Half a billion dollars is being spent on things some Wellingtonians may never see so the city can be prepared if disaster strikes.

Resilience jumps to the forefront of the public's minds each time a natural event such as the Kaikōura earthquake creates a rude awakening, but there is a fairly sharp drop-off too, Mayor Justin Lester said.

"I attended close to 50 public meetings as we headed towards the 2016 election," he said.

"I don't think in any instance did anybody talk about resilience, not a member of the public . . . post-earthquake in November 2016, all of a sudden everybody was interested."


Lester said research has shown people have a six-month window where resilience is "of acute awareness for them", but that awareness drops off "pretty much immediately" after half a year.

Nevertheless he believes people are happy Wellington City Council is planning to spend about a quarter billion dollars over the next 10 years to prepare for the worst, with another quarter billion coming in from other areas.

"If we invest $2.5 billion, that could save New Zealand taxpayers about $6b in the aftermath of a 7.5 magnitude earthquake. It still costs a lot of money but there's a massive saving."

Much of the allocated spending is going towards "the three waters" - water, wastewater, and stormwater.

One of the goals is to have water stations based all around the city, so in the event of an emergency people only have to walk up to 1km to get access to water.

Council is progressively building 22 water stations, and is spending millions on reservoirs.

A decent chunk of the funds will go toward stormwater systems to protect against flooding, and upgrading sewerage systems.

Making unreinforced masonry safe is a big focus of council, particularly after the Christchurch earthquake.


"In the Christchurch earthquake we had, I think, about [185] people die - 140 in a building, 40 from unreinforced masonry."

It is lucky that Wellingtonians have not had such an earthquake.

"A line that I use is 'look, we dodged a bullet, but we're far from bulletproof,' " Lester said.

"There's a lot of work that needs to be done in terms of remote working."

Even modern buildings would not necessarily be quake-resilient, and there could be high economic impacts if systems were not put in place for people to be able to carry out their work from other locations.

"Even if you've had earthquake strengthening at work, you're back to square one after an earthquake."

Some of the changes may be noticeable, such as the reservoirs, but for a lot of the spending, the proof it was worth it will be a lack of damage.

"You will certainly notice it, hopefully, through having a safer city.

"It's very important, that's why we consulted broadly on it."

Money is coming in from other areas to support resilience as well.

Wellington Electricity is investing $34 million into its systems, and Centreport, which was badly damaged in the 2016 quake, is spending more to protect against the next one.

The New Zealand Transport Agency is building resilience into Wellington projects such as Transmission Gully, Let's Get Wellington Moving and Petone to Grenada, projects costing billions of dollars.

Where is the money going?

• $35m on the Omaroro reservoir to ensure water supply to the hospital and neighbouring suburbs

• Linking this to a new reservoir at Bell Rd, $21m

• Already commenced spending $8.5m upgrading Kilbirnie's stormwater as we start to feel the effects of a changing climate

• Planning new reservoirs in Horokiwi and Upper Stebbings Valley - $11m each

• The Tawa stormwater system has $18.5m allocated to improve resilience to flooding

• $1m for Dixon St and $8m across the CBD to improve the sewerage system

• Allocated $3m as part of a $12m regional initiative for alternative community water supply stations

• Business as usual over the next 10 years involves an additional $267.5m of upgrades and renewals

• Allocated $500,000 for the Opera House and around $13m for the St James Theatre

• Intend to spend $90m on the Town Hall

• Allocated $1m of a total $3m funding support to secure the worst unreinforced masonry buildings

• A resilience office with around a dozen staff will be working on growing city resilience ($10m on staff over 10 years)