Wellington Scoop

Two councillors say low-rise town houses in CBD are “waste of space”


Report from RNZ
Two Wellington city councillors are aghast that what they call a ‘waste of space’ inner-city development will probably get approval, and they can do nothing to stop it. The developers behind The Paddington want to build about 150 upmarket terraced houses on Taranaki Street in the central city, with prices starting at $788,000.

The complex is expected to become home to about 300 people; however, the buildings are only two or three storeys high, in an area with a maximum limit of 27 metres.

The city’s expecting as many as 80,000 extra people by 2043.

The city councillor with the housing portfolio, Brian Dawson, said more people need to live on those prime, inner-city blocks.

“It’s disappointing for me because we all know we’ve got very limited amount of land, particularly in the CBD and it’s a shame we can’t maximise what we’ve got. While all new housing you could say is good housing, at the end of the day we could get a lot more in that space,” Mr Dawson said.

It’s a space which is currently home to a car yard for Mazdas and Fords.

Mr Dawson said he did not begrudge developers the right to build what they wanted, but said most of the anticipated new residents would live in the central city.

“We could [house] twice as many at least if it was high rise and that’s the issue, we’ve got limited land in the CBD and this being the part of town that most people want to live, we need to be thinking far more lofty,” he said.

At the showroom, Thames Pacific developer Stephen Sutorius said there were too many apartment blocks nearby to build another one on the site. “You can’t have high-rise blocks all next to each other. You’ll get a city where you have no sun, you have no light throughout the developments or throughout the city,” Mr Sutorius said.

Construction was likely to start in November, with completion estimated for mid-2021, he said.

More than half of the freehold townhouses at the $125 million development sold in under a month, Mr Sutorius said. “We’d be nowhere near the amount of pre-sales that we want if we’d gone for a high-rise,” he said.

And recent headlines on insurance and body corporate difficulties had turned many buyers away from apartments, he said.

“A number of people just don’t like living in high-rise buildings, they do want to be living in town but after the Kaikōura [earthquake] events they’re too nervous to go back up in a high-rise,” Mr Sutorius said.

Mr Dawson said the council was not legally able to stop the development.

“We can only work within the limits of the law that we have in front of us at the moment, and that says: if it meets the Building Act, if it meets the resource consent guidelines, if it’s within the RMA (Resource Management Act), we have no choice but to say yes to it,” Mr Dawson said.

Central city councillor Nicola Young said that was a shame because the development was a “waste of space”.

In this case, the district plan had left the council and councillors impotent, she said. That is why the council wanted residents to have their say on how to plan for growth as it gets ready to revise its district plan, which governs requirements such as building heights and density.

“We need to have more power in the district plan. We have maximum heights but we don’t have minimum heights. We need a rule for minimum heights [in the central city],” Cr Young said.

But Mr Sutorius warned minimum heights could lead to overly intense building, unless other rules were changed to ensure good access to sunlight and open space.

Nevertheless, changing the district plan could take as long as a decade based on past experience.

“Local government moves incredibly slowly,” said Ms Young. “They say Rome wasn’t built in a day; well, you can certainly apply that to Wellington, too.”


  1. Andrew, 20. May 2019, 13:19

    There are several tall (10 storey plus) apartment developments happening right now. Why not some low rise to balance this out? I’d say this is the right way to go with the current insurance market, as a low-rise building is quite a different proposition to a 10-storey building needing remedial work. The councillors should know there are other ways to grow or sustain without ramming in more people … and the last thing we need in Wellington is blocks of apartments like there are between Britomart and the old Auckland train station.

  2. Marmalade Sandwich, 20. May 2019, 14:12

    I agree with Mr Sutorius. I was interested in these houses so went to look at the show room and found there were only a handful left to buy. Who wants endless/soulless uninsurable apartment blocks everywhere creating wind tunnels and darkness.

  3. Newtown, 20. May 2019, 14:46

    I disagree with our councillors – we should say no to soulless brutalist high rise blocks. Look how awful The Terrace is. We need more thoughtfully designed townhouses with focus on quality of inner city living.

  4. Think it over, 20. May 2019, 14:57

    I’m with the developer on this one – a mix of 3 storey townhouses around high rises seems much preferable to high towers filling every conceivable spot. And that’s not to mention the earthquake risk which always seems to make high-rise building standards out of date 5-10 years after they were built, leading to unaffordable strengthening and insurance bills. It should also be noted that 150 townhouses on that smallish site is quite high density. I would much rather thus development than a repeat of the Soho building of shoebox apartments just across the road, which is an eyesore that has turned into a slum by the sounds of it.

    Go look at the most beautiful pedestrian cities in the world and you will find London/Paris built with 3 & 4 storeyed housing. I would much rather that than giant high-rise pillars blotting out the sun and creating wind tunnels.

  5. Kara, 20. May 2019, 17:56

    Wellington needs a mixture of 2 and 3 level terrace type stand alone houses. Perhaps the developers could also build smaller houses which include just 1 bathroom.

    High rise apartments are not compatible with minimising rubbish or composting vegetable scraps.

  6. Leviathan, 20. May 2019, 21:32

    All of you commenters so far: you’re all wrong. Wellington absolutely needs a mixture of tall apartment buildings and mid-rise apartment buildings and lower-rise townhouses, but this site is one of our major roads, a broad, wide traffic avenue, and is zoned for buildings up to 27m high – i.e. between 6-9 storeys high. To put 2-storey townhouses on this site is a disaster in terms of town-planning, as well as going to be horrible for the people living there. It should not have been allowed. It should still be refused, even at this late hour. Plenty of room for townhouses in Wellington – the side of Taranaki Street is not the place for this to happen.

  7. Jerzy K., 20. May 2019, 22:11

    I don’t particularly relish the thought of living in a Singapore or Sydney style, overbuilt urban canyon. Why would we want to pack in another 80k in the CBD? Fix the rail link, there’s more room in the Hutt, where the seismic vulnerability isn’t as great. Building high rises on reclaimed land at sea level is a mistake.

  8. Newtown, 21. May 2019, 9:27

    @Leviathan — are there town planners in Wellington? Looking at the current state, a developer can snap up any piece of land and build whatever they like as long as the building adheres to code. Where’s the future direction for the city? Until then, we’ll see more nicely designed townhouses being built – because good design will sell in a flash.

    How many apartments are owner occupied? Aren’t most of them owned by investors and rented out on a short term basis or on AirBnb? Living in a shoebox is very passé.

  9. Ms Green, 21. May 2019, 9:41

    I am disappointed with the narrow thinking of these councillors. This development addresses many of the issues related to high rise block developments. It has no cars in the public lanes within it; landscaping – trees and gardens; no Body Corporate (but an Incorporated Society with sensible guidelines and the ability to employ a low level maintenance person); buildings of a human scale; attractive architecture; sun; bike parking; private and public outdoor communal space; and a location close to the city, Town Belt and waterfront amenities. It could still be improved with undercover bike parking , a common meeting place (under cover), attention to resilience needs – esp catching water for storage in an emergency and a requirement to utilise grey water.
    Much thought has gone into improving on the impersonal, isolating high rise apartment blocks..and the “ deadness” that comes with that…as eg on the Terrace.

  10. luke, 21. May 2019, 14:32

    a squandered opportunity that will hold the region’s housing stocks back for decades.

  11. Phil, 21. May 2019, 17:17

    Is this the same council that has effectively banned the building of townhouses in the rest of Wellington?

  12. Leviathan, 22. May 2019, 7:49

    Newtown – yes indeed there are town planners, and urban designers, and all applicants building just about anything in the urban parts of Wellington have to comply with very strict conditions when it comes to how it looks and operates.

    Which is why it is all the more amazing that this Paddington project, which is clearly completely against the urban design guide principles, has received permission to go ahead. I’m sure that the Urban Designers at Council will have been arguing against this development for this site – and the Planners should therefore have refused it.

    I suspect that what has happened is that they have been told to “swallow a dead rat” this time, due to a generous city benefactor being one of the key developers.

  13. michael, 22. May 2019, 12:48

    I agree with Mr Sutorius when he warns that minimum heights could lead to overly intense building, unless other rules were changed to ensure good access to sunlight and open space.

    Unless the WCC urgently does something about having a proper mandated framework for development that ensures sustainable communities emerge, Wellington city is going to have wall-to-wall high-rise apartments that negatively impact on the health and well-being of the residents. Why the WCC hasn’t learnt from overseas, where many major cities are tearing down soul-less high-rises that have resulted in social and mental health problems, is beyond me. Their focus just seems to be about fitting “numbers” into buildings without any regard for the occupants.