Wellington Scoop

Why, who, what and how?

concern about library

by Inner City Wellington
In accordance with the Local Government Act 2002, the Wellington City Council has announced a ‘special consultative procedure’ to determine the future of the Central Library. Under special consultation, the WCC is required to prepare and adopt a ‘Statement of Proposal’ and, to this end, they must ensure that ‘a summary of the information contained in it is a fair representation of the major matters in that statement of proposal.’

ICW is concerned the statement of proposal will not include ‘a fair representation of the major matters’ because the WCC has not allowed the public access to all of the detailed information it has based its recommendations on, to allow us to make informed contributions. Nor are the public having any level of input until WCC officers have developed the statement of proposal which, once again, means the public will only be able to consult on a WCC-driven agenda based on council officers’ representation of data we have not seen.

To ensure better and more transparent consultation, the public are entitled to become more informed and empowered in the decision-making over our central library. Public discontent in this regard became very obvious through the huge public backlash against the recent proposals put forward by council officers.

ICW suggests that the following information was either misinforming or not adequately dealt with.

WHY was the original public promise by the CEO and Mayor that the library would be remediated and opened as soon as possible never actioned?

WHO determined that remediation should be ignored, and plans drawn up for a completely different outcome, without prior consultation with the public?

WHY were the previous costings grossly inflated, which led to huge public misconception of the options?

WHY weren’t costings split into separate specific and well-defined stages as follows:

1. Cost of remediating existing building as initially promised, and as expected by the public.
2. The cost of the existing budgeted fit-out for the library before it was closed in 2019, as approximately $30million has been allocated.
3. Cost to strengthen the existing building – either in stages or all at once.
4. Cost and thorough details of council officers’ ambitious proposal for a totally new fitout which includes unasked for additions.
5. Cost of demolishing the current building.
6. Cost of building a new building.

WHY is the council disregarding the Civic Square Precinct Heritage listing, which includes the library?

WHY has the public never been given access to Professor Ken Elwood’s report, despite numerous promises from the Mayor to do so, and countless requests from the public for it to be released (including an OIA request).

WHY does the building services design report include replacing items which the condition assessment acknowledged were well maintained and in relatively good condition? Where is the history of excessive maintenance costs that would justify categorizing items as at the end of their economic life? Over usage of design life may be misleading when it is the actual condition that matters.

WHY does the council suggest the library building is not fit for purpose, when it was designed to be reconfigured to suit future requirements?

WHAT public consultation informed the decision to have Capital E in the library? Many parents appreciate Capital E in its new position adjacent to Frank Kitts Park which allows easy access for indoor/outdoor play on Frank Kitts Park.

WHAT is the problem with the access and integration of the Central Library Building to Civic Square and the Precinct as claimed by WCC? Where is the evidence of any issue with this?

HOW can the public be expected to believe councillors are fully supportive of retaining our iconic library when it has been agreed that council will make “a” not “the” central library one of its top priorities? This already suggests a prior decision has already been made that a new library needs to be ‘provided’ rather than the existing one be reopened.

WHY hold up the Christchurch library as an example of what we might have, when it takes no account of the fact this new building was covered by insurance – not a cost to the ratepayers as is the case for us?

WHY does any of this have to happen now? Surely the key question is – can the Central Library be remediated so we have back the level of service prior to its closure, until the city is in a better position to consider any major new developments?

And finally, if WCC councillors are genuine in their desire to ensure the public are given the opportunity to be actively involved in the future of the library, they need to ensure the WCC is far more inclusive and genuinely transparent than they have been to date.



  1. Meredith, 19. June 2020, 10:57

    Excellent observations and questions.
    Four more: Why is the largest “suburb” deprived of a quality library? What does it say of our country when the Capital has no quality library?
    And a third! Whose agenda was it to destroy our Civic Centre with now only one functioning building (plus the Michael Fowler Centre)? Was it political vanity ambition or officer incompetence or both?

  2. michael, 19. June 2020, 12:51

    What was the real agenda behind opening small unappealing hubs around the city at a cost of millions which could have been better spent on remediation and would have seen the Central Library reopened by now. The Mayor said in 2019 the Library was not technically earthquake prone, so little wonder the public are upset that remediation has been replaced by proposals for a massive upgrade, and years without the Central Library.

  3. Rob Laking, 19. June 2020, 13:02

    This sounds like a process to be controlled by the Council staff, who have persistently manipulated the information and options to support their preferred plan. Where are the answers to all these legitimate questions? Andy Foster and Council: time for you to step up and restore our faith in local democracy.

  4. Barbara, 19. June 2020, 16:48

    Mayor Andy Foster and Councillors…..I voted for you, my top priority was the Central Library. The city centre is a sad place these days, the bustling crowds are gone. The Pop up Libraries are without atmosphere and fine only as a temporary option.
    A clear honest explanation of why this Library fix up has been so delayed would be appreciated. We also need a prompt clear plan for its future please.

  5. BrooklynBrooklyn, 19. June 2020, 20:44

    I voted for Andy Foster and have been bitterly disappointed. Fixing the Central library is a clear priority for the community and the lack of urgency is disgusting.

  6. D'Esterre, 20. June 2020, 15:55

    I also voted for Andy Foster, and my reason for doing so was that I want the central library reopened pronto. No excuses, no shilly-shallying. I have also been bitterly disappointed. It will not be forgotten come the next election, mayor Foster can be sure of that!

  7. John, 20. June 2020, 15:56

    Following an OIA request I was provided with all “relevant” reports and an explanation that Prof Ken Elwood was never engaged to write a report BUT RATHER was to chair a panel of experts to consider the remediation. This was a blatant misleading of the public and councillors by the staff. I also noted that Council Officers ignored the 2013 recommendation that additional supports be provided to the Hollow Core Floors, and then decided to change the Importance Level of the Building. This change resulted in the initial assessment no longer being applicable. The support to the floors however was not affected by the change. The matter of refurbishment and services were added by Officers apparently with no consultation.

  8. Leviathan, 20. June 2020, 17:09

    Thanks for doing that John. I can accept that Prof Elwood was engaged to chair a panel of experts, but it simply does not make any sense that there is no report as an outcome. How was the result from this panel of experts given to the Council? Did Prof Elwood simply ring up Andy Foster and say Yeah / Naah? Did Elwood send Foster a text? Or a Snapchat? Perhaps a little TikTok dance to signify if the Library could get a shimmy on? Unless they were communicating entirely by psychic telecommunication, there will be at least one word (and probably a lot more) in the form of a Report. Keep on looking! If someone is still hiding it, then they need to fess up – or get sacked. Simple as that.

  9. Trish Molloy, 20. June 2020, 19:36

    I feel devastated at the total lack of public consultation. Our central hub has been totally destroyed. Accountabity please as our rates are paying for this incompetence.

  10. Michael Gibson, 21. June 2020, 10:23

    The point about refurbishment and services being “added by Officers apparently with no consultation” is perhaps unfair. I imagine that it was one of those things that were discussed at a “workshop” where Councillors did not want to let their views be known to the public.
    Having workshops is so convenient for them – and such an abuse of their duties to the public.

  11. Sean Rush, Eastern Ward City Councillor, 21. June 2020, 11:19

    Good article, thanks. Being a newbie on the Council, I hadn’t followed it closely until I was elected so have been playing catch up somewhat.

    I have heard from other sources that reports have been withheld. I’ll follow up on that as I am unaware of anything that should be held back.

    I had advocated for ditching the new build option and consulting only on the two strengthening options. I assumed by doing that we could start strengthening work immediately and decide later how much strengthening we might ultimately do. I don’t know why this course could not have been pursued from day 1. In fact it is unclear to me what the legal basis for closing the library was in the first place. It was also clear that a cost estimate for strengthening is almost certainly going to be far more accurate than a proposal to demolish and rebuild when the design had not been considered or costed.

    We received legal advice saying we needed to consider all practical options. Even tho a new build seemed impractical to me, and we could have dismissed it under another provision of the LGA, we were persuaded to include it in the consultation anyway but that preliminary work could commence immediately. I thought that was a reasonable result, if overdue.

    I am concerned to see comments regarding officers crafting advice in a manner that steers Councillors to officer preferred outcomes. I will also follow up on this. Certainly the paper recently presented to us was top heavy on data supporting a new build but that is not the direction I sense the public want and your Councillors have made that clear in approving the next steps with a preference for preserving the existing building.

    I think there is a need to take a look at our planning rules where common sense seems to be ignored due to strict adherence to the LGA when a more flexible approach is often needed.

    Thanks for everyone’s patience.

  12. wendy, 21. June 2020, 14:28

    Thank you for your straightforward response Sean.
    It is appreciated.

  13. John Rankin, 21. June 2020, 18:06

    Inner City Wellington’s last question is spot on:

    WHY does any of this have to happen now? Surely the key question is – can the Central Library be remediated so we have back the level of service prior to its closure, until the city is in a better position to consider any major new developments?

    It seems pretty straightforward to me:

    1. Do the minimum strengthening necessary to reopen the building.

    2. While you are at it, replace whatever plant needs upgrading (a business-as-usual practice under the building’s long term maintenance plan).

    3. In 10 years’ time, when other major capital projects have come to fruition (Town Hall, Convention Centre, St James, etc), come back for a proper review.

    Library services have always evolved and library buildings are designed to be adapted to support new services. As I understand it, the library had developed a proposal for doing this with the current building. Suggesting that we need a new building to support new services is a dubious proposition.

    While the building is being repaired, could WCC please fix the Victoria St entrance? The new stickers all over central city footpaths exhort us to keep left; the doors into and out of the central library require us to keep right.

  14. Helene Ritchie, 21. June 2020, 21:57

    Thanks Sean for this helpful contribution and effort. Thanks also to Inner City Wellington for raising some key questions.

    Of course there should be no need for more questions, more consultation, more options, more delay by the mayor and councillors. The Council just needs to take the advice of commissioned engineers received a long time ago and get on with it. The Council should just do (and have done) what needs to be done to fix and reopen our library. I hope that councillors like Sean Rush and Fleur Fitzsimons will ensure that a.s.a.p.

  15. David Mackenzie, 22. June 2020, 10:08

    The heart has been torn out of the city. Therefore, inevitably it will die.

  16. John, 23. June 2020, 9:33

    Further to my earlier comment regarding Prof Ken Elwood’s involvement [Leviathan] I did receive as part of the OIA request a summary prepared by a Council Officer of the “outcomes” from the meeting of experts. These were [sort of] represented in the Report to Council on the Library. To me it is quite clear that Officers are steering the elected representatives to a decision that they [Officers] want.
    Sean – I wish you good luck on finding out whether my comments are correct but let me assure you that I have observed such manipulations over the past 30 years.

  17. P Grant, 23. June 2020, 20:18

    I can’t actually think this is allowed to happen to Wellington and allowed to continue by the populace. Where are the councillors to stand up to this nonsense and which ones will be elected next term?

  18. D'Esterre, 24. June 2020, 12:25

    P Grant: “I can’t actually think this is allowed to happen to Wellington….” The rest of us find it unbelievable as well. I have it on good authority that the WCC has Form for this sort of behaviour, going back many years. I’m not talking about the elected members here; it is the appointed officers who are the problem. In local government circles, it’s seen as not following protocols and making up rules as it goes along. It’s astonishing that the culture remains unchanged, despite all the reorganisations and restructurings.

    “…which ones will be elected next term?” Unless we see the Central Library reopened over the next few months, and if I have anything to do with it, none of them. We elect Councillors to tell appointed officers what their job is to be, not the other way around. With regard to the Library, Councillors can be under no illusions as to what the citizens want. And they can be under no illusions about what’s needed to fix the floor connections, because experienced engineers have TOLD them!

    Given all the nonsense we’ve been seeing, if Prof. Elwood had wished to distance himself from this whole process, we should not be surprised.

  19. michael, 24. June 2020, 20:44

    Until council officers recognise they are working for a public body funded by the ratepayers and, instead of continually promoting their own agendas, accept that their responsibility is to enable the effective participation of communities in council decision-making, nothing will change. And, until current attitudes change, councillors will continue to struggle to represent the needs of their constituents.

  20. D'Esterre, 24. June 2020, 22:11

    Michael, you are exactly right. I couldn’t agree more.

  21. Elaine Hampton, 1. July 2020, 18:58

    Councillors need to realise that they are in a Governance role, Officers need to realise they are public servants, and every one needs to act accordingly.