Wellington Scoop

Fixing the housing regulations

by Conor Hill
One of the most important things the Wellington City Council will do this term is to update the District Plan to accommodate more Wellingtonians. Currently the plan is a Russian doll of nonsense, too complex for professionals let alone laymen to understand. The council concedes the point in Kafkaesque fashion – the first chapter of the guide to the District Plan is an overview to using the guide.

Worse, the District Plan is a massive handbrake on building affordable homes. It means that in most parts of the city you have to have a car park and can’t build over two storeys. In many parts of the city you can only have one home on a section, and you can often only build on 20% or 30% of the large section you’ve been made to buy. Rules protect homes built in one year, but not the same style of home built 2 years later. These rules greatly increase the cost of new homes.

The craziest thing about these rules is that many of Wellington’s most enjoyable neighborhoods were built before they existed.

Aro Valley, Thorndon, Mt Vic and Newtown are filled with cottages on tiny sections with no car parks.

There are also plenty of gorgeous apartment buildings, whether it’s the laidback art-deco in Mount Victoria, or some of the mid century offerings in Aro. And in all of these suburbs there’s high rise living. In Oriental Bay, the rules are very relaxed, you can build up to 34 metres, and don’t have to leave almost your entire section as grass or concrete like you do in Newlands or most parts of the city. These older suburbs have great amenities, plenty of people, cafes and good shopping.

But for some reason, the mixed housing model of our older suburbs has been abandoned and replaced with an extremely prescriptive approach to neighbourhood building. There’s plenty of things wrong with this approach, but the worst thing about it is that it makes houses so much more expensive than they need to be. Forcing people into a home on a large section with one or more carparks adds tens of thousands of dollars onto the cost of a new home.

Wellington needs a future that includes affordable homes, so the District Plan has to dramatically change.

It needs to be simplified, and it needs to allow for more homes in more parts of the city. It’ll be a huge challenge for our new mayor and council, and they have to get it right.


  1. David Mackenzie, 2. December 2019, 9:12

    Why isn’t Conor our Mayor?

  2. Maximilien Robespierre, 2. December 2019, 11:09

    Wgtn housing is un-affordable for the average person and the district plan didn’t make it that way.

  3. Dan Tosfery, 2. December 2019, 13:23

    @D. Mackenzie – because far too few people voted for him.

  4. Kirk, 2. December 2019, 13:39

    Well said. Wellington should embrace micro-houses. Not tiny houses (those things on wheels), but small apartment-sized 1-2 storey single-bedroom houses that can fit on tiny sites, with no car park requirements. There are plenty of people already in Wellington who live in 1 bedroom apartments of 38-50sqm size – I don’t understand why similar-sized houses can’t also be mixed in around the inner city suburbs at the least, enabling a far cheaper entry level & retirement housing option below $400k for many, and cheap ~$300-$350 a week rentals.

  5. Elaine Hampton, 4. December 2019, 14:44

    ‘Must have 1 or 2 car parks’ – cars are not the future, good public transport / bikes are. The ability to take comfortable regular buses etc. Ability to dial up a bus like a taxi as in parts of London. I want a souped-up electric mobility scooter in the colour of my choice in a few years.

  6. Ron Oliver, 4. December 2019, 16:25

    Can anyone out there define the meaning of affordable housing? I belong to a group that was looking for support from Council and or Government politicians but no one seemed interested in the subject of what was really affordable for those in need. Such questions usually were meet with a somewhat rhetorical barrage of future plans that would take care of that problem. I believe it should have something to do with the hours of work you do for which you are paid promissory notes (where those come from I’m not quite sure) with which you can buy stuff that you need. I know that there was plenty of it around for the world war II effort when western assets had to be protected. Can anyone enlighten me?

  7. Kris van der Merwe, 5. December 2019, 14:30

    There is space for about 10,000 sections on Lincolnshire Farm which is a flat area within a few minutes from Wellington central.
    It is madness that this area has not been given priority

  8. Guntao Stem, 6. December 2019, 8:34

    Kris – and that means an extra 20,000 people needing sewerage, electricity and all the CO2 etc. Then there is the extra congestion on roads and in schools, hospitals etc. Please politicians set net immigration to zero: “one out, one in”.

  9. Johnny Overton, 13. December 2019, 13:26

    Extraordinary times require extraordinary thinking & measures. When it comes to housing in NZ, it’s time to think outside the box. Our priority should be on housing people long term in sustainable fashion, not “ownership”. Home ownership is really an illusion, as most people who think they own don’t, their properties are actually owned by greedy Aussie banks. We need to get over our obsession with the 20th century individualistic (suburban paradise) ownership model. The future will be much more about sustainable town/city planning, which means new developments should be designed to enable us to live, work & play etc much more locally. Such mixed use/age developments will provide a wide range of living options for all members of our society, not just nuclear families. Such more collectivized (societal) developments, situated on suitable Crown or local body land, could be cooperatively organised ventures. Longer term leasehold arrangements, as were common in the past, could also be updated & tweaked to suit such alternative financing models. What is also sorely needed is to tighten up the occupancy & renovation rights of those who rent, so that their long term housing security & freedom is strengthened. Food for thought & discussion.

  10. Pablo, 23. December 2019, 23:14

    As Kiwis we value sunshine and open space. It is sad to think we have increased our population so greatly, (in a large part through immigration) that we must now contemplate living in high density high rise boxes overshadowing sunless houses with no outdoor space.
    we stand to loose the very things immigrants are flocking here to seek. Conor should perhaps look at the demographics of people living in areas such as Oriental Bay and in apartments. Many are students, couples without children and older persons, these are often suitable choices for those times of life. Having lived in London I can assure you it is not much fun cooped up in a box with a young family.

  11. Dan Tosfery, 24. December 2019, 7:59

    Well said Pablo! Immigration policy should be ‘one out – one in’ just like a night club. Then we could focus on fixing the infrastructure, not building more infrastructure for people to be housed in tiny boxes.

  12. Lilly G, 24. December 2019, 16:14

    It’s not a nightclub, but then I hardly think we should have our NZ immigration policy drafted by the UN.

  13. Dan Tosfery, 24. December 2019, 18:12

    Nightclub was an analogy Lilly G. That said, central Wellington resembles a big open air nightclub on Friday and Saturday nights.

  14. Lilly G, 25. December 2019, 6:45

    Merry Christmas Dan, yes I know you meant it as an analogy. Courtenay Place red light central resembles a dystopian city covered in puke, drunks and garbage Sat and Sun early morn. But if you mean the Govt should provide good healthcare, support, housing and education to all its people before opening its nightclub for more, then I’d agree with you.