Wellington Scoop

Six-storey minimum: new spatial plan lifts height limits for inner city housing

Report from RNZ by Harry Lock
Wellington’s future is looking upwards – with high-density, higher-storey buildings being tipped as the solution for its expanding population.

Between 50,000 to 80,000 more people are expected to call the capital home within the next 30 years, and new rules being drafted by the City Council could see developers able to build in new ways.

From Island Bay in the south, to Tawa in the north, no suburb is being left untouched.

The Draft Spatial Plan, which will be considered by the Council next week, is looking to the centre of suburbs to accommodate the bulk of the capital’s projected population growth.

How does the population growth breakdown?

Outer suburbs: 42,500 more people needing 12,600-18,000 more homes.
Inner suburbs: 14,000 more people needing 4,100-5,400 more homes.
Inner city: 18,000 more people needing 7,900-8,800 more homes.

The plan, if it goes through as it’s written currently, would see building heights drastically changed all over the city.

For the inner city, there would be a minimum building height of six storeys. The maximum building heights would be 10 storeys. For the inner suburbs, maximum building height would be between four and six storeys, although some areas deemed of special heritage would be restricted to two or three storeys. Meanwhile the outer suburbs would have a building height of either six storeys – or even eight storeys for Johnsonville and Kilbirnie – which would be centred around the suburb centres.

For those living in Johnsonville, the chance of densification and more people living there could help the suburb get back on its feet.

“I think they definitely need to do something with Johnsonville, it used to be good, when I was a kid, everyone would hang out here at the mall,” said Matt Featherstone, who has lived there all his life. “It’s dying almost, and I think to get Johnsonville on its feet would be better.”

For Marian Vickerman, “It would depend on where it’s sited, and whether it’s going to obstruct other people, big time. But if it’s set against a big hill somewhere, and it’s not going to immediately impinge on the people there, [then] you’ve got to think about these things.”

Meanwhile, Mark Paris said prices were a big aspect. “A simple idea really: as long as they’re actually affordable. Don’t build them and put them out of the price range, don’t make affordable houses that aren’t affordable.”

Opportunity for developers to expand horizons

For the city’s typically one to two storey residential homes, the Spatial Plan presents a huge shake-up. With developers historically limited in what they can do in such areas, it presents an opportunity.

“I think it’s hugely exciting, there’s absolutely no question of that – if we can get a variety of sizes and types, potentially we’d get into doing some pretty cool stuff,” said architect and developer Mike Cole.

He’s a director of Vicinity, which is behind several high-density projects in the city centre. He said flexibility would serve both present and future residents.

“Apartments don’t have to be the same four-bedroom layout as the villas that they may replace. They can provide quite a variety of accommodation. Look at kids in Wellington, you’re looking at potentially 30-percent of them don’t have drivers licenses, or a lot of them don’t have cars, [and] modes or methods [of transport] are changing.”

With the developers possibly given the permission to build differently, it would change the look of all the city’s suburbs.

Wellington Mayor Andy Foster said it’s going to be a significant change, that current residents need to be prepared for.

“When you think that we have less than 80,000 homes in Wellington City, you can work out that providing 40,000 more is going to change the face of the city over a period of time. But Wellington has been changing since 1840, and we’ll continue to change, the trick here is how we change.”

Concerns raised over the plan

Questions are being asked in light of the plan: how to fix creaking infrastructure; how to densify safely and resiliently; and how to preserve historically significant areas.

Councillor Iona Pannett, who handles the heritage portfolio, said it was fair people were raising such concerns.

As a protection against significant change, the plan does suggest some ways to protect areas of heritage. In particular, pre-1930 character areas would have building height-restrictions of three storeys, while anyone who wanted to demolish within an area would have to get consent, and their re-build plans to be approved as respectful of the area.

Meanwhile, Pannett accepted the Council’s failure to provide decent and quality housing in the past will have residents concerned the same could be happening.

“The community will rightly have some concerns about our ability to allow for good densificaiton, because we have allowed it in the past, and it doesn’t always look very beautiful, and hasn’t really increased the amenity of suburbs. We need to do that job much better, [and] the rules will need to be reasonably strict.”

The central city will see one of the most dramatic changes – its population is due to double: 18,000 more people; needing up to nearly 9,000 more homes.

The Chair of Inner City Wellington, Archdeacon Stephen King, said it was important any growth considers the residents.

“Access to public space for residents in Te Aro, and the inner city, is far less than any other suburb. If we don’t take the time and we don’t make the effort to intentionally build space for community to be, what will end up with? We won’t end up with a balanced community.”


  1. Leaf Rake, 31. July 2020, 13:46

    I don’t remember voting for this or for increasing the population by 80,000. So you MUST build to a certain height? That’s ridiculous and anyone who thinks it will result in cheaper housing has rocks in their head. Developers will still charge the maximum they can get away with and drip feed any developments into the market to maintain that. If you think you’ll get an inner city dwelling for under a million you’re dreaming.

  2. Kara, 31. July 2020, 15:45

    Is there anyone in Wellington who doesn’t remember the effects of the 7.8 quake recently? Some buildings on consolidated land suffered damage above level 7 while other buildings on reclaimed land were a bit muntered. Who in their right mind would live in a high rise in Kilbirnie – an area that is prone to tsunami from the canyon south of us.

  3. Conor Hill, 31. July 2020, 18:40

    Leaf Rake – no, you can build to a certain height. Not you must. Also the council has to plan for growth, it is required of them by central government.

  4. Leaf Rake, 31. July 2020, 20:45

    Conor, it says apartments of at least six storeys for some areas. I take that to mean if you’re planning on building there it must be six storeys minimum. I’m not sure how this is going to work when I look at areas like Khandallah and Newtown on the interactive map. These are all individual houses. To build anything meaningful you would need to acquire a large section of land. Who is going to buy up large numbers of million dollar houses then demolish them, or will they be compulsory acquired? What happens with the sunlight planes on the neighbouring properties when they have a six storey block towering over them?

  5. Graeme, 1. August 2020, 1:20

    It’s a terrible idea. People want space and a backyard. There are enough apartments in town already to satisfy the post Covid demand.

  6. Guy M, 1. August 2020, 6:19

    Kara – you could also argue that who in their right mind would live on the ground floor of a building in Kilbirnie – and basically all existing housing in Kilbirnie is single storey only, so who would live there at all? Well, 6500 people do, apparently.

    Just remembering back to the terrible tsunami in Japan in 2011 that followed their massive earthquake, the people in multi-storey concrete-framed apartment buildings survived: those in low level dwellings perished. Remember the videos taken of those terrible events? All taken by survivors – and all survivors were in multi-storey buildings. Still want to argue against them?

  7. Andy Foster, 1. August 2020, 7:35

    Leaf Rake – Conor is correct. The new Government National Policy Statement Urban Development says that in certain situations (walking distance of edge of CBDs, metropolitan centres, railway stations) Councils cannot limit the maximum permitted height to less than 6 storeys with a number of exceptions. The important exceptions for Wellington will be heritage and open space. As Conor says, that does not mean a developer must build 6 storeys, just that Council cannot limit the height to below 6 storeys in these areas. The heritage exception will be a critical part of this discussion for our inner suburbs.

    Kara – correct and resilience is a critically important factor here. I was in Kilbirnie this week, dropped in on Kainga Ora’s open day publicising a planned 60 unit brownfields development. Looks good! They will be drilling piles down 13 metres to bedrock.

    Leaf Rake – you are also correct in that economics of development will be important. The higher the value of the improvements (house etc) on a site vis a vis the land value, the less attractive redevelopment is, and vice versa.

    In terms of not voting for 50-80,000 more people, I and Council have talked about the expectations of how many more people will call Wellington home by 2050 repeatedly over several years. We consulted on Planning for Growth (essentially going up v going out) last year. Growth is driven by natural growth (will slow down as our population ages) and migration which is largely driven by Central Government policy/economic etc (inc Covid) conditions. Wellington as a very attractive city will take a share of that growth, and the NPS requires Councils to demonstrate we have sufficient capacity. This consultation is about how and where we do that.

    Kind regards, Andy

  8. michael, 2. August 2020, 10:57

    Andy, given the failing infrastructure, chaotic transport systems, closed down Civic Square, empty shops, and lack of inner-city green space, what makes WCC believe Wellington inner-city is still an attractive place to live? Unlike you and most of the councillors, I live in the inner-city and have watched its attractiveness decline. If the council are sincere in their claim to want Wellington’s inner-city to be an appealing place to live, then they must understand and acknowledge the needs of the residents (who now make up the biggest “suburb” in Wellington) and elevate these to a higher priority in decision making.

  9. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 2. August 2020, 13:48

    Hi Andy. So the Govt has mandated a six storey maximum height in several areas of Wellington, overruling WCC’s lower maximum height limits in those areas. Correct? But the Council also has rules about building envelopes, defined by a diagonal plane that rises inwards at 45 degrees from the top of the boundary fence line (c 2m up from the boundary). This acts as a brake on the maximum building height on small sections and is designed to protect neighbours’ sunlight. Is this 2m / 45 degree envelope rule also overridden by Govt?

  10. Mike Mellor, 2. August 2020, 15:09

    Andy. You wrote above, “that does not mean a developer must build 6 storeys”. But the Our City Tomorrow – Draft Spatial Plan for Wellington City website says that the general changes in the central city include “A minimum building height of 6 storeys”.

    If “a minimum building height of 6 storeys” doesn’t mean that a developer must build 6 storeys, what does it mean?

  11. Kara, 2. August 2020, 20:11

    Guy – It is possible that multi-storey buildings in the area that was hit by the 2011 tsunami had better base isolation than is used here. We have learnt a lot from past quakes in Japan, for example the effects of shaking on one building but not another beside it.

  12. Graham Atkinson, 3. August 2020, 10:00

    Mike I assume Andy was referring to the inner and outer suburbs when he commented about up to 6 storeys not being compulsory whilst you are referring to the inner city.

  13. Guy M, 3. August 2020, 12:10

    Chris Calvi-Freeman – Building envelopes like that apply in Residential areas, but not in the CBD and not in Suburban Centres. I’m sure you know that. Somewhere like Kilbirnie town shopping centre is a Suburban Centre – the rest of Kilbirnie is just a residential suburb, and so there will be taller buildings planned for the centre of the town – but not the burbs.

    Kara – the taller buildings, yes, but smaller buildings are mostly just concrete frame with no base-isolation, same as here. In this video of Japan in 2011, you can see all the timber-framed buildings get demolished / float away, while all the concrete buildings remain.

  14. Wellington Commuter, 3. August 2020, 15:05

    @Guy M – The WCC HAS chosen to apply increased building height maximums to a range of residential areas, especially to Wellington North and Wellington West. This is outlined in the map link from paragraph 33 of the S & P Meeting Report “CITY-WIDE ENGAGEMENT ON THE DRAFT OUR CITY TOMORROW – A SPATIAL PLAN FOR WELLINGTON CITY”.

    1) “Increased building heights in areas on the edge of the Central City to AT LEAST 6 storeys and up to 8 storeys”: areas along the edge of the city in Thorndon, Aro Valley, and Mt Victoria.

    2) Examples of residential areas where developers will be able to build up to six storey residential towers next door include:
    * “Proposed change from Inner Residential to Central Area District Plan zone. Height increase up to 6 storeys proposed”: Thorndon
    * “a range of 4-6 storeys is proposed outside of these [heritage] sub-areas”: Thorndon, Aro Valley/Holloway Road/The Terrace, Mt Victoria
    * “outside of the [heritage] Sub-Areas new buildings would have a maximum height of 4-6 storeys generally, with the opportunity to go higher along the mass rapid transit route”: Mt Cook, Newtown, Berhampore
    * “in areas on the edge of the Central City”: Thorndon, Aro Valley, and Mt Victoria
    * “within a 5-minute walking catchment of railway stations”: Crofton Downs, Ngaio, Khandallah
    * “within a 10-minute walking catchment of railway stations”: Linden, Tawa and Tawa Junction
    * “within a 10-minute walking catchment from the edge of the Johnsonville suburban centre as well as railway stations”: Johnsonville

    Chris K-F asks Mayor Andy a very important question about whether building envelope rules still apply. Or will a developer simply be able to build an apartment tower next door and block everyone’s sun?

  15. greenwelly, 3. August 2020, 15:56

    @Wellington Commuter,
    Yes the council has chosen to, but if it hadn’t the government would have forced it to….

    See Mayor Foster’s comments on the the new “Government National Policy Statement Urban Development” which says that in certain situations (walking distance of edge of CBDs, metropolitan centres, railway stations) Councils cannot limit the maximum permitted height to less than 6 storeys

  16. Jackson, 3. August 2020, 16:37

    “a range of 4-6 storeys is proposed outside of these [heritage] sub-areas”: Thorndon, Aro Valley/Holloway Road/The Terrace, Mt Victoria”
    Wow, 4-6 storeys in Holloway Road? Whoever wrote this has obviously never visited Holloway Road. And good luck with the locals there, they’re a close knit bunch.

  17. Guy M, 3. August 2020, 17:11

    By Holloway Road do they perchance mean Adelaide Road?

  18. Wellington Commuter, 3. August 2020, 18:35

    @greenwelly Yes, you are correct. In fact, reading the proposed major changes in the “Spatial Plan for Wellington City” against the government’s “National Policy Statement Urban Development” , I can see three major issues:

    Firstly, the WCC is NOT fully implementing the government’s plan across central Wellington, or to South/East Wellington. The wards that bear the brunt of higher density housing are the West and especially North Wellington. For example, the rule for Inner City Suburbs of Mt Cook and Newtown is “Instead, building heights of up to 3 storeys are proposed in character sub-areas, and a range of 4-6 storeys is proposed outside of these sub-areas” even though these suburbs have the best walking/cycling access to the CBD AND are getting a $2B rapid transit service.
    Secondly, a lot of land bankers and developers will make a lot of money from this … housing won’t be cheaper but a few will be a lot richer.
    Thirdly, the new rules say residential developments in areas within walking distance to the CBD and “Metropolitan Centres” MUST be 6 storeys. Johnsonville and Kilbirnie are designated by the WCC as “Metropolitan Centres”. But the WCC excludes much of the central city from high density development due to “heritage,” and Kilbirnie is excused because of the risk of sea level rise. This means Johnsonville gets both barrels … all development going out 800m from the Johnsonville Triangle must be 6 storeys! We’re Forked.

  19. Peter S, 3. August 2020, 19:43

    Wgtn Scoop, can you please clarify whether the new rules specify that new developments in certain areas MUST be six storeys, as some people are saying? In Johnsonville? Surely that cannot be right? Has this arisen from someone’s typo? Even in the CBD, I have trouble comprehending that property owners would be forced into a minimum anything (except safety and maybe quality). That sounds like a dictatorship.

  20. Violet, 3. August 2020, 20:02

    I’m in favour of the plan. People need homes and we should avoid building on greenfields

  21. Kerry, 4. August 2020, 9:40

    Perhaps the worst is Lincolnshire Farms, originally designed mainly for cars, long before ‘more people in fewer cars.’
    — Originally there was to be an arterial road running through the site, the now-dubious SH1 branch to Petone. That was to be the main access for cars, with three junctions.
    — Without the state highway to Petone, the only access will be on existing roads in Granada North, Grenada Village and Woodridge (the north end of Johnsonville)
    — The topography is none too clever, with a river in a deep-ish gorge.
    — The principal local road ran east-west, which neatly messes up public transport, because it doesn’t go anywhere: Johnsonville to Horokiwi. The existing layout cannot be part of a sensible-looking through-route. The best public transport routes are on the way to other useful destinations (not Otaki). That needs a north-south route, towards the western edge, which will reduce the area available for development by half or more.

  22. Botanical local, 14. August 2020, 14:13

    I see no reference whatsoever in the Spatial Plan to Northland. I live very near the Botanical Garden (off Glenmore Street) – is Northland, even as it adjoins Glenmore Street etc, not part of the Plan?