Wellington Scoop

Two generations of support for Wellington’s character areas; warning of “foolish” deregulation

News from Historic Places Wellington
The Wellington City Council today voted for their “Planning for Growth” spatial plan. The proposal erodes protections of heritage housing by amending the “Character Area” protections. It also allows for high density intensification of up to 8 storey buildings in many of the neighbourhoods that provide us with the most historical, societal and cultural substance.

One of the speakers at today’s meeting was Felicity Wong, the chair of Historic Places Wellington:

We acknowledge the urgency of making homes for people. Realistic housing projects can be started now. We want a compact resilient city – but not at the expense of heritage and character homes.

Foreign cities have their particular character but when you think of Wellington, you think of wooden houses nestled into the hillside. They are our identity. That identity exists because people have gone before me, expressed our shared community value, and ensured the rule of law protects them.

The city is beginning the biggest building deregulation in decades. You propose that if neighbours have 1960s windows in their old villa, the whole street can be demolished. You propose to re-zone 60% of the existing character areas as high rise.

This foolish draft plan is already out of date. It uses a Housing Assessment computer model that does not comply with the Government’s new National Policy Statement. Your old computer model grossly exaggerates the amount of zoning change required to fit folk into our city.

It used to google street view photos of homes and neighbourhoods. It did not have any data about the housing needs of Māori or elderly, as is required by law.

We know that NZ has a problem acknowledging its history. Only in 2022 will NZ history be taught in schools. Allowing demolition of Wellington’s pre-1930 character homes will continue a trend of erasure and removal.

This is not about privileging one strand of history over another. Many people have heritage in te whanganui-a-tara – new heritage and old. The character areas have housed people from all walks of life and have stories to tell about us all.

Thank you Mayor for offering to wear your shoes down checking google street view. (By contrast, officers plan not to take their “tiny home consultation stunt” to heritage areas, or to meet with us.)

Let’s work together to build connected communities that value diverse heritage experiences. You will make a big political decision with your vote today – to ask communities what they think of a foolish, flawed and out of date plan. I have no doubt it will excite public passion – and claims that you are merely following Government orders will be of doubtful value.

A second speaker was Gregor Thompson:

I am 25 years old. I’ve lived in Wellington almost all my life. I am currently a student living in Newtown. What I’m here to talk about is the fact that I think there is a misapprehension around the youth position on this issue.

The narrative the council seems to be spreading is one of progression and an inclusive city for future generations, but I’d contest that – no one seems to have really consulted this city’s future generation

The reason I live in Newtown is because I like it, I like the character of my home. Newtown is charming, inclusive, interesting and the residents are proud of it.

This is not exclusive to Newtown; it can be seen in all the other communities this council seems to be intent on demolishing. The immediate peripheral suburbs house a large proportion of our younger and student populations, we may not own the houses but we do still benefit immensely from them.

Now I’m not saying that we should close our doors. Accommodating new Wellingtonians is salient but we shouldn’t do it at the expense of what makes people want to come here in the first place. Asides from Cuba Street, our inner-city suburbs are the last frontier of a unique cultural vibrancy. It honestly seems like we are deliberately sucking the soul out of this city.

I think the rhetoric and framing of the council’s intentions, as if this is doing young people a service seems disingenuous or at least one sided. If you look, you’ll find that the youth view on this is far more complex than you give it credit for. We need to reconsider who the real beneficiaries of this extensive deregulation are, because I certainly don’t think it’s me or anyone who has had the pleasure of growing up among these beautiful buildings.

Submissions on the issue open on August 10.


  1. David Mackenzie, 7. August 2020, 9:24

    My villa still has sash windows. The neighbouring villas have modern casement windows. This does not to my mind compromise their essential character or invalidate them as historic homes. Why would anyone think that an artefact that is modified over time by its users is no longer that artefact? Protect the old. Do not allow buildings higher than 2 storeys. Council where are these 80, 000 arrivals coming from? Are you sure than even exist? Can we not provide for them by a more subtle and cunning adaption of our built environment?

  2. Tomahawk Steak, 7. August 2020, 13:36

    Part of what makes wellington the “coolest little capital” is the character of the old weatherboard houses. So why would we want to overpopulate and cram tenement blocks in all over the place, destroying the very thing that makes it appealing? We need smarter thinking, like, do we need acres of prime land in kilbirnie for a crumbling bus depot which could be located within the confines of the airport, say on bridge st where multiple houses have been demolished and is unsuitable for housing due to the noise. Then you could fit quite a lot of nice townhouses on the old bus depot site. There is a lot of space in the block between tirangi and Kingsford Smith Rd and the old Miramar school site which the airport has plans for I know. But there must be numerous sites like this around wellington that don’t require bulldozing the character and putting up housing projects.

  3. Dave B, 7. August 2020, 13:54

    In 1950 the population of Wellington City was a cosy little 133,000 . I wonder if people back then complained that it would be overpopulated if it grew to 415,000 by 2020. Should they have kept it at 133,000?

  4. Conor, 7. August 2020, 14:14

    a lot of misunderstanding here. Felicity Wong is correct that the draft spatial plan doesn’t meet the NPS. But in the opposite direction to her assertions, more of the city needs to be zoned 6 storeys, not less.

    It’s true that the character areas have housed people from all walks of life. It’s also true people from all walks of life can no longer afford them. The workers cottages of Mt Cook and Thorndon are now million dollar houses. We are no longer the egalitarian society that had workers this close to the cbd. The idea that restricting new building makes it easier to house diverse groups is not grounded in reality.

    As to Gregor Thompson, he might want to look round Newtown. He’ll see social housing from 4 to 10 stories. Newtown is what it is thanks to some of its medium and high density, not despite it.

  5. Leviathan, 7. August 2020, 16:30

    I’m of the opinion that some people are needlessly worrying over nothing. I may be wrong, but I maintain that the end result is not the wholesale wiping out of housing on the flanks of Mt Victoria, but more that places like Adelaide Road (on the part leading to the Basin) and Newtown (around the Hospital) and Kilbirnie (around the shopping area) are the focus of these revised targets for density. I mean, really, can anyone point to a single building in that part of Adelaide Road that is worth keeping? That whole stretch of road will change, and quite appropriately too, to buildings about 6 storeys tall. Should have already happened but the Council has been farting around and not giving any clear signals over the transport corridor down the centre.

    Meanwhile, if you are scared of slaughter of the Victorian painted ladies on Mt Vic, remember the case of Zavos Corner on the Pirie and Brougham. Originally just one old villa on a medium-sized section, the proposals for redevelopment a few years ago received an earful from the Mt Vic Residents, the Mt Vic Heritage, and many neighbours, as well as spending months or even years in Resource Consent hell. The finished result, with no less than 8 medium density units where only one house stood before, has won numerous awards, is well-liked by the locals, is now a favourite of the Council who take people there to show them what to do, and I confess that I think even the Mt Vic Painted Lady Preservation groups are possibly happy because there are pointy roofs on the finished buildings and it fits right in.

    The buildings which ARE more likely to go are not those on Elizabeth, Porritt, Austin or Claregrove; but instead are more likely to be those car yards on Kent Tce, and Hania St, where 1-2 storey high commercial dross sit, squandering land best used for inner city housing. That’s where things are planned to change – and that’s where things absolutely SHOULD change. It would be great if someone from the WCC could back me up on this, to stop the endless wailing and gnashing of teeth from ancient Victorians…

  6. Polly, 8. August 2020, 13:00

    I agree with David McKenzie “where are all these people coming from?” And over the years there will be a continuing farewell to our older members, with vacant apartments and homes.

  7. Chris Horne, 8. August 2020, 21:45

    The thought of 80,000 more people pouring into Wellington is absolutely, positively farcical. Who dreamt the figure up? Where will the throngs live? In 6-storey or 8-storey people-filing cabinets? Who will create the thousands of extra jobs in factories, offices, shops, restaurants, etc. Where will the thousands of extra school pupils and university students study?

  8. John Rankin, 9. August 2020, 19:39

    @Leviathan: what you say is true in theory, but it’s not a foregone conclusion. Smart cities know that to do density well, you build rapid transit lines first and use these to foster transit-oriented communities around the stations.

    But according to the Golden Mile business case, rapid transit is not scheduled for delivery until 2036. Assuming we elect a National-led government at some point between then and now, 2050 may be a more realistic date, by which time it will be far too late; the damage will be done.

    Rapid transit lines send developers a strong signal about where to build and give buyers certainty that they will be able to get around without a car. It appears to me that the planners have not yet linked the housing goal to the transport goal. If we want to be a city with density done well, we need to get on and build rapid transit to the south and east, where we want higher density to happen.

    Let’s adopt LGWM’s “more people, fewer vehicles” as the goal for housing and transport. Increasing housing density without building high-capacity rapid transit is a recipe for lots more cars. If we are serious about the 2030 mode-shift plan, which notes the eastern suburbs have the highest car use, Wellington needs rapid transit open by 2030.