Premier House needs more renovation work, department tells PM

The Prime Minister’s agency has warned Premier House is in dire need of some work, describing the heritage property’s interior as “dated and basic” – and revealing it would not have met the Government’s own healthy homes standards without recent improvements.

The Ministerial Services briefing to Jacinda Ardern said Premier House needed “significant investment” for structural repairs and work including roof replacements.

It said recent work had been done to upgrade the security at Premier House and make changes needed so Premier House met the ‘healthy homes standards’ the Government had put in place for rental properties.

Ministerial Services is in charge of managing Premier House, as well as the cottage next to it, and the only remaining ministerial house on Bolton St.

The Bolton St property’s last resident was Winston Peters.

The report said work was needed on both – and said it would talk to Ardern about the need for a top-up to the usual maintenance allowance in the next Budget package.

“While the properties meet minimum building and residential tenancy requirements, the condition of the residences, and of the state reception areas at Premier House, remains dated and basic.

“We will seek to work with you on options and priorities for addressing necessary repairs at the properties, and restore their condition and functionality as residences and, for Premier House, as a venue for public and official functions.”

The Prime Minister’s residence has long been something of a political football for politicians, making Prime Ministers reluctant to spend money on refurbishments.

In 2018 the Government signed off on about $3 million worth of work on Premier House, which it said was primarily maintenance and to upgrade security.

In 2011, Labour MP Chris Hipkins criticised then Prime Minister John Key for spending $275,000 on Premier House, including re-painting it, as well as re-carpeting and new blinds.

Hipkins said it was more than some people spent on an entire house.

Key defended it, saying it was part of a “rotational maintenance programme” and it had to be properly maintained.

It is used as a venue for conferences and events, as well as housing the Prime Minister in the upstairs apartment. It has been used to host dignitaries including Prince William and US Secretaries of State John Kerry and Rex Tillerson.

It last had a major renovation 30 years ago and Ardern said she had no plans to change that.

One room had been made into a basic nursery for Ardern’s daughter Neve, and the PM had put a beehive on the grounds.

Ministerial Services also offered an update on Ardern’s push for an emissions-free Crown car fleet by 2025 – including the Crown cars that drive ministers as well as cars provided for ministers themselves to use.

Ministerial Services said the proportion of electric vehicles in the Crown fleet had lifted from 1 percent in 2017 to 40 per cent in June 2020, and it expected to reach 60 per cent by June 2021.

Officials also proposed bringing forward some of its spending wishlist, including upgrading a lounge for foreign dignitaries at Auckland Airport and installing charging equipment for the electrification of the Crown car fleet, saying it would help the Covid-19 recovery.

The Ministerial Services briefing to the Prime Minister said bringing forward some of its spending plans would “support the recovery by bringing forward planned investments that would provide work for New Zealand suppliers and businesses, and would improve infrastructure.”

“Potential opportunities include upgrades to the department’s facilities for receiving official parties at Auckland Airport; undertaking remediation work at Crown-owned properties; and installing charging infrastructure to support the electrification of the Crown fleet.”

The briefing also said the department was working on the recent code of conduct put in place by Speaker Trevor Mallard following a review of the workplace culture at Parliament, including bullying and sexual harassment.

It said it was working on putting that code into practice, including a process for complaints and enforcement – and sought Ardern’s help to ensure ministers toed the line.

“We will also seek your support for ensuring ministers understand their obligations to work with staff in a way that is consistent with the Statements.”

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