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Newtown Library opens again




After being closed for some weeks, Newtown Library opened again today to a waiting group of enthusiastic library users.

The library has had the old (leaky) skylights replaced, new heating and ventilation installed, new paint, and the collection has been refreshed with a whole section of new books. The photo below shows some of our lovely Newtown Library staff in front of a stand of new books.

As Libraries and Community Facilities portfolio leader, I’m proud of our Wellington Libraries. We have 12 libraries in our network, including the Central Library.Physical visits to libraries are holding steady at around 2.3 million annually, and online visits have surpassed all expectations at 3.6 million. We issue 3 million items annually.

Since I have been on Council, four libraries have had upgrades; Mervyn Kemp Tawa Library, Brooklyn Library, Karori Library and now Newtown Library.

The two big projects coming up in the future are of course, the new Johnsonville Library, and a refurbishment of the Central Library, which will include modern features such as RFID (radio frequency identification), which will allow better tracking of library resources, and faster issuing.

We are making sensible investments in the collections, the libraries are great spaces to be in, we are adding to our online resources all the time including our great Facebook page, Wellington City Libraries, and resident surveys report a high level of satisfaction with the service offered.

However, I’m always interested in feedback, so let me know what you think!




Sale of St Christopher’s- Open Letter to Presbyterian Council

To the Moderator, Presbyterian Council,

I have now attended two community meetings in regard to the proposed sale of the church and hall at 27 Ventnor Street, Seatoun, and write to you now in my capacity as an Eastern Ward Councillor to express my concern at what I have heard about the process.

Firstly, as a person with a Christian faith myself, it seems sad that a functioning parish, albeit small, should be disbanded, and I do wonder if there were other options in this regard. I have heard that some parishioners turned up for the regular Sunday service to find the church locked and a note on the door, which seems very sad.

Secondly, there seem to be legitimate concerns around bequests made in the past which were specifically for use in the Seatoun parish/community. I believe there was a substantial bequest made by a Seatoun lady, as well as large sums raised by the community to build the hall for the benefit of the local community.

In addition, the church itself may have been largely built with funds sourced from local churchgoers? And local residents’ efforts must surely have contributed much to servicing and maintaining the buildings over all these years.

Suffice to say that residents have a very real attachment to this church and hall, which have been part of the fabric of the community for generations. Their hearts are heavy, and people feel stunned by the decision to simply sell this heritage ( physical, spiritual, social and emotional) simply to get the highest dollars.

There is also sadness at the loss of memorial windows and other special features of the church installed to commemorate past residents and important occasions.

It is worth noting that Council does have some ability to support communities with funding towards the running costs of community spaces and Seatoun has been identified as a community that is short of community space.

We also have some funding to assist with earthquake strengthening of heritage buildings.

In summary, I do ask you to give favourable consideration to the community’s bid to purchase the church and hall for continued use by the Seatoun community, both church-goers and others.

Yours sincerely,

Sarah Free

WCC Councillor, Eastern Ward

Community Facilities Portfolio Leader

Saving St Christopher’s

Around 100 people turned up at a community meeting on Sunday to discuss the future of St Christopher’s Presbyterian Church in Seatoun. The church, which was built in 1932 in a mid 20th century  Romanesque style, is listed on the WCC heritage list. However, due to a declining congregation, the Presbyterian Property Council considers the church surplus to requirements and plans to sell it along with the adjacent church hall. The situation is complicated by the heritage listing which restricts any changes to the external appearance, and to the fact that it has been yellow stickered; ie needs earthquake strengthening.

Seatoun doesn’t have a lot of community space, with the loss of the Scout Hall due to fire and the relocation of the RSA to the bowling club.

This church is a lovely building, and it would be fantastic to see it kept for the community. The challenge now is to buy some time, to see what the community commitment might be in terms of fundraising, to get a good assessment of the costs of strengthening, and to explore all the options for its future.

Council is moving more to a model of supporting communities with grants to run their own community centres rather than purchasing community facilities outright. However, of course as a local Councillor I will be doing what I can to stand with this community as we seek the best solutions.


Massey Design Projects at Central Library

massey design, student group massey design


Great collaborative work between Massey University and Wellington City Council has lead to the showcasing of Massey School of Design student project work.

The theme is  “Unpacking Sustainability” and there are some really innovative ideas.

I am very pleased that we have been able to use spare library space to let the public know more about our fantastic Wellington Universities and hardworking, talented students.

Did you know more people come through the doors of the Central library in Wellington than visit Te Papa?

The exhibition is on till the end of the week so come in and have a look if you haven’t already done so.

Its on the Mezzanine walkway next to Clarke’s cafe.


Cheaper off-peak bus fares, have your say

Campbell Live featured Wellington bus prices tonight, and has invited the public to comment on whether half price off -peak bus fares would be a good idea.

Of course, I have long been advocating for this.

If you would like to show your support, please feel free to comment on

After hearing submitters today ( I was one),  the Regional Council released a press statement tonight saying they had decided not to increase fares, which is good; however in my view, we still need the off-peak discounts, and capped daily fares or free transfers.

Public opinion does count, so have your say!


WCC puts strong submission on city buses

Yesterday the urban design and transport committee, along with some other interested Councillors such as Nicola Young and myself,  discussed WCC’s submission on the Regional Council’s draft public transport plan.


I am heartened to say that I believe we will be putting in a strong submission for  reductions in bus fares and fast tracking of integrated ticketing among other things.

The Councils media release on the submission is below.



14 May 2014

Capital’s Council calls for fairer deal on fares

Wellington City Council will continue to push for cheaper bus fares, faster development of a smart integrated ticketing system and the best possible low emission buses.


The high costs of maintaining and operating trolley buses and other issues such as resilience may mean they are not the best choice for a future service. A far more thorough analysis of the costs and options by the Greater Wellington Regional Council is necessary rather than premature exclusion.


It also wants the Regional Council to reconsider the bus fare rise planned later this year, particularly the  zone one fare, and invest any future cost savings in bringing public transport fares down.


Greater Wellington is suggesting future off-peak discounts of 25 percent. The City Council’s position is that Greater Wellington should be halving off-peak bus fares with the aim of increasing public transport patronage across the region by 10 percent, and peak fares should also be reduced.


The requests form part of the City Council’s submission to Greater Wellington on its draft Wellington Regional Public Transport Plan, which was considered by the city’s Transport and Urban Development Committee today.


Mayor Celia Wade-Brown says public transport patronage across the region is flat. “We want to see a fairer deal on fares to get more people using public transport. Cuts in fares could pay for themselves with increased patronage.”


In general, the Council thinks the new bus routes proposed are very good but will ask the Regional Council to re-examine a couple – Khandallah and the #18 servicing the universities.


The Committee today also considered the work that needs to be done next to develop a bus rapid transit network through the central city as far as the hospital and a second branch to Kilbirnie. The routes and rapid transit system were agreed following the completion of the two-year Public Transport Spine Study, which was jointly funded by the NZ Transport Agency, Greater Wellington and the City Council.

Council also agreed to protect a route from Newtown to Kilbirnie to future-proof the city for light rail one day.


Councillor Andy Foster, who chairs the Committee, says a joint project team involving all three organisations is now being set up to do detailed design and planning and in a way, the hard work is just beginning.


“We need to work out what a bus rapid transit system will look like in this city – what’s possible, how we fit it through the various streets, what any changes will cost, how they will be funded and what the trade-offs are,” he says.


“The next generation of vehicles must be high-quality, low-emission and preferably electric. We are keen to see some options trialled. Our immediate task is measuring exact curve radii and height restrictions to identify “choke” points so we establish maximum physical dimensions of the new vehicles.”


Cr Foster says the City Council strongly supports the need to reduce the number of buses using the Golden Mile to reduce the congestion and journey time delays, but doesn’t want buses stopping or having priority on alternative routes like Featherston Street or the Quays.


“That means using a smaller number of longer and higher vehicles. I’m told modern double-deckers should fit through most of our tunnels, these are the sorts of things we need to know for sure.


“We also need to look at where the buses should run on wider roads like Kent and Cambridge terraces and Adelaide Road – down the outside as they do at the moment or in the centre. We plan to significantly improve these areas but can’t get on with detailed design until these things are decided.”


Cr Foster says the Council also plans to work with NZTA and Greater Wellington to assess whether there is any real need or public transport gains to be had from developing future dedicated bus lanes on Ruahine Street.


“As guardians of the Town Belt, we don’t want to see this road widened beyond its existing designation of four lanes.”


For more information, please contact:

Cr Andy Foster, Transport and Urban Development Committee Chair, phone 476 9220 or 021 227 8537

Lyn Murphy, Council Communications, phone 801 4003 or 021 227 8119.

Lets get our buses working

Both Councillor Nicola Young (Lambton Ward) and I made independent submissions to Greater Wellington’s draft annual plan in regard to their proposal to raise bus fares yet again.

If they go ahead, it will be the second year in a row that there have been bus fare increases; this at a time when bus patronage is actually falling, and the Regional Council’s rhetoric is all about the need to get more people out of private cars and into public transport.

In summary, my submission asked for three things:

No fare increases;

Prompt introduction of off-peak fare discounts with an immediate trial this winter;

Capped daily fares.

There may be other  solutions to address pricing, and to make public transport appealing and affordable.

However, I couldn’t let this issue pass without at least submitting something.

I will put a link to my full submission once it is published on the GW website.






Eastern suburbs cyclists not forgotten

With all the focus on the Island Bay to City cycle way, I’d just like to note that the Eastern suburbs  have not been forgotten.

Wellington City Council has engaged Opus International to start consulting with communities in Kilbirnie and Miramar in May this year to find out how best to plan for cycling improvements over the next few years.

The key focus will be on enhancing connectivity to local attractions and services such as shops and schools. Council is keen to hear feedback on the standard to which certain cycling routes should be developed.

It is my understanding that alongside the  development of the new Kilbirnie cycleway/walkway,  there is a reasonably strong proposal to have bike lanes on Onepu Road, and to continue a cycling route through the runway underpass tunnel onto Broadway and through to Miramar and/or Seatoun.

The 2013 census data showed three quarters of  our commuter cyclists currently are men, but I am sure that many more women (and probably some more men and children too!) would cycle if good safe cycle ways were available. Around twenty years ago around a quarter of travel to school was by cycle. (Ministry of Transport, 2009).

I will  post further information  once dates and times for the  consultation process are decided on.

Draft Town Belt Bill makes it clear land is not for sale

Glad to say that Council passed last night ( 9 to 6) an amendment moved by Helene Ritchie and seconded by myself, to remove a potentially confusing and somewhat ambiguous option to negotiate/sell Town Belt Land in anticipation of it being compulsorily acquired under the Public Works Act.

The draft Wellington Town Belt Bill now stands clear and unambiguous in its primary purpose to protect and enhance the Town Belt.

Yes, we may lose land under the Public Works Act as has happened in the past. But we will face that possibility as and when it actually occurs, with the underlying principle that that we are charged  never to willingly “sell, exchange or use as security any part of the Wellington Town Belt”.

And under the Public Works Act we may still have some ability to negotiate. It will be well known that if land has to be taken ( for transport projects for example), our preference will be to receive back land in exchange. Council has identified several pieces of land it aspires to have returned to the Town Belt, including land around Wellington College, Clifton Terrace and so on.

Furthermore if we disagree with the compensation offered, under the Public Works Act we can take a case to the High Court.

By upholding the highest principles in this Bill, we are making it clear that Town Belt Land has the highest value; beyond dollars in fact.

Any attempt to enshrine a negotiation process into the legislation would have not necessarily added anything, and in fact I am convinced would have weakened our position, dismayed most Wellingtonians, and have put the sponsorship of the Bill ( by local MP Grant Robertson) at risk.



Airport press release gives update on runway investigations

Media Release – Wellington Airport welcomes ANA 777 charter flight direct from Japan  

This morning Wellington Airport hosted a direct flight from Tokyo for a Japanese delegation who are visiting the Capital. The ANA charter flight is a Boeing 777-300ER which is a wide-body long haul aircraft.

Wellington Airport has previously catered for other wide-body aircraft such as the Qantas A330 during the Rugby World cup. While Wellington’s runway enables some long haul aircraft to land with a commercially viable load, the existing runway length limits the maximum available take-off weight.  The additional fuel required to reach long haul destinations means that the number of passengers and cargo are restricted on flights beyond Australia.

As announced last year, Wellington Airport is studying the options to extend the runway and is aiming to lodge the application for consent in early 2015.

“One of the first milestones we are working towards is to confirm the engineering feasibility of extending the runway.  So over the next three months engineering design and costs will be developed for options to extend north or south,” said Steve Sanderson, Wellington Airport’s Chief Executive.

“Extending the runway will enable direct long haul flights for Wellington’s existing market and open up growth opportunities not only for the region, but for New Zealand.”

“There are a number of economic development initiatives for Wellington in the pipeline; some are at the idea stage and others such as the conference centre are being further scoped. Direct international connections will support the potential and growth for these initiatives. Currently the lack of connections is constraining the region with negative flow on effects at a national level.”

An initial economic study showed compelling benefits from extending the runway and a further independent study has been commissioned into the economic impact for Wellington, the region and New Zealand.


There are many gates to go through, project streams and reports necessary before lodging the application for consent. Over the course of the year the airport will produce reports for the consenting process, including:

  •                 Economic benefit to Wellington, the region and New Zealand
  •                 Extension options that look at both north and south directions.
  •                 Engineering design and cost
  •                 Review of feasible alternative airport locations in the region
  •                 Ecological impact assessment
  •                 Noise, traffic and urban impact
  •                 Landscape assessment
  •                 Social, cultural and recreational impacts
  •                 Archaeological assessment

Once the airport has undertaken the comprehensive assessments and design it will initiate public wide consultation and feedback.

“It is expected that the proposed extension and impacts will be presented for public consultation later this year. We are looking forward to consulting with stakeholders, airlines, civic partners, our local community, businesses and the region.”


Background information on extension


Existing long haul market -. The Wellington long haul market is currently over 9,000 passengers per week and growing. A daily return service using a Boeing 787-8 aircraft with market average loads carries around 2,500 passengers per week – so Wellington has over three times the demand required for a long haul service. This current demand does not include the additional passenger growth you would see from having direct services.

Types of long haul aircraft – A moderate runway extension will minimise load restrictions for next generation aircraft and provide the commercial case necessary for an airline to serve Wellington. The lighter and more fuel efficient next generation aircraft such as the B787 and A350 enhance the commercial case for airlines to serve Wellington. These aircraft can reach long haul destinations with less fuel and carry more passengers and cargo. It was originally forecast that their performance levels would enable long haul flights off Wellington’s existing runway. However, now flying, their actual performance was not as favourable meaning they would still be load restricted and not commercially viable. There are around 1,700 next generation aircraft on order worldwide and they will be in operation for the next 15 to 20 years.

Impact of Newlands Ridge – The current and future aircraft fleet operating at Wellington will be less impacted by Newlands ridge. Aircraft can use new technology called Required Navigation Performance (RNP) which enables curved flight paths that avoid Newlands Ridge. This technology is already being used in Queenstown and Wellington with a trial underway in Auckland. The consenting process will further review the navigational requirements, which will be required for compliance with the Civil Aviation Authority.

Wellington Airport – Wellington’s airport is a major contributor to the regional economy. With 5.4 million passengers per year it contributes around $1.5 billion per year, employing about 1,500 people directly and sustaining nearly 10,000 full-time-equivalent jobs in the region.


Photos available on request. Enquiries to:


Greg Thomas

T +64 4 385 5148

M +64 21 430 435

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