Wellington Mayoral Candidates Respond

ARCHITECTURAL CENTRE: 2016 questions for Wellington mayoral candidates.

(n.b. We emailed candidates twice and asked for replies by Monday 12 September. We were unable to find contact details for Johnny Overton; we did not get replies from Jo Coughlan or Nick Leggett | update Jo Coughlan sent her reply on Friday 16 September).

We asked the candidates the following questions:

1. What is your favourite place to eat lunch in Wellington and why?

2. What do you think is Wellington’s most successful urban space and why?

3. What do you think is Wellington’s most successful public interior space and why? 

4. What is your favourite mode of transport and why?

5. What is your favourite modernist building?

6. Who is your favourite designer? architect? engineer?

7. Is heritage architecture of any value to the city and why?

8. What do you think is the most important thing to make housing affordable and why?

9. What do you think is the most important thing to make Wellington an environmentally sustainable city and why?

10. What city (other than Wellington) do you think is the most successful and why?

Other organisations who have received answers to questions from the candidates include: Historic Places Wellington; Cycle Aware Wellington; Wellington Chamber of Commerce; Generation Zero, and the Dominion Post



1. What is your favourite place to eat lunch in Wellington and why?[Back To Top]

Jo Coughlan: Floriditas Café is near my office on Cuba Street so I am in there quite alot. The food and coffee is always great. It gets good sun and the large glass windows mean a view out onto Cuba Street.

Andy Foster: Waterfront – Karaka or St Johns, or Rata at Karori – I love eating and relaxing in beautiful places.

Keith Johnson: Sushi al fresco at the little inlet near Wagamama on the Waterfront [lovely setting and view] – or “Breaker Bay Beans” at the Maranui Cafe in Lyall Bay [great ambience]

Justin Lester: Civic Square. It’s a sun trap.

Helene Ritchie: Nikau. It is close to where I live, close to the Waterfront, is part of Civic Centre, has quality food and service and grows its own herbs outside and on top of the roof of City Gallery.

Nicola Young: Hard choice! Three favourites that all have interesting architecture/design:

Nikau Cafe: wonderful food and service, great light, good outdoor spaces (including herb planters).

Prefab Cafe: wonderful food and service, thoughtful design, good outdoor space with greenery (but no bike racks, which is curious as there’s certainly space).

WBC: wonderful food and service, clever use of rooftop (with an apiary, which supplies honey to the kitchen), excellent light, terrific use of seismically-strengthened building.



2. What do you think is Wellington’s most successful urban space and why? [Back To Top]

Jo Coughlan: The waterfront is magical and as we all say you can’t beat Wellington on a good day. It connects the city to the sea and enables us to enjoy both. It’s the jewel in the city’s crown and there is much thought and planning needed to ensure the space continues to be successful into the future. Cuba Street is pretty cool too!

Andy Foster: As a single space Midland Park because of its location (to retail and office), sunlight access, active edges. As a collection of spaces the Waterfront for the huge diversity of spaces and activities there on any halfway decent day, and the love people have for it.

Keith Johnson: The Waterfront as a whole is magnificent and Frank Kitts Park is the most successful piece – I worry about its redevelopment [but not about the addition of a Chinese Garden]. It is an interesting question as to why Frank Kitts is so much more popular than Waitangi Park – I think it relates to a. access to the sea, b. lack of smaller “defensible” spaces and a lead in to an amphitheatre focus, and c. poor provision for children.

Justin Lester: Wellington’s waterfront. It can be used for a range of activities as diverse as samba, market shopping, ice skating, watersports and public performance. It attracts large numbers of people, has inspired design and there’s no traffic!

Helene Ritchie: Civic Centre is the best public space in Aotearoa/New Zealand. I led world class civic centre project resulting in a civic heart for Wellington with world class architecture. Athfield, Moller, Tebbs designed the Civic facilities and new library. I was able to make sure that art deco city art gallery was saved when there was an intention to demolish it; we have a new library and retrofitted old library now art gallery and new municipal buildings. The sculptured City to Sea bridge link to the Waterfront and later the then strengthened Town Hall and the Michael Fowler Centre all make an integrated whole with an interesting juxtaposition of architectural styles and ages.

Nicola Young: The waterfront. When I was a child, it was behind a wire fence; now it is the city’s favourite promenade, a popular recreational place (Frank Kitts Park, and events like “Homegrown” in the amphitheatre) – and a very useful way for pedestrians and (nervous) cyclists to get across the city. It’s not entirely successful as a shared space, as pedestrians can be alarmed by fast cyclists (that’s a real issue for the blind), so we need to improve the delineation between cyclists and people. I oppose the $5.5m renovation of Frank Kitts Park (and using it as a site for the Chinese Garden!), as this is a waste of rates; the recent 5.4% average residential rates increase means a 7-9% increase for many householders. Wellington must be affordable.



3. What do you think is Wellington’s most successful public interior space and why?  [Back To Top]

Jo Coughlan: As chair of the City’s Economic Committee I’ve been very involved in the development of Wellington City Council and BizDojo’s hub on Tory St. It’s an incredibly exciting place in regards to space as well as its function to connect hi-tech, rapid-growth ventures, investors, social enterprises, international visitors, tertiary institutions, government and established businesses working on new ideas. It’s been about creating a place for some of the world’s best and brightest leaders and innovative business people to call home in the heart of Wellington. You can just feel the energy!

Andy Foster: Te Papa

Keith Johnson: The interior of the Old Town Hall was magnificent and it needs to be reinstated as soon as possible. It was grand but welcoming and had superb acoustics. But the Michael Fowler Centre is not too shabby either.

Justin Lester: City Gallery. It’s an elegant heritage space with an array of New Zealand’s best contemporary art. It’s always changing and lively.

Helene Ritchie: Wellington Central Library. It is part of Civic Centre, is highly prized, used and enjoyed.

Nicola Young: The Town Hall, designed by Joshua Charlesworth. Putting aside its seismic issues (it’s a disgrace strengthening work has not commenced), it is a rare example of a town hall that’s fit for purpose, with some of the finest acoustics in the world.  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 ($NZ1.18 billion), Adelaide’s Festival Centre ($NZ96 million) and London’s Royal Festival Hall ($NZ167 million). Closer to home, Auckland’s Aotea Centre leaves me – and many others – cold.



4. What is your favourite mode of transport and why? [Back To Top]

Jo Coughlan: Wellington is a compact city. More often than not I’m able to walk from appointment to appointment in the city. Walking also slows you down and you see so much more than rushing by in cars. I live in Wadestown and am always ferrying children to dance and sports practices, so like most parents, I use my car quite a lot as well. Our six children use public transport a lot, especially to and from school.

Andy Foster: Foot – I love running through Wellington’s bus covered hills and along the ridgelines – views, nature, exercise.

Keith Johnson: Walking.  I was trained originally as a geographer and given the admonition: ‘exploration should be done carefully – the slower the better’.

Justin Lester: I like walking. I can go at my own pace and take in my surrounds.

Helene Ritchie: Walking-I live opposite the Town Hall/Civic Centre…I walk all around our compact City.

Nicola Young: Walking is my main form of city transport, as I live in the central city; it’s very efficient (and free, other than shoe bills) but we need more verandahs and better weather protection at intersections (Taranaki/Manners/Dixon needs the most urgent attention). I also have a car (40,000km in six years), and two bikes – cycling in the CBD needs to be safer, to encourage diffident cyclists like me.



5. What is your favourite modernist building? [Back To Top]

Jo Coughlan: The Beehive is Wellington’s most iconic building. I spent three and a half year working at Parliament with then Deputy Prime Minister Sir Don McKinnon in the 1990s but since then it has been refurbished which bit sorely needed.

Andy Foster: Futuna Chapel – it is a stunning design and being inside with sunlight dappled through the windows, Jesus back from Taranaki and the journey we have gone through together to save building and save Christ!

Keith Johnson: I love all kinds of exciting and original architecture and am very spoilt for choice. I have always loved Old Defence House – not quite sure why but I do. I also like the Century City – Lone Star frontages on Tory Street which are marvellously eclectic [architectural taste like that for poetry is pretty personal].

Justin Lester: Ernst Plischke’s Massey House was the first of its kind in Wellington, but my favourite is Freyberg Pool.

Helene Ritchie: My uncles’ house 117 Wilton Road, and Massey House. My uncle Bob Fantl was a student founder member of the Institute of Architects and was a partner with Plischke before Bob set up his own practice.

Nicola Young: Freyberg Pool (designed by Jason Smith, although influenced by Brazilian modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer ) despite its odd 33metre length pool, and Massey House (designed by Ernst Plischke).



6. Who is your favourite designer? architect? engineer? [Back To Top]

Jo Coughlan: It’s great to celebrate a local. We have such talent in Wellington amongst those professions. Chris Kelly has done some interesting work including a recent proposal for a waterfront bungee tower, and I have always enjoyed Roger Walker buildings.

Andy Foster: I assume the need to choose those who have influenced Wellington, and I love the older buildings mostly pre WWI – so hard call between Frederick de Jersey Clere for all his churches, wharf offices and AMP, Joshua Charlesworth for the Town Hall, Homewood and the 7 Sisters, and the Turnbulls Thomas and William for respectively St Johns, St Peters, the GA library and old BNZ; and Turnbull House, Antrim House, Free Ambulance etc. My leaning is to Frederick de Jersey Clere.

Keith Johnson: Frank Lloyd Wright … Antoni Gaudi … Richard Meier – Zaha Hadid

Justin Lester: Friedensreich Hundertwasser because “die gerade Linie ist Gottlos.”

Helene Ritchie: My uncle Bob Fantl. Jan Rotman designed two buildings for me. Peter my partner was my favourite engineer!

I have “designed” a few –always making new places/buildings –three on our Ohariu Valley property , a house in Aro Valley, three simple “tiny houses”/whare on Great Barrier Island.

Nicola Young:

Designer: I’m totally biased. I live in Sanctum where the original concept was by Glen Hooker; when everyone thought the site would stay as light industrial; I mentally thank Glen every day for the beautiful deciduous trees he planted. Sanctum (designed by Ralph Roberts, Warren & Mahoney) is a brilliant place to live! Jonathan Custance is another designer of note, especially because of the assistance he gives to start-ups in Wellington.

Architect: Difficult to answer, as some architects specialise in so many different disciplines: residential, heritage, industrial, commercial.  We are blessed with many good architects in Wgton, so identifying one would be unfair. Yes, that’s a political answer!

Engineer: Maurice Clark, for his seismic engineering and visionary approach to heritage buildings.



7. Is heritage architecture of any value to the city and why? [Back To Top]

Jo Coughlan: Of course heritage architecture is of value and that is why I have confirmed my commitment if elected as Mayor to leading a revitalisation of the Civic Square precinct and having the Wellington Town Hall refurbished onety. As mayor I will ask our council management and urban planning team to commence work on revitalisation options for the Civic Square precinct including:

  • how best to integrate Jack Ilott Green so that it can become a more utilised public space
  • considering development options for the prime Michael Fowler Centre carpark site
  • assessing the feasibility of potentially converting the council office building into a high quality hotel and relocating staff into modern efficient premises
  • considering how council may be able to release funds from surplus office space in the precinct
  • to the best extent possible considering how to leverage the potential music hub should the proposal with Victoria University’s NZ School of Music and the NZ Symphony Orchestra proceed
  • moving ahead to refurbish the town hall as an immediate priority (noting that funding is already earmarked by council in the long term plan)

I believe this approach will revitalise the Civic Square precinct and I am confident there are other great ideas that can form part of this. It will require the Council to partner with the private sector to ensure development options are effective and viable. There are few buildings in Wellington that are more important to our built heritage than the town hall. I will ensure that work gets underway as an immediate priority to ensure the building is safe and remains a long term asset in our community. Demolition is unacceptable. Failing to act is unacceptable.

Andy Foster: Absolutely. It gives character, beauty, interest, and tells stories about who  we are and where we have come from.

Keith Johnson: Absolutely – see my poem below [available on my website at: http://kjohnsonnz.blogspot.co.nz/2013/12/memory-blues.html ]


Housman was born in Bromsgrove 13 miles from Birmingham
And Tolkien grew up at Sarehole between Billesley and Spark Hill
Some 4 miles from the city centre.
Turning away from the forging and fettling, they looked west
To the memory assembled spires and farms
Of Shropshire and the distant Welsh Mountains.
There under sun shimmer and roiling clouds
Were mythic plough boys summoned by bugles
And hobbits awaiting a rat-a-tat-tat.
And now Peter Jackson, who was born in Pukerua Bay
Has scoped a partly polystyrene, partly animated
Hopefully-soon-forgotten substitute here in New Zealand.
After all, talking about places, Janet Frame warns:
“I do not remember these things
–  they remember me.”

 Justin Lester: Heritage architecture is of very high value to Wellington because it tells the story of the city’s history, its built history, and it provides a pleasing aesthetic to complement other styles of architecture in Wellington.

I’ve been a strong advocate for heritage protection and have worked with landlords and businesses to make sure heritage is retained and supported by Wellington City Council where possible.

Helene Ritchie: Yes, some, but there are costs issue.

Nicola Young: Huge value! Heritage architecture provides a sense of history, cultural heritage and change, and adds visual texture to our cityscape. The Council’s Built Heritage fund of $3 million over three years is inadequate and spread too thinly, although we must accept that public financial support will always be limited. The fund should be increased, with larger amounts given to fewer buildings and priority given to buildings that are open to the public, or highly visible/significant in our streetscape.

We must have watchdogs, but it’s equally important they understand the realities of safety, cost and feasibility. It’s tragic that we lost Wellington Public Hospital (I thought the original plan was to retain its facade?), but I supported the demolition of the Gordon Wilson flats because the building had concrete cancer.

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 many are desperate (the school’s alumnae in particular) for the glorious French Gothic chapel to be saved (in addition to its beauty, the chapel has fantastic acoustics). We must find a compromise; that’s a better result than a pile of rubble and lots of native timber 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.

I’ve been closely involved with the seismic strengthening of St Mary of the Angels in Boulcott Street; (it’s heritage, family history, and a wonderful concert venue); it’s due to re-open at Easter.

Heritage buildings can sometimes be repurposed very successfully; I have seen many successful examples abroad: heritage houses transformed into boutique hotels in the UK, a convent converted into a restaurant quarter (Singapore). Actually I’ve done it myself – before living in my central city apartment, I converted an old Anglican church (St Anne’s) in Northland Road; it was a wonderful family home, and great for parties – but far too big once my children left home.

Heritage is also a major tourist drawcard. Apparently Cuba Street is one of the best examples of Imperial architecture in the world, although I’m not sure that Lutyens would agree! Perhaps it was the South Pacific.



8. What do you think is the most important thing to make housing affordable and why? [Back To Top]

Jo Coughlan: I will continue to work with central government on solutions for social and affordable housing. Wellington City currently has around 2200 social housing units and central government has around 2000 units in Wellington. We are spending over $220 million on maintenance and refurbishment under a deal with central government. The Council can also play a role in ensuring land is available for building and consenting processes are made as efficient as possible. Planning regulations and land availability are key. We are looking at other mechanisms such as medium density housing and densification of the CBD and the development of the urban development agency to enable appropriate development and choice of supply.

Andy Foster: Providing more supply, good quality, warm, dry, well located (to facilities and public transport) and designed. We especially need to focus on housing that is appropriate and affordable to first home buyers and to the growing proportion of the population tat is older. More supply will tend to bring prices down. I’ve pushed for an Urban Development Agency to help this and we have agreed to establish one this year.

Keith Johnson: We need to increase the supply of Affordable and Social Housing in general. I would like to see Development Contributions for Social Housing used selectively for large-scale developments.

Making more land available for development through improved physical planning is essential. We need a two-pronged approach which both encourages home ownership and fosters mixed rent-to-own approaches delivered through Housing Associations.

We have lost 110 – 120 flats which used to be available with the red-stickering of HNZ’s Gordon Wilson Flats. The Council must make good this shortfall [hopefully with help from Central Government].

I recently gave Steffanie McIntyre of the Downtown Community Ministry my personal commitment to challenging social deprivation in Wellington and championing the construction of more social housing.

 Justin Lester: We need to build more houses.

New Zealand’s history has shown that where there has been a shortage of housing supply central and local government have needed to step up and build more houses and help get first-time home owners into a home. The current situation is unsustainable.

I have policies to help address the issue:

  • Provide rates rebates for first time home owners who want to build
  • Local Government to work with central government and community housing providers to build more homes
  • Work toward a Rental Warrant of Fitness to make sure those who can’t afford to buy are able to live in warm, dry homes.

Helene Ritchie: Central Government should stop carting people’s homes away from them, stop demolishing, maintain the housing stock and build and provide what is necessary. It is a national disgrace-what is happening in our country.

Wellington City Council could build more affordable housing and could afford to do this if it did not proceed with the rates funded corporate donation of a $350m-$500m unnecessary unjustfiable airport runway extension., and instead used some of these funds for new affordable housing. More modest expectations regarding size of houses.

Nicola Young: Wellington needs more high-density and medium-density housing in the central city and fringes (Adelaide Road and Kent Terrace are both perfect: flat, within walking distance, and overdue for redevelopment). Higher design standards are required – no more SoHo-type (shoe box apartments) developments; we need minimum apartment sizes, better quality construction materials, and Council requirements for recycling, bike storage, green areas, and integral balconies (not the clip-ons that provide no protection during inclement weather). European apartment living shows what can be done, including courtyards where children can play safely. And polystyrene decorative effects (as used in at least one Oriental Bay apartment block, and one proposed for Majoribanks Street) should be banned.

High-quality prefabricated buildings would be one way to provide affordable housing, also working with the Government and private construction sector to emulate New Zealand’s post-war housing success – a few good, simple designs that were well-constructed and replicated across New Zealand.  There’s an even earlier example: Patrick Street in Petone!



9. What do you think is the most important thing to make Wellington an environmentally sustainable city and why? [Back To Top]

Jo Coughlan: I am a pragmatic environmentalist so I look at things in a practical rather than ideological way. A great environment is crucial to our city. Wellington has a lower carbon footprint than anywhere else in Australasia and greater access to significant renewable energy resources. Transport is 63% percent of our emissions, so the electrification of cars and public transport will make a big difference. Our greenbelt and natural environment are vital to Wellington City. Protection is key. I’m aiming to make Wellington pest-free to enhance our bird and bush life. I’ll leverage partnerships to seek a pest-free status for Wellington’s green belt long term. I’m pushing for an iconic harbourside cycleway from Miramar to Petone which will be something we can be proud of for the next 100 years.

In regards to electric cars, I believe council can lead the way with setting a target for its own fleet as well as help facilitate city-wide infrastructure for electric charging.

I will work with Central Government to sort out our roads so public transport is made more reliable. This includes accessing the roughly $1 billion to double tunneling the terrace and Mt Victoria tunnels less time in cars means less emissions, so the new tunnels are good for the environment. I will make sure our beaches, waterfront and public spaces are enhanced. And finally I aim to improve city resilience by ensuring council operates in an efficient and sustainable way to minimize impacts on our environment.

Andy Foster: Three things that have been my focus in my time on Council – 1. good urban form so that we are more able to walk, bike and use public transport (we are already by far the highest users of sustainable transport and the lead over the rest of the country is growing);

  1. encouraging more use of sustainable transport to reduce energy use/emissions/congestion/improve health and wellbeing
  2. continuing our amazing restoration of the city’s natural environment. We have come from environmental desert when I started on Council, and now we are a world leader in restoration and aiming to become pest predator free – watch the native birdlife go ballistic!

Keith Johnson: The Council has a very important role to play in explaining the issues to citizens, leading by example, formulating progressive policies, and following closely and disseminating the latest research and innovation initiatives.

I would start by closely examining port and airport-related pollution, looking for ways to curtail emissions. Ships and aircraft are very important contributors to greenhouse gas emissions at present. Canning the proposed airport runway extension [as I have consistently argued] would be a good start.

 Justin Lester: Reducing our carbon emissions so that we have no net emissions by 2050. This is my aspiration and target.

We have made good steps as a city. We need to continue to invest in sustainable public transport, electric vehicle infrastructure, waste minimisation and the reduction of stationary energy use in the residential and commercial sector.

Helene Ritchie: Retain the trolley buses until/if they can be replaced with electric and focus on public transport to minimize carbon emissions; retain ready access for all to our natural environment-bush, sea, and forest., and protect and enhance it-I led the Six year development of the Wellington Town Belt Act 2016 which will help sustain our natural environment there for the next “100” years.

Nicola Young: Intensified housing in the central city and fringes (so people can walk to walk), using existing infrastructure (roads, drainage, water, power); need to ensure buildings incorporate recycling, bike storage, green areas, and courtyard areas.  We need to care about design, because good design can transform a city’s culture.



10. What city (other than Wellington) do you think is the most successful and why? [Back To Top]

Jo Coughlan: I love New York. With our own Manhattanized CBD and vibrant urban environment, we are a little bit New York here in Wellington.

Andy Foster: Assume you mean in New Zealand? If not I will go for Copenhagen because of the way it has cleaning up its environment and harbour, embraced cycling and walkable spaces, and got a really good PT network, and for its attitude and forward thinking and civic pride.

In New Zealand – Nelson – for its easy liveability, access to nature, cycleways, arts and crafts and very attractive central city – Stoke is a bit of a let down and there are air quality issues but perfection is hard to find outside of Wellington.

Keith Johnson: I am very impressed by what has happened in both Manchester and Liverpool – both cities have worked wonders to throw off their Grit and Grim mid-20th Century images … but see my provisos on the endless gilding of CBDs at: http://kjohnsonnz.blogspot.co.nz/2016/09/wellington-mayoral-debate-are-we.html

Justin Lester: Berlin.

It’s got heritage, a rich sense of history and culture, a strong youth and counter-culture movement, strong universities and it’s a highly affordable place to live. All of these things give it a soul that is really palpable and make it a great place to live in and visit.

Helene Ritchie: It depends on the meaning of “successful” and what makes a successful City.  Right now … well you can’t beat Wellington on a good day … and it is the best in the world … I have seen many.  Can’t get better than Wellington.

Nicola Young: Barcelona (despite having such a dense population) because of its mix of contemporary, heritage and decidedly eccentric buildings (Gaudi’s legacy, including La Pedrera apartments); its extensive pedestrianisation and “people centric focus,” public spaces, parks and its beach (the Mediterranean is much warmer than Cook Strait!); excellent transport systems and links, including covered highways (I’d like to do something similar with State Highway 1).

Our thanks to all the candidates who took the time to answer our questions.  Much appreciated.


3 responses to “Wellington Mayoral Candidates Respond”

  1. Excellent piece. Some surprises in there too.

  2. Guy Marriage Avatar
    Guy Marriage

    That’s fantastic – really good responses from all the candidates, to all the questions. I’m impressed that they all seem to have a good grasp of the local history and architects as well. Nice to know we have such a well-read and erudite lot of candidates – doesn’t make it any easier tom pick a winner though!

  3. […] NEW! The Architectural Centre surveyed mayoral candidates on urban planning, architecture and lunch. […]

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