*This is a guest post by regular reader, Mr Plod, who may or may not have worked for Fonterra in Hamilton.

Hamilton now has a reason to be.

Wellington has suffered hugely at the hands of the Kaikoura earthquake. An earthquake that wasn’t even centred on one of the massive fault lines that run through Wellington. “While the precise scope of damages and their ongoing effects are still being assessed, currently it is believed that 16 buildings comprising 11 per cent or 167,300 sq m of Wellington CBD’s total office building stock, have been closed to occupiers – 47 percent of this space is classified by CBRE as prime quality stock,” A report from CBRE said

Using a generous 20 sqm per person (link) this amounts maybe 8,300 workers and some number of residents requiring temporary or permanently rehousing.

And this wasn’t the big one. Just imagine the carnage if it was.

What strategy should we adopt to manage the risk this imposes on New Zealand?

For the most part, Risk Management strategies adopt the following approach:

Once risks have been identified and assessed, all techniques to manage the risk fall into one or more of these four major categories:

  • Avoidance (eliminate, withdraw from or not become involved)
  • Reduction (optimize – mitigate)
  • Sharing (transfer – outsource or insure)
  • Retention (accept and budget)


All the current approaches are based around RETENTION, SHARING and REDUCTION with all of New Zealand collective underwriting the potential cost directly through our EQC levies and/or our willingness to do whatever is required in the event. I think it is time to move into AVOIDANCE mode.

The time is right to reconsider the role Wellington plays in New Zealand’s future as a centre of Government, Commerce and a place for investment. Don’t get me wrong, I love the place. My parents grew up there and I harbour many fond memories of long holidays there as a child and popping in and out for work since and passing through on my way to & from the South Island. On a good day Wellington sits majestically at the edge of a wonderful harbour and there’s nowhere better.

However, I’m not thinking of good days, I’m thinking of dark catastrophic days when ‘the big one’ renders large chunks of Wellington to rubble with significant loss of life and with mammoth cost and disruption to the country.

Our civic bodies, engineers and institutions are doing the right thing in forcing property owners to prepare by strengthening their buildings and building new ones to higher standards. This a great strategy but pales compared to the avoidance startegy. This is where Hamilton comes in.

It’s time to move our seat of government out of Wellington and to Hamilton. And do it now before another small fortune gets spent on ‘finishing’ the current Parliament Building complex.

And why Hamilton? Well, it’s not Auckland for starters and don’t underestimate the importance of that to the rest of NZ. It is probably at or soon to be at the population epi-centre of New Zealand. It has a good airport nearby, unlike Dunedin. It is doughnut shaped with an underperforming city centre just ripe to host an exciting new parliamentary precinct to house all our civil servants. It is nearby the residence of the Maori King. It already has an underground rail station (sort of) and this move would provide the impetus for a high speed rail service to Auckland & Tauranga. Its by-passing motorways are nearly complete so for those of us who wish to avoid central government we can cheerily drive on by to Taupo, Ruapehu or points further south. It is within the ‘golden triangle’ of Auckland, Tauranga and Hamilton, that Robert Jones of Fulton Hogan calls on to invest more capital into.  And government moving there would really turn the fortunes of the long floundering central city around.

I think it’s time to act absolutely positively on this as Wellington is going to wither anyway, and Hamilton is city of the future. I am sure the corporates and those who employ those large numbers of people already displaced will be seriously considering their options. The Directors of those companies are duty bound to do so. I’m equally sure that many will take the easy option and just move to Auckland adding to the housing and infrastructure problems here. Or even skip that option and go straight to the solid rock of Sydney. If those organisations already see a benefit in being close to the seat of power in Wellington won’t Hamilton be just as attractive? So let’s exploit that attraction, avoid the inevitable and keep them out of Auckland by moving our central government to central Hamilton. NOW!

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  1. It’s actually a good idea, but I think it’s worth comparing the virtues of Hamilton to (off the top of my head) New Plymouth, Wanganui, Taupo, and Rotorua.

    Another option would be a new-build at Waiouru – think “Canberra of the Desert Road” – a lot of NZDF land that may be surplus to requirements.

    1. New Plymouth is too isolated, Wanganui/Whanganui is too small (also the whole name thing would need to resolved), Taupo and Vegas are both situated on the side of massive calderas (also try explaining to foreign dignitaries why your capital city smells like rotten eggs), and Waiouru is basically cut off from the rest of the country during snow storms. Not to mention none of those places have an international airport. Hamilton airport could at least be easily converted. Tauranga could be another alternative given its proximity to Auckland and Hamilton, good sea connections, and plenty of flatland for development.

      Realistically though, it will probably never be financially viable to move the capital. You’d have not only build new parliament and ministerial buildings but also get every foreign government with a high commission or embassy to move it. Then you’d have to upgrade housing and infrastructure to deal with a massive influx of bureaucrats and politicians, also all the hospo, retail, and other support workers. You’re likely looking at billions and billions of dollars to make the move. Money that could be spent equally well upgrading Wellington to resist and recover from a major earthquake. Money that would probably have to be spent anyway given that even after the inevitable depopulation following the government would likely still leave a significant population in the region.

      1. Hamilton Airport is already International but Air New Zealand stopped its international flights to and from Hamilton about a decade ago.

        1. It’s pretty easy for any airport to become International. Hamilton does have the advantage though of having one of the longest runways in the country.

        2. My mistake, for some reason I thought it was lengthened to 2200m about the same time Invercargill was lengthened to the same distance.

        3. To be honest I was quite surprised when I looked at it on Google maps. Despite being the forth largest city in NZ it’s only the tenth most used airport.

        4. It would most likely require a massive upgrade to support more than just a couple of flights to the Gold Coast each day.

  2. Personally think everyone’s too polite about Wellington. It’s a dump, with geography and weather which induce an intense insularity and parochialism, making the government environment very claustrophobic indeed. Given that, and the natural vulnerabilities, I’ve often thought that moving government to a place like Henderson would be ideal – plenty of space, decent transport connections, on the backdoor of some great natural environments for the political classes to play in at weekends. But Hamilton’s not a bad thought either. Mainly I just agree that there should be a serious conversation about moving on from Wellington before a move gets forced upon people.

    1. You’ve hit the nail on the head regarding insularity and parochialism. The arrogance of the culture there is alarming. Were it not for this it might have been one of my favourite cities in the country, but instead it is relegated to the middle tier.

    2. This is pure fantasy rather than a realistic contribution to the political space. It would make more sense to propose that those departments and entities which least need to be close to the politicians could be moved. For example, does the ACC really need to be in Wellington? What of Stats New Zealand? Moving some government departments would also have the advantage of creating space for other activities, which could encourage new thinking in the population which could have a positive effect on the city’s attitude.

      1. Hamilton already has several government departments located within it that service the whole country or at the very least wider region – IRD and ACC being the biggest.

    3. Lol, compared to Canterbury, Wellington is heaven on Earth. Which is why I was so eager to move there, don’t regret it a bit.

    4. While I believe Wellington should always be the capital, I do think there should be an alternative during a time of crisis. I think Palmerston North or Hamilton are good contenders here, but this would be a hugely costly move.

    1. I wouldn’t move the Capital to Nelson but I think a good argument could be made on resilience and strategically important infrastructure grounds for upgrading Nelson port and a corresponding port on the west coast of the North Island, to provide a back-up link between the North and South Islands.

      A link that mitigates the vulnerability of SH1 both through Wellington and the Kaikouras.

      From Nelson an upgraded state highway to Tophouse near St Arnaud and converting the gravel road through the Wairau and Clarence river valleys and down to Hanmer Springs would make Nelson as close to Christchurch as Picton is.

      A high tunnel through Island Saddle between the Wairau and Clarence valleys might be needed to mitigate for the worst of a snow prone high alpine pass to reduce the amount of snow and ice closures. Otherwise I cannot see any downsides for this proposal.

      1. Cost is the obvious downside I can think of. It would surely be much cheaper to just keep the existing Lewis Pass route maintained at a higher standard to give us all the network resilience we need.

        1. The Lewis Pass route adds several hundred extra kilometres of distance for a North to South route, not just adding to a higher fuel and time burden. But that extra distance means trucks need an extra driver to complete a return journey. So freighting costs between the North and South Island have increased significantly since we lost the SH1 link through the coastal Kaikouras.

          Further the Lewis Pass route doesn’t mitigate for the Wellington risk. There have been several business people interested in creating a regular coastal shipping route between Nelson or Motueka and Wanganui or New Plymouth, but the isolation of the Nelson region probably means this shipping route is not viable. But if Nelson had better connections further south then the route probably would be viable. Then NZ would have two routes between its islands -a west and a east port to port coastal shipping route. Thus we would have natural redundancy within our transport network.

          If we truly had a mode neutral Infrastructure of National Significance Ministry instead of a Moar roads lobby group dominated RoNS and NZTA then proposals like this might be on the table.

  3. Palmerston North with its transport links and geographical location is also a good option.

    Having said that, i’d support Hamilton as the choice. With the addition of rapid transport links, it would make South Auckland a great place to live for civil servants – you’d have ability to pop either way.

      1. It might be eventually however officially the back up for government is the Devonport Naval Base. Obviously it isn’t big enough for all the various departments etc so Palmy (and Ohakea) would likely be used too.

    1. Further to this. I should say the seat of government will never move. Back office jobs can and do go where rents are cheaper. I know Palmy is getting a significant number of additional Immigration jobs as part of a shift to processing hubs.

    1. it’s the spread of the bubble. why would house prices that have been essentially static for years jump by >20% in a single year? It’s going to a fucking mess when it pops.

  4. Can’t believe this article is posted here, of so many other sites!

    Cities aren’t made up of just buildings, I think we’ve learnt that here… It’s about culture, about linkages, about the surrounds, about people. To move a capitol means you’ll have to replicate all the supporting businesses, accommodation, cafes and restaurants, event facilities, etc etc…

    Is it April Fool’s already!?

    1. the Blog encourages guest contributions because it helps us to diversify our content while promoting engagement and lightening the workload on us. We will often chose to publish guest posts even when we have reservations about the content.

  5. If you’re worried about the earthquakes in Wellington, what about the Taupo super-volcano taking out Hamilton, Tauranga and Rotorua?

    Basically all of NZ is just one big volcanic explosion or earthquake waiting to happen.

    I don’t think Hamilton’s as bad as people are making out, though. It’s actually quite a nice city. It’s just a pity about the people who live there.

    1. I don’t think it matters too much where you are in New Zealand if Taupo erupts anywhere near its potential.

      As to the idea of uncapitalling Wellington… I have thought about this myself for safety reasons and have thought about Hamilton too. However, I also do not like (maybe even hate) Wellington, whereas Hamilton is quite nice really. Beaches are meh (and seem to be the only redeeming feature noted in these comments).

      1. “Hamilton is quite nice really” – Well I guess someone has to think so. I just never saw the point of the place. No coastline and very poor urban form.

        Only saved from carmageddon by having such a small population.

        1. Hey – that seems to be the tone of this thread. Good old, good-natured place-bashing. If us Wellingtonians can shrug off a bit of light-hearted insulting, so can you.
          Why not give-as-good-as-you-get, and have a go at Auckland and its Jafas instead.

  6. “It’s just a pity about the people who live there.”

    Why is it unacceptable to make gross and statistically-unsupportable negative comments based on ethnicity or gender but OK based on the city where people live? I guess you will claim that it is a joke.

  7. Yay for Hamilton. Now just get the rail Auckland-Hamilton-Tauranga sorted out and start by getting the wires up from Papakura to Hamilton and reopen refurb modernise the HA central station into a transport hub. 160km/hr trains please

      1. Ok, 120km/hr will do for now, maybe when the wires are going up KR can sort out the track for 160k Although I can’t find anything there surely must be a HC study or AT equivalent body looking at future transport and already considering an interface to NZTA and govt for HR intercity services and electrification of the AK-HAM gap

        1. It would be cheaper to build new for 160kph trains but it would not make sense to then maintain a freight only line between Auckland and Hamilton so the high speed passenger trains would get held up by slow moving freights.

        2. It certainly would not be cheaper to build a whole new line when you could just tighten up tolerances on the existing one. You don’t need anything particularly special to run at 160 except keeping the track in very good condition. That would also benefit freights as they could run faster and turn around quicker.

        3. Won’t happen as Kiwirail has announced the axing of electric locos, turning off the NIMT overheads and buying rubbish Chinese diesels. I am really surprised that such a major decision like this by National and Kiwirail has not been mentioned here.

        4. This KR announcement axing EF lococs and replacing with diesels looks suspiciosly like a ploy to stir up debate and with a pending election next year Bill will leap foward as the saviour of common sense with a billion or so investing in new electric locos, intercity trains and completing the AK-WGTN 25kv.

        5. Bigted – dual voltage seems to work in other parts of the world as do conversions. I’m sure the usual ‘won’t work in NZ’ will get rolled out if we get to that stage though.

        6. Dave you are correct, I stand corrected.

          jezza it is not only the different voltages, Wellington operates DC and the rest of the main trunk including Auckland use AC.

        7. Dual voltage locos/emus are quite common and running from a 25kv AC to 1500v DC network is a minor tech issue using simple detection and switching electronics to manage the appropriate DC to AC or AC to DC buck or boost conversion to suit the traction motors.

  8. Parliament itself will remain in Wellington

    As for back off stuff for the Ministries and Departments I say Manukau will get first choice at that one providing housing and infrastructure is ample enough to deal with the relocated workers 😉
    Also Manukau is what about 20mins to the Airport (whether by car or soon a transit way) so accessibility is available.

    1. It would be cheaper to properly earthquake-proof Wellington than to move it.

      However I have seen nothing that indicates that NZ is taking earthquakes seriously, and have a deep concern that the next major event will be catastrophic for one or more cities.

  9. Hamilton is already too big for its purpose of serving the surrounding rural areas and as a freight hub. If the land around it wasn’t so good then that wouldn’t matter – build away. Problem is that the land isn’t merely average… the land around Hamilton is widely considered to be amoungst the best of not THE best farm land in the world (especially for dairy farms). Hamilton has already sprawled to double its size in the last couple of decades. We should be protecting this farmland. There are plenty of other places in NZ with less ideal farming conditions.

  10. Hamilton is built on an alluvial plain fed by large scale discharges down the Waikato River that occur every few centuries, and in which the latest is overdue.

    Put another way: The next time Taupo erupts, Hamilton will completely vanish. No other city in New Zealand is at risk of such a total wipe out.

  11. If we are going to move it then surely Auckland FFS. Biggest population, great sights. Near the airport and build some rail to it. Was only Wellington to keep South Island from breaking away. Best international access.

    1. Well maybe, and if you are right Patrick why have we not heard from our usual Wellington commentators. I am seriously interested in their views for like every other non-Wellingtonian I have only a second order interest in Wellington being no more shaken that it has been. They have a first order interest.
      It was a milestone event for Christchurch when various Corporates and Government Departments announced their intention to rebuild and remain. The same statements of intent should be made in Wellington. Maybe not now, but soon. Businesses will take the opportunity to move. Look what Lion did after their Brewery in Christchuch was ruined. They moved production to Speight’s in Dunedin and have invested a further $20M in Dunedin in purchasing and developing the Emerson Brewery. The same is bound to happen to Wellington and we shouldn’t just let the resulting internal migration add pressure to Auckland’s housing and infrastructure but force it in a different direction by the Government taking a proactive stance.
      My reason for this post, on this blog, is to raise the possibility of large internal migration and its affect on Auckland’s housing & infrastructure; both areas of interest to this blog’s wider community.

      1. Taupo erupts on average about every 1000 years. It last did so 1800 years ago, so is overdue.

        Hamilton will disappear when it does, and most of the North Island, including Auckland, will be abandoned.

        New Zealand is a place of temporary human settlement. We will not have ancient cities like Rome for future tourists to view, as nothing we build will last more than a few centuries. We just haven’t been here long enough for it’s temporary nature to really sink in.

        1. Wow! Thats some crystal ball you have, maybe the volcano has moved to an extended dormant phase and we are safe to invest in rail improvements to Hamilton

  12. Well, Mr Plod, I hadn’t replied coz I’m already on holiday. Yes, Wellington sits on an earthquake fault line, but that’s about the only comment of yours that is correct. I don’t know anyone in Wellington who is “smug” about living here – they just enjoy it, ok? That’s not against the law. It is a very vibrant little city, which cannot be said of Hamilton. Seriously, there are about 360 coffee shops in Wellington, and about 30 max in Hamilton. Not that there is anything particularly special about coffee, but it just indicates that there is stuff going on here in the capital. Arts, museums, theatre, architecture, and people who aren’t dairy farmers – I mean, let’s be honest – people whose life revolves around the next delivery of bull semen and the forced impregnation of adolescent cattle beasts, and daily collection of milk, I find about as interesting as Bill English. Dull as ditchwater. I’d rather move country than live in Hamilton. Life is too short to waste it on the Waikato. Bye!

    1. oh, pull your head in Maximus. These are the kind of baseless prejudices which lead inevitably to retorts about Wellington smugness and conceit. I can readily list more than 30 cafes just in the Hamilton East/Claudelands area where I live. But it is also rather banal to regard commercial enterprises selling over-priced beverages and snacks as equivalent to ‘culture’; it is just a variation of a neoliberal sensibility.
      You are about 30 years out of date if you regard Hamilton as a farming city (even though dairying provides the export earnings which fund museums, theatre et al,) I teach film and technology at the University of Waikato and don’t recall receiving any deliveries of bull semen any time recently. But I have read a fair amount of bull excrement here.
      I used to live in Wellington (Mt Cook). A nice place to visit but ….

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