Wellington Scoop

New campaign opposes WCC’s plan to destroy heritage suburbs

News from KWC
Keep Wellington’s Character is a new non-partisan heritage-based campaign formed in response to the Wellington City Council’s Draft Spatial Plan and wider ‘Planning for Growth’ proposal. The WCC has gone far beyond what’s needed for an affordable, compact, resilient city. The plan will destroy heritage suburbs.

To launch the campaign, Keep Wellington’s Character have released a video in which urban historian Ben Schrader and concerned Wellingtonian Sue Elliot share their view about the proposal on the future of Wellington city and for its residents.

The Draft Spatial Plan follows central government’s recent National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS-UD) which directs city councils to loosen planning rules and raise height limits to accommodate future residents. After the failure of Kiwi-build, this is its response to housing needs.

Under the guise of Local Government engagement, WCC is amending the District Plan and changing existing community conditions. WCC has not been transparent about its plan to allow 6 storey development in the heritage suburbs of Mt Victoria, Aro Valley, Mt Cook and Newtown. Nor has it been transparent about 3-4 storey development in all the heritage suburbs, including Aotearoa’soldest suburb of Thorndon.

Keep Wellington’s Character calls for the heritage of inner city suburbs to be recognised. They should not be broken up with high rise and intense development. Protecting a few streetscapes (as WCC proposes) will not adequately reflect their heritage values.

Currently, the heritage suburbs have “character” protections under the existing District Plan. A resource consent is required before demolishing pre-1930s buildings in those heritage suburbs. The WCC plan will take important protection away from about 70% of the heritage suburbs, opening the way for widespread demolition.

Keep Wellington’s Character asks WCC to:

1.Reverse proposal to remove existing heritage protection that requires a resource consent to be granted in order to demolish pre-1930s buildings in heritage suburbs.

2.Use the ​most likely​ (medium) population growth scenario (ie 46,000) not an unlikely upper range of 80,000 new residents and update its Housing Capacity Assessment – as required by central government.

3.Count how much housing capacity will be created by its radical proposal to allow high risedevelopment in heritage suburbs and publish it.

4.Be transparent about the locations of high rise development and the shady impersonal environments likely to result, and that neighbouring cottages and villas will not be able to support solar panels on their roofs, contrary to WCC vision.

5.Extend the “engagement” period, since COVID level 2 has prevented community meetings, and WCC has cancelled planned appearances at libraries.

6.Acknowledge that during a general election is not the time for WCC to consult on such a wideranging proposal.

7.Address housing needs through active community housing projects and focus on urgent infrastructure needs like clean water and waste management.

The outreach campaign will continue throughout the public consultation and submission period that is set to terminate on 5 October. Submissions on “Planning for Growth” can be made atplanningforgrowth.wellington.govt.nz/your-views/consultations-and-engagements​ or by emailingplanningforgrowth@wcc.govt.nz


  1. Dr Jenny Condie, 1. September 2020, 15:34

    New NPS means our choice is not between current blanket heritage protection vs targeted heritage protection. Our choice is between targeted heritage protection vs zero heritage protection. Which is a choice that most people can make pretty quickly I’m guessing. [via twitter]

  2. Tom Lawton, 1. September 2020, 15:56

    Not sure why poorly built old housing (which implies that our country’s colonial output is ‘character’, a vaguely racist implication) needs to be protected. Wellington is not Paris, or London – people don’t come here for history. Take your NIMBYism to the suburbs.

  3. Traveller, 1. September 2020, 16:03

    I live in a 110-year-old Wellington home which is as solid as … it’s not poorly built. And it looks good too. Wellington has its own fascinating history – we’re not the same as Paris or London – and our oldest neighbourhoods are a great reminder of our past. Congratulations to the campaigners who are opposing the destruction.

  4. Duvet Cover, 1. September 2020, 16:16

    Funny that some of the people lamenting the loss of the character home at 128 Abel Smith St are the same people salivating at the prospect of firing up the bulldozers for other houses of heritage value. Tom – how would anything ever become historic if it kept being knocked down because it wasn’t old enough as judged by another country’s history? One of the best things about arriving in Wellington is seeing all the weatherboard houses lining the hills, can’t say I felt the same affinity flying into Hong Kong and looking out the window.

  5. Dan, 1. September 2020, 16:17

    Oh look it’s more nimbies trying to deny warm, dry, modern housing for our growing population. I love the look of character homes as much as the next person but to pretend that’s any kind of reason to lock out sensible growth and relieve pressure on our housing crisis is insane, arrogant, and immensely privileged.

  6. Tom Lawton, 1. September 2020, 16:31

    I’m glad you have a nice warm home Traveller, that puts you in the minority. For most young people in this city, the options for housing are bleak and expensive. Wellington is a lovely city which will continue to grow and we simply need more housing to allow for this. Maintaining some sort of vague heritage which people may or may not appreciate 100 years from in the face of progress and making housing equitable for the disadvantaged or working class is an easy trade off in my book.

  7. Steven, 1. September 2020, 16:32

    @Tom Lawton, You mean the poorly built timber housing that has outlasted anything else in this earthquake prone city?

    Also, the suburbs in question, otherwise known as Berhampore, Newtown, Aro Valley, Thorndon, Mt. Cook and Mt. Victoria all now, or have at one time housed lower-income families from pretty much everywhere: Newtown may well have the most diverse community in the city. So as easy as it is to simply equate these buildings to their colonial builders, I’m afraid their histories are far more complex.

    If you’re of the opinion that replacing workable, historical and charming homes with market driven 6-storey (profit-driven and cheaply built) complexes that will shade out the rest of the suburb, and, which by the way, will not be affordable, then be my guest. However, 6 years from now, when the Newtown Festival is having its last hoorah and we still have a housing crisis, this will all be a shame. We’re speeding up the gentrification process, stripping the suburbs of their character and creating impersonal breeze block suburbs – all in the ostensible name of the poor. These homes will become another casualty of government mismanagement, a failing taxation system that inflates house prices and a few decadent developers.

    The problem will be perennial unless the government revolutionises their strategy. This outcome was probably inevitable but that doesn’t mean it’s not unfortunate.

  8. Dan, 1. September 2020, 16:39

    “One of the best things about arriving in Wellington is seeing all the weatherboard houses lining the hills, can’t say I felt the same affinity flying into Hong Kong and looking out the window”

    It’s hilarious that you think your wanting a nice view out the window is in some way comparable to the misery of living in a cold, damp character house with no insulation

  9. Roland Sapsford, 1. September 2020, 16:42

    The debate here is not about heritage versus housing – it is easy to do both; rather it is about democracy versus deregulation. Planning for Growth proposes very wide-ranging deregulation, and assumes developers will cherry pick sites.

    Housing affordability was not even considered in designing these proposals, and the most likely immediate effect is replacement of rental housing with upmarket dwellings. This is exactly what we have seen in southern Te Aro and along Oriental Parade when they were upzoned.

    Affordable, warm, dry housing is an urgent need. These proposals will do nothing to address that need, because they have not been designed that way. Global experience suggests that you need targeted measures and an active public housing programme, as well as a more equal distribution of wealth, to deliver widespread housing availability.

    Furthermore there is no a lot of rhetoric but no actual evidence that the planning system is constraining the provision of housing. The Council has done no evaluation of why upzoning has not led to housing development on Adelaide Road.

    Possibly the most outrageous claim is that Planning for Growth will help address climate change. In many ways, it is exactly the opposite type of densification to what is needed to reduce emissions. It will slightly increase density in already dense areas while doing nothing to create the web of urban villages across the city that is needed to reduce car dependence.

  10. Stephen J, 1. September 2020, 17:25

    Even if new apartment blocks have very expensive apartments, this will still add to the housing supply. Some rich folk will move in to them making their former dwellings vacant. The price of apartments is a red herring, it is the overall supply of dwellings that makes a difference.

    Also, this isn’t going to happen overnight, nor is every older house for the chop. Alarmist scenarios where Newtown is razed for apartments aren’t helpful here. What we’re talking about is a slow, incomplete transformation, and BUILDING MORE DWELLINGS. Sheesh.

  11. Kara, 1. September 2020, 17:33

    What would be wrong in building multi level houses in wood that resembles older style of house architecture? After all, what used to be called the government buildings (down near the railway station) is built from wood. I remember the uneven floors but the exterior hasn’t changed in decades. And that building didn’t suffer quake damage.

  12. Duvet Cover, 1. September 2020, 18:10

    Dan it’s hilarious that you think old houses can’t be insulated, ventilated and heated effectively without the costly and resource/carbon intensive demolition and construction of new buildings. The last raft of new homes that went down this route are today’s leaky homes. As Steven quite rightly pointed out, these old houses you despise so much have outlasted most that have come after them.

  13. JW, 1. September 2020, 18:22

    I will support your campaign if you provide me with a subsidy to buy my first home at the inflated level of prices you want to maintain. Let’s call it $20,000. Who can I give my bank details to?

  14. JohnK, 2. September 2020, 9:45

    Kara, were you aware of the millions of dollars spent in the 90’s to earthquake strengthen and upgrade the old government building? It is now being used by Victoria University. Yes we can design and build new buildings to match older but there are three obstacles, height is limited to about 5 levels, construction cost, and reluctance by developers to adopt.

  15. Roland Sapsford, 2. September 2020, 10:20

    JW – why do you think character protections inflate prices in Wellington? Character areas are not our most expensive suburbs and deregulation will increase the value of some existing properties, while lowering the value of newly shaded homes. In general house prices tend to rise with growing inequality rather than as a result of NZ style planning rules.

    There seems a misaprehension that heritage and character protection is inhibiting desirable development. This is a global libertarian meme rather than an evidence-based conclusion for Wellington.

    There are good, proven models for densification which aim to build communities, reduce transport energy use and provide quality urban environments. In general, cities that follow this path also have strong heritage protections. These models are quite different from Planning for Growth.

  16. Marko, 2. September 2020, 10:35

    I wish the people that are pushing for character protections would stop saying that there isn’t a trade off between heritage and affordability. Or waving it off as some “global libertarian meme”… Saying that four bedroom villas will be replaced by ‘unaffordable apartments’ does not make any sense. That twisted logic would tell us to pull down all the apartments in the city and replace them with cold, mouldy villas as that would somehow achieve affordability? Intensification is a necessary step to an affordable city.

  17. Albert Ross, 2. September 2020, 13:50

    If it’s cheaper and easier to upgrade old buildings to habitable standards, and this provides more desirable accommodation, for just as many people, at no greater cost, compared to putting up new buildings – then what’s the problem? Why would any profit-obsessed, greedy developer not take the cheaper, easier option?

  18. Pseudopanax, 2. September 2020, 20:14

    Sometimes I wonder if a Deep State Cabal of jealous Aucklanders have infiltrated the Wellington City Council on a mission to destroy what’s great about Wellington … first bulldoze a motorway to the airport through the heart of the city, allow developers to destroy what heritage is left in the CBD, help the earthquake industry to close what’s left of our Civic Pride, crippling the city with debt in the process, and now plan to allow developers to trash our inner city suburbs’ character making resident ratepayers’ lives miserable by condemning their houses and gardens to become shady wind tunnels next to buy-to-let apartment blocks, at the same time denying them the funds and vision to have a light rail system fit for the 21st century, replacing clean electric buses with Auckland’s unwanted dirty diesel dinosaurs .. Perhaps they never got over losing capital city status. Why oh why do we let this cooking of the golden goose happen?

  19. Marilyn Powell, 3. September 2020, 13:20

    When we are out of covid conditions and tourism becomes a thing again, Wellington will be too poor to commit to ostentatious starchitect projects.
    You will all know of the “Bilbao effect” created by the Basque town’s commissioning of Frank Gehry to design their museum. While figures vary, according to a 2007 report by a Basque economist, published by the American Assn of Museums, the start-up costs for the Bilbao project were almost E195 million  and that was 23 years ago!
    Wellington will not have the budget, nor will Bilbao’s success be repeatable. But Hobson Street is a tourist attraction already, as it is, with no ratepayer funding required.
    Tourists include Hobson Street in their Tinakori Road, Katherine Mansfield House circuit already and take photos of Hobson Street houses. Tour buses’s itineraries include Hobson Street.
    Tourists who enjoy Thorndon’s heritage architecture include Wellingtonians, New Zealanders generally as well as International travelers. Such an attraction is also free for the tourists, which removes any elitism of a Bilbao Museum.
    Old town areas throughout the world are tourist attractions, and Thorndon is on a par with San Francisco’s Painted Ladies tourist attractions.
    If Thorndon’s architectural history goes, it cannot be replaced. Future generations will not thank you.

  20. Kara, 3. September 2020, 17:25

    Whenever I look at a 1930s or slightly older house I remember how cold and draughty they were. Sound proof they were not. Properly insulated they were not. And we were always sure the borer were holding hands to keep the building standing.

    I am not in favour of the high rise concrete boxes that are sprouting all over the city. These rarely have any character. I am however in favour of replacing the old “villas” with newer architectural style – and in wood. It’s time for forestry owners to stop sending wood overseas and instead use it here.

  21. judy siers, 3. September 2020, 17:37

    I welcome the KWC campaign and must add concerns about the future of the north west suburbs of Crofton, Ngaio, Khandallah and Johnsonville under WCC’s Spatial Plan. Following the route of the historic Wellington – Manawatu railway, areas around the 8 stations are sitting targets, they are Crofton, Ngaio, Awarua Street, Simla Crescent, Boxhill, Khandallah, Raroa and Johnsonville. The historic Old Porirua Road runs parallel and the character of the landscape and buildings along that route needs protection. More haste less good speed, let’s ask the WCC for an extension to the submission process and together gather excellent information to challenge them to revise the plan.

  22. Roland Sapsford, 4. September 2020, 11:01

    @Marko wrote: “I wish the people that are pushing for character protections would stop saying that there isn’t a trade off between heritage and affordability. Or waving it off as some “global libertarian meme” … Saying that four bedroom villas will be replaced by ‘unaffordable apartments’ does not make any sense.”

    So, to be clear, for me at least this in not about whether we intensify but about HOW we intensify. Another contributor commented on a model that was favoured in the first round of consultation. Once we frame it as how do we intensify, what mechanisms do we use, and where do we want to encourage intensification, then in my view there is no necessary trade off between heritage and affordability. So I hear your frustration, but can I ask you to take a step back, and look at what has happened so far, and what Planning for Growth proposes.

    The essence of Planning for Growth in the inner-city is to remove height and site controls in about 70% of the character areas. As their image suggests, over about 30 years they assume around 14% of that area will intensify. Where exactly that will be is over to developers and there will be no community input to those decisions. This is not really intensification in the sense usually meant, as it will not increase density in low density areas but rather slightly increase density in already dense areas.

    From a climate perspective, this is exactly the wrong approach. We have nearly 30 years global experience saying that what is needed is densification around nodes (so there is a critical mass for some services to localise and reduce the need for travel) plus quality public transport. Fossil fuel transport use is 7 or 8 times higher in the car dependent areas than in the inner suburbs. To reduce this we need to create more medium density options in low density areas close to public transport.

    Housing affordability was not a factor in the design of Planning for Growth; I have that straight from the P4G team.

    The proven global approach to affordable housing is public-private partnerships focussed on intensifying in specific areas eg Adelaide Rd and Johnsonville Mall to start with.

    When we look at whether it is reasonable to say luxury apartments will replace villas it’s worth looking at what happenned where P4G type deregulation has occurred. Southern Te Aro is the 1990s was the most densely populated part of Wellington, and was a lower income area. Old houses, warehouses converted into flats etc predominated. When the 27m height limit was introduced, low income people were driven out as these properties were replaced by new apartment builds. About 30 years later we are seeing some gradation of apartments emerge, with older ones attracting lower prices and cheaper rents, but this was not the initial position. If you have a look at the Census data, both population and average income rose faster in this area.

    So my expectation is that it would be the older flats on good sites that would go first in Mt Vic for example, and it will not be the poor who benefit. Wellington also has a very poor record of planning for shading, and we see that in the CBD. The “cheap” housing that will emerge first, will be in the shade of new higher developments. This is why I call the specific approach of Planning for Growth a global libertarian meme. Those who advocate in the US and the UK proudly label themselves this way.

    There are a few key indicators of this:

    1 take a key concern (housing affordability) and paint regulation and democracy as the enemy.

    2 frame the debate in a way that polarises (housing verus heritage) rather in ways that encourage creative problem solving.

    3 encourage divisions (old v young, renters versus owners, etc) which avoid attention to underlying issues that actually create the problem.

    If we want affordable housing, then we need to step back from the idea that P4G will deliver it, and look at how people succeed in delivering affordable quality intensification while protecting the stories in the landscape. We ought to be working together to come up with the best answers based on experience around the globe so that Wellington can be amazing for everyone, and lead the way in creating climate-friendly communities.

  23. John Schofield, 29. September 2020, 19:32

    Appalling ignorance. Who would be bothered coming to Wellington when it becomes just another generic, nondescript town full of soulless apartment blocks? Why do councils think it’s their job to destroy? Look after sewerage and weeds and stop power-tripping.