Wellington Scoop

More houses, not more roads

by James Fraser
Wellington has a housing crisis. House prices and rents have both gone up steeply. The Government is determined to provide new, affordable housing – but one Government agency is working against this.

The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) has spent many years buying up Wellington properties so it can demolish them and cover precious land with asphalt.

In 2014, NZTA owned around 80 properties in the Wellington CBD and inner suburbs – including a number of multiple-unit properties. Entire Wellington streets have NZTA as a major landlord: Wellington Road in Kilbirnie and Paterson St in Mt Victoria, for example.

As the Dominion Post reported on 10 March, NZTA bought up 31 houses as part of its plans to build a second Mt Victoria road tunnel and widen Wellington Road and other streets in pursuit of an airport motorway. While most of those houses are still inhabited, the occupants face an uncertain future. Eighteen units lie vacant, including the abandoned NZTA-owned apartments at 29 Wellington Rd.

Building a second Mt Victoria road tunnel would involve demolishing homes on either side of the Matairangi / Mt Victoria ridge. On the western side of the ridge, a string of houses on Paterson St would be likely to be demolished.

On the eastern side of the ridge, in Hataitai, a second Mt Victoria road tunnel would require creating a four-lane road. That would mean tearing down a row of houses alongside the current road. Housing for dozens of people that could over time become housing for hundreds of people, asphalted over just to move a queue of cars a few hundred metres.

Inner-city housing in Wellington is now a very scarce resource – and we know that roads are the least space-efficient way of moving people around, all the more so in a city that’s as pressed for usable land area as Wellington is. That’s because moving people in cars takes up a lot more space than moving them in other ways. Every other means of transport – walking, cycling, buses, light rail – takes less space. That means more room for people to live.

When NZTA made their motorway plans many years ago, they may not have known about climate change. They don’t have that excuse any longer. They’re a Government agency, and the Government and Wellington City have made commitments to reduce rising greenhouse gas emissions. In Wellington, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transport is a cornerstone of the city’s Low Carbon Capital Plan.

Yet building more road capacity – such as a second Mt Victoria road tunnel – would induce yet more cars onto the roads, burning up more petrol and diesel in their internal combustion engines, spewing out more greenhouse gases. Electric cars won’t make much difference to that for many years – and an electric car takes up just as much space as a diesel.

In 2019, NZTA’s plans to replace houses with roads are decades out of date. With repair and strengthening, these houses could make a huge difference to stressed people trying to find a place to live in Wellington, and to their families.

Imagine for a moment if these houses were transferred to an agency such as Housing New Zealand to maintain and develop in partnership with local agencies – instead of being left in the hands of an agency for which houses are an obstacle. And imagine that our transport challenges focus on creating more choices for people rather than just more roads. We’ve already seen calls for fresh transport thinking, but the silence from Let’s Get Wellington Moving has been deafening.

We can choose a future where we have good quality housing and great transport choices rather than burying more of Wellington’s precious land under roads. We just need political leadership that breaks free from the failed policies of the past, when asphalt was more important than people.

James Fraser is a born and bred Wellingtonian and horticulturalist. His article was first published yesterday by Talk Wellington.


  1. Anabel, 13. April 2019, 10:33

    Housing NZ has an obligation to provide enough housing for low income families. But instead of keeping up with the growing demand, it emptied the State houses out and privatized the housing supply. Seems to me like everything is more important to local and central govt than human beings. And … a second tunnel through Mt Vic is unneeded.

  2. steve doole, 13. April 2019, 13:00

    Yes, a change of emphasis by NZTA could yield sterling results. Perhaps some of the 80 properties could be transferred to a social housing organisation. But more tunnels through Mt Victoria would be massively beneficial. Currently there are two – a general traffic tunnel (2 lanes with footway) and a bus only (1 lane without a footway.) Neither is suitable for trains or cycling. To allow sustainable movement of lots of people, future tunnels should address both, without increasing traffic.
    It seems the government is slow to act on its stated priorities in emissions and transport.

  3. Bernard C, 13. April 2019, 13:53

    Two tunnels through the mountain is one too many! Cycle around the tunnel on the two alternative routes – both have expensive new cycleways.

  4. michael, 14. April 2019, 12:55

    Unless central government steps in to resolve Wellington ’s transport mess, there is little point in going on about more housing in the city. And, while I support cycling, it is not the answer for many people for a host of understandable reasons. I believe we do need a second tunnel because any feasible public transport (ie: buses, shared cars, bikes, rail/trams? etc) will require this. And, we cannot ignore Wellington airport and the transport requirements associated with that, especially the countless people (in private and public transport) trying to get across the city without going through it. We all need to compromise and get on with sorting the mess out instead of years and years of debate and little being done while watching the problem escalate.

  5. Richard Keller, 4. May 2019, 9:04

    “Why penalize us just because we haven’t got a garage”, says a Newtown resident (DomPost 24 April) in response to residential parking fee hikes. This just illustrates how timid, or perhaps it’s collusion, the WCC and the GWRC have been in dealing with the New Zealand Transit Authority (NZTA), by the way just like their relationship with the Airport, in relation to the necessary moves to curb CO2 emissions. The NZTA has the power to confiscate land and property to build roads and stubbornly is still trying to do that. The councils should be insisting NZTA use those confiscatory powers to build parking towers throughout residential areas. This would clear out the streets of car parks, allowing more room for pedestrians, scooters and bikes, the growth of which is absolutely vital, and which would precipitate relaxation of the antiquated imperative to own a car. With leadership from both councils, this could have been in place long ago. But no, NZTA must be allowed to continue to dominate the future with the unsustainable approaches of the past.

  6. greenwelly, 4. May 2019, 19:07

    @Richard Keller
    The NZTA has the power to confiscate land and property to build roads and stubbornly is still trying to do that. The councils should be insisting NZTA use those confiscatory powers to build parking towers throughout residential areas.
    THe Council doesn’t need NZTA to do this – it has the ability to do this itself under the Local Government act 1974 (Which is still valid)
    591 Provision of parking places and buildings and transport stations
    (1) The council may provide parking places and buildings and transport stations, and for that purpose may—
    (a) take, purchase, or otherwise acquire any land or buildings or erect any buildings in or near to the district:

  7. Andrew, 5. May 2019, 9:48

    Isn’t that how the WCC aquired the Te Kopahou reserve area for the southern landfill?

  8. Andy Foster, 5. May 2019, 12:57

    Hi all – yes Councils do have powers under the Public Works Act to compulsorily acquire land for a public work. So do some infrastructure providers. Andrew – I am not sure how Te Kopahou was acquired (often land is acquired without the need for compulsion or the threat of compulsion). I was up with the 4WD club and Capital Kiwi putting out stoat traps recently and we had that conversation – used to be Owhiro Farm we thought.

    A more recent acquisition by Council under PWA or threat of PWA included some land for Westchester Drive in Churton Park. Purchase of carparking area for Karori Pool from the College of Education land was also under PWA but negotiated with Victoria University (of Wellington!) Trying to think if there have been any others in recent years. It isn’t used very often by Council but is occasionally an essential tool.

    Kind regards


  9. Andrew, 5. May 2019, 19:50

    Interesting to know Andy. It is a shame the western boundary of the reserve was not altered to follow the ridge line, it’d have saved the shenanigans from the LG owners involving illegal gates, ROWs and barbed wire.

    I’ve seen the A24s up there, good effort, there’s lots of them!

  10. Green space, 6. May 2019, 9:35

    This is the answer to Johnsonville Mall. Use the PWA to acquire the mall land for housing, small shops, open space, park and ride and community facilities. An alternative to a mall and to fit in with medium density housing and stop land banking . Opps, sorry, too big thinking!