4. Brendan, 25. July 2019, 17:27

    Are you a lawyer Alf? Lawyers are the ones who do really well out of competitive tendering. Look at how much the GWRC has spent on lawyers to oversee their awful bus tenders.

  5. michael, 25. July 2019, 19:12

    It seems like the WCC has had an ulterior motive regarding Civic Square for a while now, and the library has given them the excuse to start banging about costs and mentioning how land around Civic Square is prime real estate that could be sold off. Mr Lavery has even said that Jack Ilott Green “could be developed, there’s no question about that”. Maybe he could also go down Lambton Quay and sell off Midland Park, as clearly green space in the inner city is very low on the council’s priority list, as is any free space on the waterfront.
    Also, I question the Convention Centre and proposed covered arena. Neither of them will have over 27,000 Wellingtonians going through their doors every week like the library. Nor will they provide a community hub like the library. It is more likely they will become white elephants draining the public purse.

  6. Andrew, 25. July 2019, 19:28

    The flip side to that Brendan is where we are with the convention centre. No tendering, and the WCC is contractually obliged to use Willis Bond to build it (or WB would not have sold the land to the WCC). I can guess WB also has a noose around the WCC’s neck in regards to aborting the project. When Iona Pannett was asked (at the public meeting) about rerouting funding from the convention centre to the library, she replied that this could not be done. I wonder what advice the WCC has received from lawyers?

  7. David Mackenzie, 26. July 2019, 6:49

    Does “$275 million in rateable value” mean $275 million of lost rates revenue, or loss of the rates on property valued at $275 million, — presumably a lesser amount? Why can’t he make clear the actual figure he means?

  8. Brendan, 26. July 2019, 6:54

    Cheaper to cancel the tender and pay Willis Bond off. Some money for doing nothing is better than wasting millions on a convention centre we don’t need.

  9. Goofy, 26. July 2019, 7:46

    The only flip side to the convention center would be to hear they have canned the silly project.@Andrew and legally they can.

  10. M D, 28. July 2019, 20:21

    We need our library back more than we need a convention center. The council needs to reconsider/postpone the convention center. It is a tragedy for the community that the Central Library is closed.