Felix Marwick: $100m parliament expansion will anger those affected by housing crisis, quakes

Author
Felix Marwick,
Section
Opinion,
Publish Date
Tuesday, 29 November 2016, 5:58AM
Plans have beenn unveiled for a $100 million expansion of the parliamentary complex in Wellington. Photo / File
Plans have beenn unveiled for a $100 million expansion of the parliamentary complex in Wellington. Photo / File

In a time of a national housing crisis those that govern us are making sure their accommodation needs are being well catered for.

That is at least how some, particularly those with a jaundiced view of politicians, will be seeing the announcement of a major redevelopment of the Parliamentary precinct. And you have to admit, the political optics do seem very off.

Plans are in the pipeline to knock down the press gallery annex, remove all parliamentary offices from the leased Bowen House Building on Lambton Quay, and construct two new office blocks on parliament's grounds. One for Ministers and the other for MPs.

At a time when communities in the South Island are still cut off and recovering from a serious earthquake, our politicians are preparing to spend something in excess of $100 million on this project. We can't tell you exactly how much, Parliament's Speaker won't say because it could compromise the tender process, but the sum is not a inconsiderable one.

You can see how this self-bestowed largesse may stick in the craw for those who have their lives ripped apart, and homes turned upside down in the South Island quakes of the last two weeks. When new roads and houses are needed, when communities need to be reconnected, our politicians are in line for new digs. It's probably going to annoy some people.

Speaker David Carter is defending the move. With the lease on Bowen House, currently a cost of around $6 million a year, about to expire his view (and incidentally that of the Prime Minister) is it’s cheaper in the long run for Parliament to build and own its own infrastructure.

However the proposal’s being roundly damned by New Zealand First and its Deputy Leader Ron Mark. He’s accusing of the Government of doing a flip flop, looking to construct a new building after it was a National Government that privatised and eventually sold off Bowen House - the office space the Government now says is costing too much money. Mr Mark’s denouncing it as wasteful spending, a view his Leader will no doubt be thundering from the roof tops when he returns to Parliament.

However he may have to temper his rhetoric, already some of his political foes are putting it about the final decision to sell Bowen House was made by the 1996-1998 coalition Government. A Government in which Mr Peters was the Treasurer and part of that decision making process. Though whether the final decision was made when Mr Peters was Treasurer or after the break up of the coalition is difficult to determine.

Felix Marwick is Newstalk ZB's Chief Political Reporter.

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