Wellington Scoop

Saving the Civic Centre, or destroying it

Open letter from Helene Ritchie to the Wellington Mayor and City Councillors
I write with a degree of alarm and anger over your proposals for the Central Library and Te Ngakau/Civic Centre. I am urgently asking you to amend the draft LTP at your meeting on Thursday.

It appears that you are all bent on privatising or part privatising three public buildings in our Civic Centre – not only the library but also the MOB and the CAB. But even with part privatisation of the library, Council draft LTP 2021 documents show that you cannot afford to do the complex and costly library project and at the same time retain ghe MOB and the CAB which are major Civic Centre buildings. So, you are proposing to demolish them and offer them to a private developer.

I am aware that you are talking amongst yourselves about a different option for the library – increasing the debt and therefore the rates, when many of the public will struggle with the proposed increase of just under 14%.

But what is most alarming is the consequence of your decisions. Unless you amend the draft LTP this Thursday in the way that I suggest, the result will be to effectively and wantonly destroy our civic centre. After this Thursday, it will be too late because the draft LTP excludes the less costly option for the library to be consulted on.

You will recall that last year you asked us to make a decision about the future of the library. But the options you gave us were in a fiscal vacuum, as was the vote you then each made, which was in the absence of any knowledge of how any option was to be funded. It was also without having information about the significant fiscal challenges obvious in the draft LTP facing Council and ratepayers and residents today.

This is your last chance (and ours) to save our civic centre and at the same time to re-open the library in an expeditious way. If the amendment that I suggest is not put into the draft LTP now, then the only options will be privatisation, part privatisation or demolition of a significant part of our civic centre.

The amendment that I propose is this:

“That the low-level remedial option for the library be included in the draft LTP for consultation, in order to repair the structural issues to make it safe, refurbish and re-open ($81.9m; that it be included alongside the Council’s preferred option of the $178.7m project; and that Council use some of the remaining $96.8m funds to retain and strengthen the MOB building ($84m), and fix the 2016 damaged CAB ($49m) using the $38m from the successful insurance claim, and an additional 11m from the library savings; and that the remaining capex funds be used for landscaping and enhancement of Te Ngakau our civic centre.”

We still have our Civic Centre but only just. It has languished without proper maintenance or asset management for years now, it looks shabby, with the library closed and barricaded.

However, if there is no amendment by councillors as proposed here, then that will be the end of the heart of our Capital and its civic centre.

It took decades of work by Councils well before I chaired the civic centre project for the Council to purchase and amalgamate properties. We formed the concept and funding of the civic centre as a whole, closed and pedestrianised Mercer Street, and created the team to build a special place, our civic centre with world class and heritage architecture as well as Council accommodation. It was the best civic centre in the country.

Your legacy can be one of enhancing and protecting the civic centre including the library, or one of destruction of a major public asset – Te Ngakau, our civic centre.

I want to be able to be proud of our Council and of each of you. I am therefore imploring you to propose the amendment I suggest here, and include the option and detail in the draft LTP for public consultation.

Nga mihi

Helene Ritchie is a former deputy mayor who chaired the Council’s civic centre project.

Note: The cost estimates are taken from the draft LTP.


  1. Dave B, 2. March 2021, 19:57

    Thanks Helene. A voice of sanity in all this.
    Council, do only what needs to be done to remediate and strengthen, no more.
    Please do not sell off Civic Square or parts of it. The buildings currently there worked well. We do not need major demolitions and re-builds in order to withstand unscathed the 1 in 200yr earthquake which may well not happen within the life of the building anyway. Stick with what we have.

  2. Northland, 2. March 2021, 21:25

    I can’t understand why the Council are hell bent on spending so much money on the Central Library when there are cheaper options as you have outlined Helene AND the Library is generally well regarded, had good patronage, is only 30 years old and is not included in the earthquake prone building list. What is this madness – councillors, you need to save money!

  3. Helene Ritchie, 3. March 2021, 15:10

    Northland, you are correct. I have the most up to date earthquake-prone building list and it is abundantly clear that the Central Library is not earthquake prone, and has never been given an earthquake-prone notice by the City Council’s authority. It is very poor that the DomPost continues to say that it is earthquake-prone, despite my alerting them to the facts, and it is unclear why the Council has continued in a similar way. The other two buildings MOB and CAB are also not listed as earthquake prone.

  4. Hel, 3. March 2021, 18:53

    I don’t share any romantic views of Civic Square and I can’t see the sense in pumping large sums of money into fixing up EQ challenged buildings. $180m to refurbish the Library is ridiculous and investing similarly large sums on the other buildings that are mothballed would be even more ridiculous. There comes a point where the investment to remedy these buildings is too costly and involves significant risks. The square really needs opening up and some life breathed into it, it wasn’t that great to be fair before the EQ havoc.

  5. Andrew, 3. March 2021, 21:53

    Thanks Helene. I wonder how much damage the Library received in the last two earthquakes? I have not seen any damage. The Council gave us an option which we chose, then they ignored that and went for a more expensive one. And we all know how unreliable the budget forecasts are for major construction projects. The Council must opt for a more simple and cheaper remediation. Any more is a dereliction of duty of care of ratepayers’ money.

  6. Helene Ritchie, 15. March 2021, 8:40

    Thanks Andrew. The Central Library has never been listed as earthquake prone. (I have the up to date list). It could/should have been fixed/remediated and reopened years ago, and for a fraction of the current estimate. Even on the Council’s estimates today, they say the remediation would cost $81.9million, alongside the $178.7 million ‘nice-to-have’ (one day) option. How much will that balloon out to? Double? More? The Town Hall is costing at least 3 times its original estimate.

  7. Helene Ritchie, 15. March 2021, 10:10

    What a pity the Council would not release the list of earthquake-prone buildings as assessed by the Council, when I requested it earlier this month. Why not? This is public information. Just as well I could get it by other means. Has anyone else tried?