Wellington mayoral candidates (2016 election)

2021: Although this election has happened, some of these people are still on our city council and Andy Foster is the mayor, so we will leave this up while it may still have some relevance.


Local body elections will be held this year (2016). We decided to put some questions to the Wellington City mayoral candidates. So far we have received answers from six of the eight candidates. We will add the others if and when they come to hand. We have grouped the responses under each question and varied the order of candidates’ answers to try to be fair! If you would rather read each candidate’s response separately you can click these links for a PDF copy: Jo Coughlan. Justin Lester. Andy Foster. Helene Ritchie. Nicola Young.  Keith Johnson

  1. Matters concerning heritage buildings are a heated topic in Wellington’s media. What is your position on heritage buildings in Wellington?

Nicola Young

Wellington’s history is an essential part of the texture of our cityscape and heritage; it’s also my family history. My maternal ancestors lie in Bolton Street cemetery, my paternal ancestors in Mount Street cemetery, St Mary of the Angels has been my family’s parish church since it was opened in 1922, and I’ve attended many events at the Old Town Hall, right back to my primary school days. I have a particular interest in Wellington’s churches – many of which are significant heritage buildings.

Many heritage buildings have already been lost (Wellington Public Hospital is one example) so it’s important to focus on protecting as many as feasible. At the same time, most of our heritage buildings need expensive seismic strengthening (a huge fiscal burden on owners) and some buildings will need to find a new purpose, to justify the strengthening costs. We cannot afford to save everything, so we need to think carefully about buildings with relatively low heritage value and high earthquake risk.

There are some fantastic ‘re-purposing’ precedents both in Wellington (Circa Theatre, the Odlins Building, the Taj Mahal lavatories and Clyde Quay apartments) and abroad. In Britain charming old buildings have been converted into hotels (the Hotel du Vin chain has a number); and in Singapore: Fullerton Hotel (a former Post Office), National Gallery (the old Supreme Court) and Chijmes foodie quarter (a former Catholic convent).

I’ve done this myself, having bought and re-purposed St Anne’s Anglican Church in Northland Road, turning it into a family home and giving new life to a charming arts and crafts building.

Wellington City Council’s list of heritage buildings doesn’t always tally with the Government’s list – the Gordon Wilson flats are a recent example – and this inconsistency is confusing.

Cuba Street has been described as one of the world’s finest examples of Imperial architecture; certainly it’s potentially one of Wellington’s most charming areas – we need to explore options of some type of loan structure to help the owners strengthen their buildings.

Andy Foster

Introduction: Obviously this is about trying to see the differences between candidates so I will try to do that. I am chair of Transport and Urban Development which includes responsibility for heritage, and over the years have a track record of protecting heritage. I would also like to pay tribute to Cr Iona Pannett who has been a tireless advocate for heritage and with whom it has been an absolute pleasure to work.

Answer to question 1: Heritage is a critical part of Wellington’s character. That includes heritage listed buildings, it includes the special character of many of our suburban areas and places like our cemeteries and monuments. Over the years I have been responsible for listing a significant number of buildings, for rule preventing as of right demolition of pre 1930s buildings in all the inner suburbs, and often work closely with the owners of heritage buildings to help them with strengthening and restoration. That often involves also working regularly with Heritage New Zealand. Iona and I have been part of a working group with HNZ and the Property Council working on issues such as insurance, lobbying Government over tax treatment of strengthening work, bringing Donovan Rypkema to Wellington (etc).

I’ve also been at the helm of many of the rule changes to address loopholes that once allowed significant modifications without requirement for consent. I have ensured purchase of heritage sites (like Fort Buckley which took a decade), protection of the setting and interior of Futuna Chapel and ongoing support for Futuna Trust. Then obviously there is supporting work done to strengthen Council’s own heritage buildings. I will stop reminiscing.

Looking ahead we currently have 135 Heritage listed EQP buildings – of those by my calculation 58 are in some stage of strengthening work – anything from initial investigation to work being complete and simply awaiting certificate of compliance.

I think we will be able to work with owners of most of the remaining buildings and get them across the line and the buildings strengthened, and I will continue to work actively with owners and HNZ to ensure this happens. We will provide funding and advisory support.

I think there will be some challenging buildings and some challenging owners. We are likely to have to prioritise, we are likely to have some fights (see my answer to question 2). The ideal would be to retain all heritage, the likely situation is that we may lose a few buildings – what is really important is that we protect and maintain the most important buildings and groups of buildings – and I think we can do that. I would like to think that by 2022 (two elections time) that every one of those 135 has action underway in one way or another, and that we get the whole stock strengthened with losses in single figures.

A key issue is working with the body corporate owners of some apartment blocks to help them get solutions together.

Iona and I together successfully proposed increasing Council’s heritage budget from $400,000 a year to $1 million a year last year. We have also provided for extensive rates relief of up to 10 years where a Category 1 building is strengthened.

Keith Johnson

I have been widely critical of the Property Development Sector here in Wellington which has a very mixed record in terms of anything other than the pursuit of monetary profit. That said, we have to be tough with non-compliance and work with what we have got – and try to educate and encourage owners and developers to look beyond short-term returns and to honour their legacy to future generations.

For example, I was very disappointed to learn that the ‘Sex entrepreneurs’ Michael and John Chow escaped prosecution under the Historic Places Act for pulling down the historic Settlement Cafe and Eatery. And that Council did not withdraw all possibility of subsequent development consents and insist on the restitution of the site to its previous condition

[A long-awaited report into the January 2011 demolition of the former Settlement has found the site was occupied from at least the 1860, having once housed a palm reader and wood turning business].

Helene Ritchie

Generally I support retention of heritage buildings, however that will depend on who can afford to retain and upgrade them.

The definition of “heritage” is never a clearcut one. There are places and taonga which are not buildings but should be retained and their stories celebrated.

Jo Coughlan

I am definitely sympathetic to the cause. However, we need to assess important buildings on a case by case basis. Working toward win win solutions is the most desirable outcome.

Justin Lester

Wellington’s heritage buildings are to be valued and preserved for the future.

 2. With the high demand for housing and development in Wellington, what is your position on those developments which risk the demolition of heritage buildings?

Justin Lester

I’m not aware of any new developments threatening the demolition of heritage buildings. New developments should complement rather than replace heritage buildings.

The biggest issue we have as in Wellington is where existing owners of heritage buildings are struggling financially to find the funds for earthquake strengthening. To support them Wellington City Council has consistently increased Council’s Built Heritage Fund, which helps owners strengthen, preserve and restore heritage buildings. I support the future funding of the built heritage fund and working with owners to enable them to retain Wellington’s heritage.

Jo Coughlan

Yes we are in a growing city that people want to live in. Part of that desire is because of our heritage. I definitely do think we need to assess this issue on a case by case basis to ensure a fair assessment of Wellington’s buildings.

Helene Ritchie

I am appalled that the Gordon Wilson flats which housed at least 150 people are now set down for demolition when some relatively cost effective upgrade could have retained them. I said so at the time during the comment / “debate” at Council – but in effect two councillors only (Peck and Foster) acting as Commissioners and one independent commissioner (from ) memory, decided their fate.

We as a Council and community need to be very astute before demolition of adequate housing stick is agreed or required.

Andy Foster

We absolutely have high demand for housing. I think that can be compatible with heritage retention. Past decisions which I have been part of have assisted heritage retention in this light, particularly the flexible mixed use allowed in the Central City and not requiring any carparking provision. This made possible large scale residential development in the Central City, and allowed owners to convert old office buildings into residential, where that would otherwise have been uneconomic.

I am working very closely with Iona and HNZ on one particular proposed development which is of grave concern, and has potential for serious adverse impact on an important heritage building. I hope we will resolve this and save the building. Rest assured that if we have to fight for it – we will.

Keith Johnson

The loss of HNZC accommodation for single / vulnerable people in the Gordon Wilson Flats is a disaster in terms of both heritage loss and the gap it creates in social housing availability. More could have been done to work towards a win-win outcome – perhaps with a mix of student and social housing units preserving the facade. Alternatively, I would have liked to have seen Victoria University contribute to replacement social housing as a condition for consent to alter – demolish.

The recently announced proposals for the Erskine College site sound promising in terms of mixed use and heritage preservation but I believe that the proposed housing units which are expected to sell for over $600,000 each are not, as has been claimed, for ‘first-time buyers’. I would like to see greater commitment in such developments to the inclusion of low cost / social housing as a development contribution for consent.

Nicola Young

It’s impossible to have a hard and fast rule, so decisions have to be taken on a case-by-case rule.

Sometimes we will have to amputate to save; for example, Erskine College (my old school) is in danger of being ‘saved to death’. Since my election to Council three years ago, I have worked closely with the local residents, alumnae and the owners (The Wellington Company) to find a solution before the buildings collapse in a big earthquake – they have already been severely vandalised. Both the chapel and the convent (school) building are red-stickered heritage buildings, and have been empty for years. No one can find an economic future for the convent building, and the school’s alumnae are desperate for the glorious chapel to be saved. We must find a compromise; that’s a better result than a pile of rubble and lots of heart Kauri for recycling.

Futuna Chapel was eventually saved, although has been compromised by the surrounding housing development which – in my uninformed opinion – is unsympathetic to John Scott’s architecture.

  1. Do you support strengthening of the Town Hall to a satisfactory level of earthquake prevention and working towards an urgent opening of this important amenity?

Jo Coughlan

Yes of course, it is important that we keep our buildings safe for our history and our people but we need to work through the financial issues associated with this project.

Andy Foster

Town Hall – absolutely. It is frustrating that negotiations with VUW and NZSO are taking as long as they are. The Town Hall will be strengthened and reopened. The current timetable is for that to happen by early 2020. That’s what we must work to. Once negotiations are concluded then that is the time for detailed design and actual physical work to be completed. If anyone suggests that from here it will be done any quicker I would suggest that they are either ill informed or trying to misinform.

Keith Johnson

Yes – the fast-tracking of remediation would be a very high priority.

And I would also like a feasibility study on the practicality and cost of restoring the exterior to its original 19th Century grandeur using modern, light-weight facsimile ornamentation [such as has been done successfully with the ‘chimneys’ of the Old Government Buildings]. To reinstate the original architectural concept would be wonderful – and I’m sure the result, properly done with community support, would be widely admired and valued.

Justin Lester

Yes, absolutely. My focus is to restore the Town Hall and to ensure it remains a venue for public performances. I would like to see it as a permanent home for the New Zealand Symphony of Orchestra and Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music.

Helene Ritchie

Absolutely. As mayor, this will be a key focus of mine. Enhanced, strengthened and opened without delay. (Enhanced where possible to reflect some of its original architecture.)

If I had had my way it would have been opened by now or in a few months. The Council record shows the proposal I put to Council which would have readily funded this. (May/June 2015)

I also suggested then that Councillors Young and Woolf take my proposal as their motion but they refused.

I was appalled that Council suddenly found $134m and ongoing annual operating costs to fund a private venture/company and a convention centre with the same capacity as the Town Hall. I have written many articles on this-one published recently on Wellington Scoop.

I saved the Town Hall from demolition in 1982 on my motion.

The increased cost of strengthening relate more to the leasing proposal and the specific needs if the proposed lessee than to the strengthening per se.

Nicola Young

Absolutely! It’s disgraceful that work hasn’t started, especially when contrasted with St Mary of the Angels which closed after the 2013 earthquakes and will be re-opened at Easter next year.

Some argue the 1904 Town Hall should be demolished, and replaced with a new fit-for-purpose town hall but – putting to one side the heritage aspects – the old Town Hall has sublime acoustics, and that can’t be guaranteed with a new building. The history of concert hall construction is littered with examples of acoustic failings and construction issues, which have been extraordinarily expensive to remedy: Sydney’s Opera House ($NZ1.18billion), Adelaide’s Festival Centre ($NZ96million) and London’s Royal Festival Hall ($NZ167million).

The Town Hall costs continue to balloon: initially $NZ43million, then $NZ60million; Council has now approved spending $73million on upgrading the whole precinct but there is no sign of activity.

  1. Do you support maintaining or increasing the Wellington City Council Built Heritage Fund?

 Nicola Young

$3 million over three years is not enough, although we must accept that financial support will always be limited. At present it is spread too thinly. We should increase the fund, and then give larger amounts to fewer buildings and give priority to buildings that are open to the public, or highly visible/significant in our streetscape.

We should investigate some type of loan mechanism, with funds to be repaid if the building is sold.

Helene Ritchie

Probably (I don’t make promises I cannot keep – I am but one vote)……it is so minimal that the impact is …well minimal…..when it comes to the entire costs of saving important heritage places and taonga.

Justin Lester

I have supported increasing the fund and believe we will need to increase the fund further when the time limits of buildings requiring earthquake strengthening peaks between 2022 and 2025.

Keith Johnson

I don’t like fixed-sum funds. These tend to encourage gaming and spending up to the limits by applicants and portfolio administrators. I would prefer to see proper feasibility studies that are open to public discussion and then debated in Council.

Andy Foster

As noted above Iona and I significantly increased the heritage budget, and also made greater rates relief available. The $1 million was for 3 years. I would expect that we will need to continue at that level for a few more years to come – we originally proposed 10 years. That will come up as part of the next Long Term Plan.

Jo Coughlan

I’m more than happy to sit down and hear a case for increasing the fund.

  1. What is your vision for historic places’ role in Wellington’s future?

Andy Foster

I’m not sure – especially because it is not capitalised – whether this question is about Historic Places Wellington (or Heritage NZ) – or about Historic Places as a group of spaces? If it is the former – then absolutely – I work regularly with HNZ (indeed talking again today), and would welcome working more with you also.

If it is about historic places (as opposed to historic buildings) then these area also very important. We are going to review our Maori precinct rules working with Iwi and other Councils (as a pan Council approach). We will continue protection and where needed maintenance of historic monuments.

A major opportunity for the city is the Miramar peninsula – Defence land – becoming a heritage precinct. I have long wanted to put together a coherent approach to protecting and interpreting the range of military defence fortifications around the city and Matiu Somes (Lower Hutt City jurisdiction)

Another important opportunity is to make more of our historic cemeteries. In addition to Bolton Street, Mount Street, various church cemeteries, Karori Cemetery is a huge opportunity representing as it does something like 140 years of Wellingtonians being buried there. There are also a number of built heritage areas which we have protected.

Finally while I think of it – Interpretation of heritage is another important opportunity, refreshing ‘heritage trails’ in C21st way, but also I have got into the current year’s budget $20,000 per annum for heritage plaques on buildings and to commemorate events. I would welcome talking with you about starting that programme. I have also been rolling out the World War One street signage and got an initiative in on street signage generally – all of which tells about the heritage of the names of our streets.  Very happy always to discuss further.

Justin Lester

I think Wellington’s future should also be informed by its past. Our history is an important component of what makes Wellington great and needs to be preserved where possible.

The majority of heritage building owners have commenced strengthening programmes and Wellington City Council is committed to doing the same with its portfolio. There will be complex situations, but in my experience solutions have been able to be found. We’ve seen examples like The Woolstore on Thorndon Quay, St Marys of the Angels and the Huddart Parker Building, where owners of heritage buildings have taken a long term view and invested in the city’s heritage to preserve it for the future. I want to help them as best I can.

Nicola Young

It’s important to have watchdogs, but equally important they have a grip on the realities of safety, cost and feasibility.

We should have a consistent heritage plaque system, akin to the English Heritage one; to mark significant sites (when the original building has gone), significant buildings and significant residents.

Suggestions: house where Bernard Freyberg grew up (43 Hawker Street), Wellington’s first synagogue: (220 The Terrace), Terrace Gaol where Peter Fraser was imprisoned for sedition in 1916 (360 The Terrace), Michael Savage (father of the welfare state, who boarded in Sydney Street), the Te Aro baths, Luke’s Lane (where the Luke Foundry built Cape Palliser & Castlepoint lighthouses), Sexton Cottage (Bolton Street cemetery), Crofton (William Fox’s house, Kenya Street, Ngaio). This scheme could be a joint venture between Historic Places Wellington and Wellington City Council.

Jo Coughlan

I have brought up six children here. We have a long term, not a short term view of the city. I believe Heritage is an important factor for our city as it adds a sense of place to Wellington and adds to the uniqueness of the city’s history and our story. The challenge is continuing to enhance the liability of the city while retaining its heritage.

Keith Johnson

Frankly I don’t currently know enough to be able to make a sensible comments/ commitments here on the institutional relationships.

In general, I aim to run a tight ship to ensure that money is spent wisely and effectively and that rate and debt rises are kept in check.

I would expect formal proposals and community participation on any proposed policy shifts.

We have to be careful that we are not stifling the enterprise and initiative of our best and brightest young citizens by blowing out rate and debt levels and making housing unaffordable.

That said I am a writer [and wannabe poet] in my spare time and very opposed to a money-means-everything approach to life and culture. You would get a good and sympathetic listener and someone who would also help to change public opinion towards properly valuing our heritage

Helene Ritchie

Well, as mayor I would advocate adequate government funding for key heritage places and taonga of which the Town Hall is but one!

We have to be mindful of the fact that heritage classifications for the public good can sometimes impose impossible burdens on owners without public funding assistance.

 6. We welcome any other comments you may wish to make on this subject

Nicola Young

How accurate are seismic ratings of buildings?  Three engineers will give three different opinions. Are we being overly cautious?  Some of our best seismic engineers suggest there may be better ways of assessing seismic risk in buildings.

We need to review our list of heritage buildings – too few? Too many? We need to be realistic, but also remember these buildings cannot be replaced. I am concerned about St Gerard’s church & monastery, as it doesn’t have the backing of an active parish and will be far costlier and more complex to strengthen than St Mary of the Angels. At what stage, if any, should Council step in?

Owners of heritage-listed buildings in Britain can get the Value Added Tax (= GST) waived if the building works are approved by the heritage authorities, and carried out by approved tradesmen. Such a scheme should be investigated here, to encourage the restoration of heritage, and high calibre work.

Façade-ism could have its uses too. It worked well for the former Kirkcaldie & Stains building (now David Jones) and has worked well abroad – one, rather different example, being the Norman Foster reconstruction of Berlin’s Reichstag.

Jo Coughlan

Wellington is a fantastic place and heritage adds to its charm. I would love the opportunity to speak to Historic Places Wellington, is there any particular time/date that would be good for you?

Helene Ritchie

Yes there is one further comment…I am very concerned that the world class heritage civic centre-an integrated whole of mixed period Architecture and arguably the best pubic space in the country is being subdivided, separately titled and effectively sold off in pieces for commercial gain and exploitation.

As Chair and leader of the civic centre project in the late 80’s I have repeatedly tried to highlight this and oppose it. You should also rightly be concerned!

Keith Johnson

An Abandoned Farmhouse Garden in South Wairarapa 

She was a heavy, red and freckled lassie

Shipped from Greenock as a serving maid

But women were few in the colony

And Jack stumped up with her passage paid.

He was older, with money, but she was strong

And she loved the work in making a farm:

This was a place where she might belong

Weary at dusk with a bairn on her arm.

So they passed, the aching treasured years

As the orchard in golden fullness bore

A bounty of apples, peaches and pears

Sweet and tart to the homestead kitchen door.

But seasons came when the fruit just fell

And who was the gardener none could tell.