Wellington Scoop

Why bother with consultation?

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by Benoit Pette
In August last year, Wellington started a journey called ‘Planning for Growth,’ asking how the District Plan should be amended to make room for the expected growth of the city in the next 30 years. A city wide consultation was undertaken:

If the city was to grow, what did residents prefer? Higher density in the CBD? Higher density in inner suburbs? Or new greenfield developments?

While there were some debates on how the questions were asked, potentially skewing the results in one direction, the option chosen by Wellingtonians – by a wide margin according to the council website – was “Option 2: Suburban centre”. Here is its description (on the website here).

“This would see more townhouses in most suburban centres. Apartments up to six storeys would be needed in Newtown, Berhampore, and around the Kilbirnie towncentre, in addition to apartments up to 15 storeys high in the central-city. This scenario means new development goes mostly to areas that are less prone to sea-level rise and liquefaction, and it provides more housing choice across the city. Residential growth around suburban centres supports the economic viability of those areas, but we would have to invest in upgrading community facilities and infrastructure to support that growth. There would be some changes to pre-1930 character protection, although to a lesser degree than scenario one.”

With that in mind, you’d expect that this would be the baseline for all further discussions. Yet the 2020 edition of Planning For Growth consultation (the Draft Spatial Plan has been written with scenarios significantly different from the “Option 2: suburban centre” description.

For example, “apartments up to six storeys would be needed in … the Kilbirnie town centre” have risen to 8 storeys! We asked City Councillors about the reason for the change. Teri O’Neil, councillor for the Eastern Ward was equally surprised. She picked up the question and passed it to city officers. The response came in an email:

“Since the previous engagement we have done more work on the areas that were identified for potential growth like Kilbirnie. This work involved considering a range of factors such as character, community facilities, public transport, open spaces etc. (the report ‘Wellington Outer Suburbs Assessment & Evaluation 2020 report’ is available on our Planning for Growth website). Through this work Kilbirnie was identified as having a good range of transport and retail options, and excellent community infrastructure to support development of up to 8 storeys in the commercial centre, stepping down to 4 storeys adjacent to the centres and 2 – 3 storeys beyond this.”

So, the proposition for apartments up to 6 storeys which received wide support in last year’s consultation is gone.

Rather than refining the terms established last year, the consultation is now back to square one. The irony went a little further when the email continued:

“However is important to note that these are proposed heights for consultation and feedback, and also that there are a number of hazards relevant to Kilbirnie that still need further investigation to help inform future decisions about what level of intensification is appropriate. We are undertaking a range of research on hazards risk which will be complete by end of this year to inform the District Plan review process.”

Equally, the “suburban centre” never referred to developments outside the specifically designated suburbs (Newtown, Berhampore, and Kilbirnie). So why is the Draft Spatial Plan suggesting 6 storey developments in Miramar and Karori? Also, the 2019 survey showed that respondents wanted a greener city, yet the Draft Spatial Plan makes no provision for this: its sole focus seems to be on new density standards and height limits.

In a nutshell: why bother with consultation when city council staff overwrite what has been decided by the community?

As imperfect as the first round of consultation was in 2019, it had the merit of asking the question in simple terms, with four directions to debate – 1372 people responded and chose a preferred scenario.

The City Council should now be laying out a refined design built on this baseline, and the Mayor and Councillors should be championing the vision that was chosen by the people who responded.


  1. Toni, 31. August 2020, 10:20

    @ Benoit Pette: This is no surprise. Council officers seem to be a law unto themselves and consultation is just about lulling the public into a false sense of being consulted while the officers go about their own agenda. It is soul destroying the number of people who work long and hard on submissions that are a waste of time. I have no idea why councillors put up with this, but they do. Little wonder we have no respect for, or confidence in, the whole process.

  2. Marko, 31. August 2020, 13:28

    6 and 8 storeys around suburban centres in Kilbirnie, Newtown, Jville and Karori all sound like amazing ways to revitalise our suburbs tbh. Mixed-use development, well connected to public transport. Agree about green space – the council needs to be explicitly providing more parks, greener, quieter streets in suburbs.

  3. Matt, 31. August 2020, 16:01

    I imagine the new NPS-UD has probably upset the apple cart a bit in terms of what the council was initially expecting they would target for upzoning vs what they now have to provide in terms of additional housing capacity … 6storey vs 8storey, does it really matter in the end? Additional density in the suburbs is a good thing!

    Most greenery in the city is either in the town belt/other council reserve land or on private property. Very little of it is actually in the road reserve in the form of street trees. I would love to see more of it, but suspect that would lead to conflicts with parking/utility providers/NIMBYs.

  4. Dr Jenny Condie, 31. August 2020, 16:27

    OTOH, these are such important changes that we want to keep checking in and touching base as we progress things. If we didn’t, when the District Plan is notified we would be accused of not giving people enough chance to participate…
    On green space, yes we will need more! Working through the infrastructure that will be needed to support this growth will come in the next phase. Also, unlikely to get significant opposition to more green space and we are trying to tackle biggest controversies first. [via twitter]

  5. Ms Green, 31. August 2020, 17:21

    More green space sure is controversial. Why? Because of its lack of emphasis and requirement in all massive apartment developments to date. Much more could be said about this. Who has the time to say the same thing over and over again?

  6. Johnno, 31. August 2020, 17:29

    Just attended a drop in centre. Staff were courteous but did not have adequate resources for those of us wanting more information. The staff were at best struggling to answer questions outside the prescribed list and in particular the matters relating to the infrastructure. It is clear that one arm of Council is not communicating with other arms. Mind you this is probably not helped by the fact that over the past 10 or so years Council his devolved itself of the basic utility services, preferring to focus on what I would term “Glamour” projects.

  7. Pseudopanax, 31. August 2020, 18:14

    This plan is a gift to developers who will build in Newtown and Berhampore on land cheaper than existing empty Brown field sites closer to town such as on Adelaide Rd or Cambridge Tce. Yet again what’s left of Heritage Newtown gets dumped on, forcing owner occupiers out who do not want to live in shady wind tunnels. There seems to be a hint of the Politics of Envy by some councillors: “If we can’t live in 100 year old villas with sunny gardens then no one can.” Or the Ceausescu approach to heritage … bulldoze it and replace with tower blocks.

  8. Rebecca Matthews, 31. August 2020, 18:53

    More concerns, for sure, about spatial plan esp from Khandallah people at Ngaio library session today, but still some support. Interested in the view from some that if we allow for apartments we are condemning people to a terrible life. I loved apartment living, am I the only one? [via twitter]

  9. Wellington Commuter, 31. August 2020, 23:34

    The WCC increasing the permitted height of apartments to 4, 6 even 8 storeys means the WCC has LESS control on quality. This is already been proven in J’ville where the WCC regularly permits buildings that breach DP rules like road setbacks ruling “effects are less than minor”. [via twitter]

  10. Ben Schrader, 1. September 2020, 9:40

    The DSP presumption that Wellington’s population is going to increase by 80,000 over the next 30 years is wildly optimistic. Statistics NZ modelling came up with three scenarios: low growth of about 20,000 people; medium growth of 47,000 people, and high growth of 75,000 people. WCC officials have chosen the highest scenario and added another 5,000 people. What do they base this forecast on? Read more.

  11. D'Esterre, 1. September 2020, 12:54

    We’re in Khandallah. In 2015, when WCC first proposed increased density in the suburbs, we went to both a drop-in session and a public meeting at the Khandallah town hall. The concept for the city proper was predicated on population growth numbers that were wildly optimistic, and considerably at variance with census growth projections. It was intended that the proposed higher-density housing would be for older people. And it was very clear that a large number of practical issues hadn’t been thought about. Among them were the issues of infrastructure capacity, parking, loss of sunlight, views and privacy. And – most critically – how practicable higher-density housing would be for older people, many of whom struggle with using stairs.

    Yesterday, we went to the drop-in at Ngaio library. Questioning of a WCC staffer elicited the same issues: they clearly haven’t thought through any of the problems that we’d raised back in 2015. Moreover, it’s very clear that Council will allow developers to build any damn thing they like, without regard for quality and amenities, as has already happened both here and in Johnsonville.

    Reality check: even if multi-storey buildings were feasible in areas such as this, we’ll need off-street parking for the foreseeable future. Where do people think that tradespeople and the like could live, if there’s no parking? Moreover, many of us older people must perforce rely on our cars, because public transport isn’t always suitable.

    Back in 2015, the Miramar area was discounted because of sea level issues. Yet in the current proposals, there’s Miramar, never mind the sea level. And Kilbirnie: it’s as if the projected sea level rise that WCC has been warning us about is a figment of someone’s imagination.

    In our view, these proposals will go the same way as the last lot: into a filing cabinet somewhere.

  12. Amacf, 1. September 2020, 15:18

    In Newtown there is a new apartment complex of 56 two bedroom apartments in Constable Street just completed and another 32 apartment complex about to commence on the corner of Rintoul and Colombo Streets. Both are four storey developments. There is no provision for car parking and an assumption that the owners/occupiers will use public transport only. This is only the beginning in Newtown.

    If these “medium density” developments are kept to the Constable, Adelaide, Rintoul centre and possibly extend to Daniell Street from Constable Street, the impact on the Edwardian character of the rest of Newtown may be constrained.

    But there is a big implicit assumption that the occupiers of these new developments will be predominantly millenials who are willing to embrace the urban lifestyle of Wellington. Otherwise the already packed streets of parked cars – supplied by the current residents and Wellington Hospital workers avoiding parking charges – will only get worse.

  13. Conor, 1. September 2020, 15:35

    Bring it on! Can’t wait for some affordable well located warm apartment options.

  14. JohnK, 1. September 2020, 15:54

    Conor, you may have to wait a long time. We all know that the machinations of such a proposal will not see the light of day let alone implementation for at least 5 to 6 years at the earliest. The developers have to look for properties they are able to purchase at what they consider a “reasonable” cost and then the process of Resource Consent and Building Consents starts. Allow another year for that, then a construction period of say 1.5 years. So yes you can get affordable [??] well located warm apartment options but (let me see) that will be in about 9 years. What I have not included in this scenario is the probability of ratepayer revolution. Nor have I been brave enough to include the required infrastructure upgrades necessary for the type of developments to be permitted.
    Yes we all want warm dry easy access homes BUT………

  15. Pippa Tia, 1. September 2020, 16:08

    This is being sold as providing housing for future residents. Leaving aside why we are destroying Wellington’s character for people who don’t even live here yet, the people most enthusiastic about seem to be a group of existing residents. So there’s two different arguments running parallel. It seems like entitled millennials want brand new city fringe living, essentially champagne tastes with beer budgets. A quick search of the new townhouses in Newtown mentioned above reveals buyer enquiries north of $800k, hardly affordable. Admittedly these could be attractive to young professionals for a while but in my experience once they are older, with kids and a bigger budget they’ll want one of the villas and gardens they destroyed. I’d also add that rezoning some of these properties will see their value balloon massively, entrenching perceived wealth. If you were currently only able to rebuild a similar house but could potentially build an 8 storey apartment on your land, what do you think it is going to do to land values? Perhaps that’s the council’s plan all along as the rates will go though the roof.

  16. Rebecca Matthews, 3. September 2020, 8:49

    I’ve seen some comments that our spatial plan is some kind of gift to developers. Nonsense. Consenting rules will all apply & we will strengthen design guides & green space requirements. Also it will enable more state and city housing (& partnerships between us). [via twitter]

  17. Benoit, 3. September 2020, 8:52

    I haven’t found any of these rules strengthening you’re referring to (and I do pay attention), and I don’t understand how they can be kept separated from the current debate. It’d be really good to be pointed to where, in the spatial plan or elsewhere, these design guides & green space requirements are or will be laid out, and to what degree. Any link? [via twitter]

  18. Toni, 3. September 2020, 10:06

    Benoit: you make a valid point. Too often we have been “promised” things from the council who do not deliver. All references to green spaces and apartment guidelines are just statements with nothing concrete to back this up. And given the years it will take for the spatial plan to be finalised, new developments will continue under the existing arrangements which are more about profit and not about people and living environments.