Wellington Scoop

Why are they taking so long … the future of the Town Hall

by Lindsay Shelton
Many of us who are concerned about the Wellington Town Hall were encouraged when Mayor Celia Wade-Brown stated that strengthening work would be starting this year. But it seems she was getting ahead of things when she made that claim.

Speaking on March 29 as she launched consultation on the council’s Annual Plan for 2016-17, she said:

“We will ensure Wellington is one of the most liveable cities in the world … New projects include … starting the Town Hall strengthening … “

As the historic building has been closed since 2013, this was welcome news. But … when you seek more details, it’s a different story. No start to strengthening is in sight this year.

On page 26 of the council’s consultation document for 2016-17:

The Wellington Town Hall earthquake-strengthening project is on hold while we reconsider issues relating to ground conditions and the building’s proposed foundation design. As part of confirming the proposed base-isolation system and to manage costs wisely, we commissioned further detailed geotechnical investigations late last year. Geotechnical engineers advised that the building’s proposed foundations will need considerably more strengthening than earlier thought to counteract the impact of liquefaction. We have chosen to have our engineers review our strengthening design to evaluate alternative options. There are various ways of approaching the issue; we’re taking the time to properly consider them all.

The council has been “taking the time” since it closed the Town Hall four years ago. So with strengthening work still “on hold,” the mayor’s statement last month doesn’t hold up. Regrettably.

However last week the letters section of the DomPost revealed a bit more about the long drawn-out process. On Monday there was a letter from former mayor and Arts Festival chair Kerry Prendergast, who wrote (for a second time) stating her concern that the Town Hall remains closed. This time, her plea brought a response.


On Friday, a letter about the Town Hall was signed not only by the Mayor but also by NZSO Christopher Blake and Professor Grant Guilford, vice-chancellor of Victoria University.

They wrote:

Wellingtonians … can be reassured that the Wellington City Council, Victoria University and the NZ Symphony Orchestra are making good progress on the proposal to turn the town hall into a world class music hub…We want a safe building for the public, NZ Festival, Victoria University and the NZSO. And we must also be in a position to assure Wellingtonians, our governance groups and our funders that we have selected the right option for all parties. The town hall project is in the council’s long-term plan and exploratory work will continue through the remainder of this year. The proposed conference centre opposite Te Papa will ensure the town hall and the Michael Fowler Centre focus more on music and performance.

Is this a guarantee that Wellington’s Town Hall will be saved? Does it mean they expect to reach agreement on the Music Hub idea that they’ve been negotiating for two years? The letter contains no promises, but it seems to offer hope for the century-old building, even if there’s still no date for it to be brought back into use.

2013: First vote to save the town hall
2015: Second vote to save the town hall


  1. Concerned Wellingtonian, 11. April 2016, 17:38

    I wonder if there is any single councillor who is prepared to help on this?
    The questioning is quite right, by the way.

  2. Ben, 12. April 2016, 10:01

    Good luck trying to get a straight answer Concerned Wellingtonian.

  3. City Lad, 15. April 2016, 8:49

    Council meetings in Room 1 are like being in a telephone box. Small, poorly lit and public unfriendly. Seating for submitters and supporters reminiscent of battery hen cages. Get back into the Town Hall before some opportunist developer gains consent to demolish.

  4. Pauline, 15. April 2016, 16:07

    I could not agree more with John Button’s review of the Les Talents Lyriques concert on 13th April. As a member of the audience, “one had to make some adjustments for the huge spaces of the MFC, the effect of which was to make the sound of these supremely talented musicians almost inaudible at times to all but the closest rows … How we miss the Town Hall, the future of which has become increasingly shrouded in political murk.” Thank you John Button.

  5. Councillor Nicola Young, 15. April 2016, 20:28

    Getting the Town Hall back into action is a priority for me. It’s a disgrace nothing has happened – and a terrible reflection on the current Council leadership. This is one of our most important venues, and part of many Wellingtonians’ personal history: I sang there as a school girl (in a choir!)

  6. Michael Gibson, 16. April 2016, 7:24

    I am pleased that Cr Young is taking this seriously – I feel really sorry for her that her whole time as a Councillor has been spent in what has correctly been described by City Lad as “a telephone box. Small, poorly lit and public unfriendly. Seating for submitters and supporters reminiscent of battery hen cages.”
    If the Mayor had any personal pride let alone concern for Wellington she would not be talking about selling the Town Hall & would actually be doing something to get on with it.

  7. Rumpole, 16. April 2016, 13:27

    Mayor Young’s singing talents must be heard. Get back to the Town Hall in October please!