News | 3 October 2023
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Town Hall redevelopment project - costs projected to increase further

The cost to Wellington City Council for the strengthening and redevelopment of the Town Hall – one of the most complex construction projects in Aotearoa – is projected to increase by between $70 million and $147 million from its current completion cost of $182.4 million. 

Mayor Tory Whanau and Wellington city councillors were briefed on the increase today. Mayor Whanau says the news is “extremely tough to hear, but not unexpected”. 


The proposed budget increase will be considered and voted on at the Council meeting on 25 October.  


Mayor Whanau says ultimately a majority of elected members will decide whether the extra spending is approved.


“We are dealing with challenging economic conditions - but we are more than half-way through the project which was started by a previous council. There’s no way we can turn back. We must see it through to completion.


“However, I join Wellingtonians at being frustrated and annoyed at the news of another cost increase.”


Mayor Whanau says ongoing work has confirmed that many of the potential risks signalled by engineers, architects and the main contractors in previous terms have now come to pass.


“The Town Hall is an old, fragile, complicated heritage building built on reclaimed land – and the project team keep encountering new structural and ground conditions that are significantly impacting costs.”


Councillors were briefed that the option of halting the project and mothballing the building, or demolishing it, is not realistically available to the Council due to the Town Hall’s heritage listing, and consenting constraints. 


They were told leaving the building in its current state would be a breach of the Building Act. Mothballing the project would require a new resource consent as it currently has a “start to finish” consent. 


A new consent could explore whether a change of conditions could be provided but is unlikely to be approved and is very likely to be challenged. 


Additionally, officers have advised Councillors that with $182 million already invested, the cost of mothballing the project (if it were possible without consenting and heritage constraints) would result in hundreds of millions spent but without a new, earthquake strengthened town hall and centre for music in the middle of our city. 


“The community wanted the Council to seismically upgrade the building and reopen it as a world-class music venue. It is highly unfortunate that this comes at a considerable cost, but we will have to confront this reality. We can’t leave it sitting there unfinished,“ Mayor Whanau says.  


City Council Chief Executive Barbara McKerrow says when the project was commissioned in 2019 the Council of the day was told it would be one of the most complex and risky projects undertaken in recent times in New Zealand.  In light of this, the project has relied on strong external, independent advice and assurance throughout.


“Given the complexity of the contract and soaring building costs over the past few years, no construction company was prepared to take on all of these risks - so the Council had to accept it would need to do so. These risks have been realised to a level even greater than had been anticipated.”


Mayor Whanau says the redevelopment of the Town Hall aims to turn it into a world-class musical and recording venue with improved rehearsal and performance space, with outstanding acoustics and orchestral recording facilities.


It is intended it be a base for civic and community events and part of a centre of musical excellence for New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (NZSO) and home to Victoria University of Wellington’s New Zealand School of Music Te Kōkī.


About the Town Hall


The Town Hall was declared quake-prone in 2009. It was closed in 2013 following the Seddon earthquake, with strengthening work starting in 2019.


The quake-strengthening project involves lifting and propping the building to install new base isolators (flexible pads that reduce shaking in an earthquake) and extensive deep piling, while having to protect and restore the fabric of the category 1 heritage-listed building.


The building is now on its new foundations, with sheet pilling work completed in the basement. Sheet piling creates a support structure of interlocking steel sheets driven vertically down into the ground to form a wall. These metal sheets fit tightly together, creating a barrier that can withstand the pressure of the surrounding waterlogged ground (the Town Hall basement is below sea level).


Piling and concrete works in the auditorium are still ongoing with piling only 25% complete. This is because ground conditions have been even worse than expected including contamination, geotechnical profile, and the extent of dewatering necessary, impacting on time and cost. The existing building condition has also continued to be worse than expected. Heritage reinstatement has not yet been able to start as a result.