Oct 25 2023

Wellington council approves $330m spend to repair Town Hall

Wellington city council has voted to approve another $147 million to repair and rebuild the Wellington Town Hall, bringing the total costs to as high as $330 million. 

The Town Hall has been closed since it was damaged in the 2013 Seddon earthquake. The estimated costs of the repairs have increasingly blown out over the last decade, from an initial point of $43m, to $60m to $90m to $112m and most recently to $182m in 2022. The current estimate is in a range between $252m to $329m. 

Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau said the decision was frustrating but necessary.

“This isn’t a welcome decision for us to face, and I understand the frustration, but we cannot ignore it and hope it goes away. Being the capital of arts events and creativity is a priority for me, so losing the town hall would be a huge blow.”

Several options were on the table: continuing to fund the project at the additional cost, completing minor safety works and leaving the building open, or demolishing the building – though this would have been legally difficult due to the Town Hall’s Category 1 heritage status. Leaving the building unfinished would have meant a sunk cost of at least $182m. 

Deputy Mayor Laurie Foon said she initially wanted to vote against continuing the project, but was concerned that the upcoming earthquake strengthening on the Michael Fowler Centre could leave the city with no major performance venues.

“What is making me [vote yes] is fear. Fear of not having the Town Hall or the Michael Fowler Centre, which would mean having no decent concert or congregation centre in the city, and the fear of Wellington not having a place that can champion the arts.”

The council passed amendments proposed by Ben McNulty to direct council staff to explore a Local Bill to prevent future situations where the council was forced to repair damaged heritage buildings. 

It also agreed to cut costs by skipping some heritage flourishes and seeking private donors to help with the cost of the repairs.

Wellington Town Hall was opened in 1904, and has a capacity of 3000 as a concert hall. It was previously the site of the council chambers, but the council does not intend to move back to the site. 

Auckland fastest growing region in year ending June

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – NOVEMBER 22: Members of the public walk through Te Komititanga square on November 22, 2021 in Auckland, New Zealand. Auckland has become this first District Health Board in New Zealand to reach 90 per cent of the eligible population to receive two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty …  Read more

Auckland’s population grew by 47,000 – or 2.8% – in the year ending June.

It was the fastest growing region in the past 12 months, reversing a population loss the year prior. All 16 regions across the country increased, Stats NZ has reported.

“Otago, Waikato, and Bay of Plenty regions also grew faster than the New Zealand average,” Stats NZ’s Michael MacAskill said.

Nationally, the population grew by 2.1 percent in the 12 months to June, a “significant increase” when compared with the 0.1% growth in 2022.

PM joins international community in call for ‘humanitarian pause’ in Gaza

Chris Hipkins on election night, 2023 (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

New Zealand has joined the international community in calling for a “humanitarian pause” in Gaza and the immediate establishment of humanitarian corridors to protect civilians.

Outgoing prime minister Chris Hipkins issued the call in a statement to the United Nations Security Council. He said the provision of essential support to innocent civilians was an obligation under the Fourth Geneva Convention that must be upheld immediately.

“We call on all parties to the conflict to commit to a humanitarian pause and for Israel and Egypt to use a cessation of hostilities to rapidly facilitate unimpeded humanitarian assistance to civilians living in Gaza,” Hipkins said.

The statement was issued after consultation with incoming prime minister Christopher Luxon, who earlier reiterated his view that the Labour government should continue to provide New Zealand’s views on the conflict while in office.

“The volume of aid arriving in Gaza must significantly increase above recent levels to ensure the basics of life can be maintained to the millions living in Gaza who have nowhere to go,” said Hipkins.

“Humanitarian corridors must be established in order for sufficient aid to regularly flow into Gaza, and safe areas must be put in place that are free from military targeting to provide a refuge for innocent civilians who have nowhere to go.

“We are appalled by Hamas’s brutality, their targeting of civilians, and the taking of hostages, which are in clear violations of international law. We call for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages.”

Foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta said it was intolerable to see civilians suffering as a result of the conflict.

“New Zealand supports the right of Israel to defend itself against Hamas’s terrorist attacks, but the way it does so matters. It must abide by international law, exercise restraint, and prioritise the protection of civilians,” said Mahuta.

“Ultimately there is no military solution that will bring about a just and lasting peace for Israelis and Palestinians.”

Auckland tsunami sirens to be switched off in favour of mobile alerts

Image: Archi Banal

Most of Auckland’s tsunami warning sirens will be switched off from the start of December, with emergency management deeming the mobile alert the “preferred” method for warning the public.

Auckland Emergency Management’s general manager Paul Maral said the emergency mobile alert, which can be sent automatically to mobile phones, and has been used during natural disasters, was an effective way to alert the public to any threats.

“In the event of a potential tsunami that could cause damaging waves or flood the land, an amergency mobile alert will be broadcast to all capable mobile phones. This is an effective and tried and tested means of alerting people to danger,” he said.

“The Meerkat sirens at many sites across Tāmaki Makarau have been prone to vandalism and theft and therefore ultimately couldn’t be relied on as part of our tsunami alerting system.”

Image: Archi Banal

Wind to pick up at tip of the country due to Cyclone Lola

Winds are expected to pick up in New Zealand towards the end of the weekend as a result of tropical cyclone Lola, Metservice has reported.

The northernmost parts of the country are most likely to be affected, though at this point the cyclone will bypass the country.

Metservice has been tracking the category four storm and has reported it was about 175 kilometres northeast of Maewo, Vanuatu, moving slowly southwards.

“Severe Tropical Cyclone Lola is expected to move southwest across northern Vanuatu tonight and during Wednesday as a category five cyclone. The system is expected to lie to the southwest of Vanuatu on Wednesday night, and weaken slowly as it recurves towards the south,” Metservice said.

Election day a ‘disgraceful event of affairs’ for Māori, says Ngarewa-Packer

Debbie Ngarewa-Packer during Rātana celebrations in January 2023 (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The co-leader of Te Pāti Māori has amped up her criticism of the Electoral Commission, labelling election day a “disgraceful event of affairs” for Māori voters.

Speaking to the Herald, Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said there needed to be an “immediate review” to ensure improvements ahead of the 2026 election.

“When we see 12,000 of our whānau aren’t participating, all the more reason to make sure that we have pre-empted everything we need to do to make it easier to participate. That’s not how election day on October 14th looked for Māori,” she said.

“So, imagine how Aotearoa would look if we had those 12,000 not participating again in Te Tai Hauauru as we saw, being able to vote. It’s not to the majority’s advantage to remove the barriers for Māori to be able to participate in democracy.”

But the Electoral Commission disagreed. It said a review was always carried out following elections.

“As part of that review, we will look at voting services to Māori and any complaints that have been raised, including those from Te Pāti Māori,” the commission said.

“We take these matters very seriously and it’s important to us that all voters have a good voting experience. If anyone has a complaint or enquiry we ask them to please contact us directly.”

The commission also faced criticisms over a technical issue on election day which led to long queues and reportedly saw people turned away.

The Bulletin: Wellington Council to vote on Town Hall spend

As Georgina Campbell reports for the Herald, Wellington City Council will vote today on spending an additional $147 million on the Wellington Town Hall strengthening project. A cost increase was announced earlier this month, taking the total projected cost from $182m to a possible $329m. Councillor Rebecca Matthews said on Twitter that she felt despondent, writing, “Such limited options to spending all this money on a building that would never be built today when there are so many other more important things to do. Please find me a wayback machine to avoid this shit show.”

Council officials have advised against other options like stopping the project and mothballing the building and demolishing the building has been deemed unrealistic because of its heritage listing and consenting constraints. The NZ Initiative’s Eric Crampton has offered an alternative viewpoint, arguing the council could try and introduce a local bill that would enable the council to delist buildings by simple majority vote without right of appeal.

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‘Work to do’: Luxon says parliament will end later this year, start earlier in new year

Christopher Luxon speaks at adjournment debate. Photo: Toby Manhire

Christopher Luxon’s issued a warning to MPs: get ready for more time spent at parliament.

The incoming prime minister has criticised the lengthy summer break that is typical for members of parliament, telling RNZ he’ll be looking to “run parliament longer” and potentially finish just a couple of days before Christmas. And, he said, it’ll return earlier in the new year. “That’s what happens for the rest of the country, it’s very similar here,” Luxon said.

“We’ve got work to do… If we start it earlier and we have to end later, so be it.”

Luxon reiterated that coalition negotiations were progressing well and confirmed that he “absolutely” does now know Winston Peters. During the second leaders’ debate, Luxon claimed not to know the New Zealand First leader. “We’ve got to build relationships… we’re following a process, trust the process,” Luxon said. “We are progressing arrangements and relationships with both parties.”

Nothing more can happen until the special votes were revealed on November 3, he said, and government formation would happen as “quickly as possible after that”. Luxon said he stood by his 100 day plan which would kick in as soon as he was officially made prime minister.

On Newstalk ZB, Luxon also expressed frustration at the three week length of time it took to count the special votes. He said that it used to take two weeks before people were allowed to enrol on election day and believed that was sufficient. “It is frustrating the length of time it takes to count the special votes but we’re trying to use the time constructively,” he told Mike Hosking.

As for why he was gallivanting about the Chelsea Sugar Factory yesterday, Luxon said he was “taking a break” from negotiations. On Newshub last night, Lloyd Burr suggested coalition negotiations were taking place in Auckland to avoid prying press gallery journalists. Luxon said it was actually for logistical reasons.