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Wellington City Council: Let’s Do It Again

Let’s Do It Again

By Lindsay Shelton,

A new Manners Mall. “As part of our commitment to improving the city, the Council has completed the upgrade of Manners Mall and the surrounding area.” This was the announcement in February 2004 in the council’s “Rates News”. The upgrade – with design input from Athfield Architects and Wraight Landscape Architects - cost $1.6million and included flashing lights in the paving and powerpoints for buskers and street performers.

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Manners Mall today

Less than five years later, the Wellington City Council doesn’t like its upgrade any more. The pedestrian Mall is out of favour. The Council thinks it should be put back to how it was: a two-lane road with traffic going in both directions. This would somehow strengthen the Golden Mile by reducing bus travel times.

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Feedback has been sought. A booklet has been published. And the cost?

The cost, says the Council hopefully, could “potentially be funded over the next five years using money already budgeted for bus priority and urban redevelopment work.”

The Council, of course, has a record of changing its mind at the ratepayers’ expense.

The popular and well-used Frank Kitts Park, created on the waterfront in the 1980s, is to be redeveloped and rebuilt. The council has selected a design from Wraight and Associates, the people who helped to design the Manners Mall. (The practice was restructured and renamed in 2003.) The $4million cost will be met by the council-owned Wellington Waterfront company (which was kept afloat with $3.9million in “temporary additional funding” from the council last year.)

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The slide at Wellington’s iconic Frank Kitts Park

The council’s pleasant Cobblestone Park on Vivian Street is also to be remade. Designed and built in the mid-70s in modernist English character style, it features well-developed trees and well-worn lawns in front of the striking red School of Architecture.

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Cobblestone Park

The cost of remaking this little park is a million dollars. Again, the design is by Wraight and Associates (obviously favoured by the council, they were also chosen with Athfield Architects to design the $18million Waitangi Park).

Is there a chance that the Council might have second thoughts about the cost of wiping out the Manners Mall less than five years after it was created? There are small signs of apprehension. The Council website talks of “tough decisions” to be made about priorities.

Mayor Prendergast has been more specific. The Dominion Post reports her as having a goal of cutting $3million off Council spending every year for the next decade, to keep rates in line with inflation. “We can’t keep doing everything we have been doing.”

But the messages are contradictory.

In the same newspaper, the Mayor announced that the Council was commissioning a report on the cost and viability of a 10,000-seat indoor arena which could be built above the Stadium and would cost “about $100 million.”

The Council already owns the Events Centre (now renamed the Vector Arena), the Town Hall, the Ilott Concert Chamber, the Michael Fowler Centre, the St James Theatre and the Embassy Theatre. Why does it think the city needs another, bigger space? The answer seems to be that it’s desirable for us to see international music acts such as Stevie Wonder, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, even Kylie Minogue.

Then there’s the $46million which the Council plans to spend on an indoor sports centre way out in Kilbirnie, if it gets resource consent.

Not everyone likes this idea. “The council is mad to build the centre in Kilbirnie,” Cr Andy Foster told Capital Times last year. “The cost is astronomical, and it is an inferior location.”

And that was before the Council started to think about the need to cut spending.

It shouldn’t be difficult to make decisions about what is absolutely necessary.

Reconstructing parks which already exist? Tearing up a pedestrian mall less than five years after it was built? $46million for netball, basketball, and volleyball? $100million for one-off concerts by Kylie and Stevie?

How tough are tough decisions?

Lindsay Shelton. 25 November, 2008.


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