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Hear me out: Demolish Premier House and make all the MPs live together

Editor Written by Editor · 4 min read >


Premier House in Wellington is not quite up to scratch for Prime Minister Christopher Luxon. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Originally published by The Spinoff

A radical proposal to develop Premier House.

Sometimes it requires a bit of bravery, a bit of tenacity and a bit of willing-to-have-everyone-hate-you to make real progress. And so, without any caveats or pre-emptive apologies, The Spinoff hereby proposes demolishing Premier House and building multiple housing developments in its place. Hear us out.

The history

Yes, we know, Premier House is old and important, but it hasn’t been treated as all that important for very long. First built in 1843 as a rather modest residence for Wellington’s mayor George Hunter, it was expanded several times over the years, most notably in the 1870s, when Premier Julius Vogel moved in. Within a few years, the property became an eight-bedroom mansion that included a ballroom and, reportedly, the country’s first tennis court.

As the great depression struck in the 1930s, the property fell out of use because – a little bit like today (more below) – there were more important issues in society than fixing up a big house. And so, Premier House became a dental clinic known widely as the “murder house” and wasn’t restored to its original grandeur for another five decades. Most prime ministers between 1989 and 2023 lived at the property, with exceptions including Bill English, Chris Hipkins and, now, Christopher Luxon.

The current situation

Luxon has reiterated his intention to move into Premier House, but not in its current state. It’s not quite up to scratch for the man who owns seven other properties, and so he’s been camping out in his Wellington apartment across the road from Parliament. “Premier House has longstanding maintenance issues,” he said last week. “A report was given to the former prime minister. That same report has been passed on to me and the Government will consider what options we have available to remedy all the maintenance issues that are there. Until then, I stay in my apartment.”

That report has ended up in the hands of several media outlets, verifying Luxon’s comments (though it did not say Premier House was unliveable). The report described the upstairs apartment as having 30-year-old fittings and furnishings, a lack of insulation and windows that let draughts in. So, basically a classic New Zealand rental.

The opportunity

A city-fringe location, walking distance to the CBD (and, crucially, Parliament). Land size of 1.5 hectares – or 14,569 square metres – worth, according to a recent valuation, more than $23.3 million. The land on which Premier House sits is ripe for development and would be hot property were that development ever undertaken.

The proposal

Ockham's Manaaki apartment development in Auckland's Onehunga. Photo / Supplied
Ockham’s Manaaki apartment development in Auckland’s Onehunga. Photo / Supplied

The Spinoff’s Premier House proposal is simple: demolish the current residence and on the large, prime-location plot of land develop a political housing complex. Two neighbouring apartment buildings, one for out-of-town MPs in government and one for out-of-town MPs in opposition. The government apartment building would be just a little bit roomier than the opposition one and the penthouse of each building would be reserved for the prime minister and the leader of the opposition. MPs who fall outside of both government and opposition can choose which building they live in.

The above image is an Ockham development currently underway in Auckland. For clarity: Ockham has not proposed a development on Premier House grounds. However, this mock-up is exactly how we imagine an MP commune – government MPs on the left, opposition MPs on the right.

Each building would be fully covered by the Parliamentary Service and remove the need for accommodation allowances for those travelling and staying in Wellington. It’s walking distance to Parliament and therefore would save on ground transport costs as well. Based on the last quarter’s expenses, having an apartment building for all visiting MPs to live in would save more than $2m a year in accommodation costs.

The lovely weatherboards and flooring from Premier House will, of course, be salvaged and used throughout the government apartments, allowing every government MP to have a slice of premier living.

The development would include conference rooms, an ample lawn for any MPs who want to get married at work, and a dining room. (We’re still deciding whether it’s idiotic or genius to suggest a catering hall during sitting weeks but we’re leaning towards genius.) The prime minister’s suite would include a rooftop entertainment area for personal hosting duties.

But more than anything, requiring MPs to live next door to each other would foster closer relationships across the aisle, allowing for those who oppose each other in politics to work together in putting out the bins and maybe hosting the occasional pot luck.

Honestly, the savings would be huge and it would be a whole lot tidier logistically. Yes, the upfront development costs would be large but, with the current repair bill sitting at $30m(!), it’s hard not to consider other uses for those funds that are more ambitious than “keep an old house old”.

We’re no housing developers and, for all we know, we’re underselling what could be done on land that size. It’s likely there’s room for a third apartment building that could be rented out to parliamentary staffers and visiting dignitaries. If any prime minister would know the financial benefits of being a landlord, it’s Christopher Luxon.

As far as public perception goes, it’s a winner – currently, taxpayers fund the Wellington living costs of MPs who choose to buy property in Wellington for work. Their accommodation allowances heavily subsidise (often entirely cover) the mortgage costs, then MPs keep the capital gains for themselves when they eventually sell. By having accommodation taken care of at the outset, there’ll be no opportunity for MPs to eke out every expense entitlement they can, and it’ll be one less thing for everyone to talk about.

Next steps

No proposal is complete without “next steps”. Currently, Premier House is protected from development as a Category 1 historic place, meaning it has “outstanding significance to the nation”. In order for this very thorough and well-designed plan to go ahead, that listing would need to be lifted through Wellington’s District Plan that goes before councillors next week. There’s still time. By demolishing the current house, which is set to be demolished unintentionally in the next big earthquake (it needs earthquake strengthening, hence the $30m repair bill), and building at least two apartment complexes to house out-of-town MPs, Premier House could become not just a place of outstanding significance to the nation but a place where people can live.

Ockham did not respond to a request for collaboration.



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