Wellington Scoop

Councillors agree to save and strengthen the Wellington Town Hall

News release from Office of the Mayor
The Wellington City Council voted unanimously today to invest in the strengthening of the Town Hall, budgeted at $43 million. “It is important the Council is clear about the full cost of such an important project. My colleagues and I agreed that the project must go ahead,” said Mayor Celia Wade-Brown.

“The Town Hall is a historic landmark building. The money we will spend will future-proof the building for the next century. Music performance and recordings will benefit hugely.

“Today we showed leadership for Wellington’s heritage and public safety. We have excellent economic opportunities to lead earthquake engineering, community resilience and architectural services globally.

“This is a critical commitment to a strong future for Wellington. We cannot expect private owners to upgrade and strengthen their heritage buildings if we don’t show this commitment.”

Today’s meeting also gave the go-ahead for a range of other associated work to go ahead on the Civic Square ‘campus’. The Office of the Mayor and Deputy Mayor will be relocated to the adjacent Municipal Office Building, sharing the fourth floor with the office of the Council’s Chief Executive, Kevin Lavery, at minimal cost.

Councillor Iona Pannett, the Council’s Built Environment Portfolio Leader, says the increase in the projected cost of the Town Hall – budgeted at about $34 million when planning for the building’s strengthening started two years ago – is largely the result of detailed investigation into ground conditions and resultant foundation

Cr Pannett says the proposed strengthening option – base-isolation – would take the Town Hall to 140% of the New Build Standard.

“It is actually a cheaper and less destructive and disruptive solution than other strengthening options – like steel framing – and it would keep the building largely intact in a sizeable quake when other solutions would mean that while the occupants would probably escape unscathed, the building would probably be badly damaged to the point it might have to be demolished.

“The Wellington Town Hall is part of our sense of place, we’re not prepared to let such an important piece of our heritage be reduced to rubble,” said Cr Pannett.

The City Council’s Earthquake Resilience Manager, Neville Brown, says base-isolation has been used to give extra quake resistance to a number of well-known Wellington buildings including Parliament, Te Papa, the Old Bank Arcade in Lambton Quay and the main block at Wellington Hospital.

Base-isolation, invented by Bill Robinson in Wellington, uses lead and rubber ‘bearings’ in a building’s foundations. The base-isolators are flexible and allow a building to move laterally in a quake.

Work on the upgrade of the Town Hall is expected to start at the end of this year.

In recent days, the Town Hall has been subject to considerable debate, with the cost of the work now estimated at $46million.

Since we published a contrary opinion by Ian Cassels, comments on Wellington.Scoop have been predominantly in favour of going ahead with the strengthening.

Here’s the introduction to a report on earthquake risk mitigation which councillors considered at today’s meeting:

Considerable work has been undertaken in the Earthquake Resilience space during this year. The assessment and strengthening of Council owned buildings are part of this work programme.

This programme of work has proven to be dynamic. As we undertake assessments and more detailed investigations we are learning more about our buildings, their performance and the options available to address the findings.

As such, the strengthening plans have been modified and we have had to be nimble to move to address urgent issues as they emerge.

The Town Hall is our most significant project. It has been subject to detailed investigation and on-going planning. This has required considerable time and effort, in order to ensure that this complex project is understood and to provide as high a degree of confidence as possible for this stage of the project in the proposed strengthening solution, project timing and cost estimates.

At this point, the projected cost for the strengthening of the Town Hall, against the agreed criteria, is estimated to be around $46m.

Funding for Municipal Office Building (MOB) has been removed from the programme of work for now. Given the proposed review of Civic Square signalled in the draft Annual Plan and opportunities for implementing a modern working environment for Councillors and staff, officers are recommending that they review the options for the building and will present a Business Case to council in 2013/14.

The report in full is here.


  1. Rosamund, 14. June 2013, 12:49

    Our Town Hall is an internationally recognized concert hall offering remarkable acoustics and great design.

    I suggest all those wanting to read more seek the comprehensive report written by William Toomath in March 1978.

    Congratulations to the Councillors who supported this great cultural investment.

    Demolishing our historic heritage must never be countenanced in this young country.

    Similarly the preservation and reuse of the pre-1860’s brick warehouses and bond store on the area bounded by Manners Street – Victoria Street – Lombard Lane and Bond Street must also be a priority for all those of us who cherish our past.

  2. Twain, 14. June 2013, 19:09

    I cherish the present and believe that we should leave the Town Hall alone as it requires absolutely nothing in order to be continued to be used and enjoyed in its compliant condition.
    A second strengthening for the purpose built and compliant town hall is an unnecessary $43.7 million project.

    Don’t demolish it and don’t strengthen it= problem solved.

  3. Dave, 17. June 2013, 8:25

    The town hall as it stands is a mere shadow of its original design,complete with tower and ornamental stonework. Even that original design was derivative of similar edifices in places like Belfast and Liverpool, and had no great architectural merit. It is easy to build a new hall with good acoustics – its a simple matter of height-width-length ratios and interior surfaces. Knock it down, I say, and build something of true architectural merit which can serve as part of the convention complex and as a concert hall.

  4. Twain, 17. June 2013, 10:47

    Why demolish it and then rebuild another one ? It is fine as it is.
    Why strengthen even more beyond its purpose when there is no need?
    People seem fixated on doing what does not need to be done.