Plan to privatise part of Wellington Central Library moves forward

6:03 pm on 18 February 2021

Wellington City councillors have narrowly voted in support of a plan to privatise part of the city's central library and slash the book-buying budget.

Barriers in front of Wellington Central Library.

The library has been closed since March 2019 after being declared earthquake-prone. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Mayor Andy Foster tabled the motion at today's Long Term Plan Committee meeting.

He said "thinking creatively" was the only way to deliver the reopening of the library on time and under the council's targeted debt level.

"We will still own our library. We are not privatising our library," Foster said.

"There's obviously some office space ... the landlord of that office space might not be council. If you think it is the most important thing that the council owns office space that is leased out ... maybe you can say let's buy it back when we can afford to do so."

The idea was good governance, he said.

"You can create a controversy about it if you want to but that will be because it suits politically, not because it is good governance."

Councillor Rebecca Matthews said she would oppose any privatisation.

"Not even in the worst asset-stripping days of the '80s and '90s did we sell off our public libraries.

"Not on my watch, no way."

councillor Fleur Fitzsimons said it was deceptive to bring up the issue again.

"We ruled out privatising the library when it first came as a proposal to us way back in July ... we clearly ruled it out."

Nine voted in favour to "note the proposed capital program exceeds the debt to revenue limit of 225 percent and options such as rephasing and reducing the program need to be considered".

The motion would go out for consultation under the long term plan and would be voted on again at a later date.

The library has been closed since March 2019 after being declared earthquake-prone.

Councillors also voted to move forward Fitzsimons' motion of a rates postponement policy.

Options, including banking the debt against a title which could be paid off upon a change of ownership, or death, would go before the council at a meeting next month.

The committee also voted to add Tamatha Paul's motion of adding the words "climate justice" to the mayor's principles and to increase spending for cycleways by $45m over years four to 10.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs