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No sign of a truce

by Lindsay Shelton
There’s no sign of a truce in the battle over Wellington’s Spatial Plan. Who’d have expected that town planning would create so much passion? Even animosity in some quarters, despite the fact that there’s so much common ground – all the opposing groups agree that Wellington needs more homes.

The city council received a really high number of submissions when its consultation closed last week. The total is likely to be more than 2000. There were 1970 online submissions [1], but also many more that didn’t seem to have been counted – they were mailed in, in writing, on paper, in envelopes …

In Newsroom last month, Dileepa Fonseca summarised some of the arguments “for and against” [2] saving or destroying heritage homes, as the Spatial Plan is proposing. Georgina Campbell in the NZ Herald, writing provocatively about “heritage hellholes,” also talked to people with opposing views. [3]

More constructively, Max Rashbroke wrote in The Guardian about how consensus could be achieved. [4] Ben Schrader has also pointed the way to common ground [5] and how it could be identified.

Wherever you stand, however, there’s been much public suspicion about what the council wants from its Spatial Plan. There’ve also been challenges to the population forecasts on which the council’s planning was based.

In the last weeks of consultation, the council seemed to have second thoughts about the expected population growth. [6] Jo Newman of the Mt Victoria Historical Society looked at the new figures [7]:

… in contrast to the Draft Spatial Plan document which says that inner-city suburbs must accommodate 14,000 people and 4100-5400 additional people over the next 30 years, the Council [now] believes they now only need to find room for 2720-4731 people and 1083-1895 dwellings.

This means that Mt Victoria will need only 92 to 188 new homes over the next thirty years – meaning six new dwellings per year. In a year when there are already eight new dwellings being built in the suburb.

It’s not only Mt Victoria where residents have been upset by the Spatial Plan proposals. Inner city residents are also concerned, pointing out that Te Aro is now Wellington’s biggest suburb. Bigger than Karori. And it will have 1600 more residents [8] in a few years when current building projects are completed and occupied. At a meeting of Historic Places Wellington at the weekend, we heard concerns that council planning has failed to deal with the wider inner city areas around Victoria Street, where most development has so far been based.

Those who value the inner city’s character houses and heritage areas are clear about how housing demands could be met – the council should be aiming for development along so-called “brown fields” areas such as Adelaide Road, which are ready for high rise development without the destruction of heritage streets. But even if Wellington gets many more apartment buildings, this does not solve the other related issue – the need for more affordable dwellings.

Consultation is not yet over, as Andy Foster pointed out in a Radioactive interview in August: [9]

This is the second stage of four. The first stage was essentially saying do you want to go “up” or do you want to go “out”? We did that last year, we got around 1,300 submissions at that stage. We put four options to Wellingtonians, we said either we can densify the central city … or see development in other places such as the northern suburbs … Really strong feedback from the community was that they preferred to densify rather than to go out … The third stage will be what we call a non-statutory district plan for change, which will be drafted in the first quarter next year and that’s actually when you get into planning rules. And finally there will be an actual statutory district plan which will be the end of next year … there’s a lot of opportunity for people to have input during this process.

So there’ll be two more rounds of consultation. Let’s aim to reach consensus by then.