Wellington Scoop

Wildly optimistic about population growth

by Ben Schrader
The Draft Spatial Plan’s 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 chose the highest scenario and added another 5,000 people. What do they base this forecast on?

Demographers are saying that New Zealand’s fertility is declining, meaning we’ll be more reliant on immigration for population increases in the future.

Even if this picks up again in a post-Covid-19 environment, most immigrants will continue to settle in NZ’s growth triangle: Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga.

Wellington has a history of over-predicting its population increases.

During the 1900s many thought it become NZ’s metropolis – hence its nickname ‘Empire City’. This proved illusory.

Town planners in the 1960s/70s asserted the city would sprawl into Ohariu Valley and Aro Valley would fill with high-rise apartments to accommodate growth. But this never eventuated because the city’s population went into relative decline.

The WCC would be wiser to aim for a more realistic, medium growth scenario and adapt the Draft Spatial Plan accordingly.


  1. Ms Green, 2. September 2020, 10:21

    Thanks Ben for this constructive contribution.
    I am looking around the CBD now and wondering … contrary to the Council’s population “predictions,” are we facing a glut of apartments? And perhaps a greater question: do shoe box apartments without ready access to outside or green space or even balconies comprise environmentally sustainable living/architecture?

  2. Marko, 2. September 2020, 10:30

    The amount of brilliant young students, professionals and families who have been forced out of Wellington due to high rents and unhealthy housing caused by blanket character protections is a tragedy.

  3. Peter Steven, 2. September 2020, 11:02

    Ben Schrader is part of the group ‘Keep Wellington’s Character’. He appears in the video in the article published yesterday.

  4. Citizen, 2. September 2020, 13:08

    The Draft Spatial Plan proposes a huge deregulation of planning rules that will favour developers and has the potential to reshape the city in detrimental ways. With a (more-realistic) medium growth scenario, there would be scope to protect most of the character areas and also accommodate future growth in existing brownfield sites, ideally along public transport routes as set out in Auckland’s unitary plan .

    If the DSP goes ahead as presently proposed, we’ll end up with a city where 6-8 storey apartment blocks are scattered higgledy-piggledy through the inner city suburbs with no guarantee they will be any more affordable than anything presently available.

  5. Trish, 2. September 2020, 21:17

    Ben is quite right about the Wellington regional population growth forecasts of the 1970s. There were plans for a subdivision along the motorway from Newlands to Tawa and across to Belmont – the outcome was a couple of streets in Granada/Jamaica. And Whitby was planned to spread right around the Pauatahanui Inlet including an industrial zone on Paekakariki Hill Road – Fletchers purchased the land and had no alternative but to sell it back to the farmers they bought it from. Let’s not be fooled again.

  6. Conor, 2. September 2020, 22:17

    Hi Ben – really glad the city got out of that 1970s decline. Happy Mr Asia isn’t still roaming Aro. Let’s not plan for more of it. I for one am glad mid and high rise apartments were built in the baby boom period in every area currently zoned “character”.

    Citizen – have you looked at the draft spatial plan? The areas zoned 6 storeys are either walkable to the cbd or near railway stations or proposed mass transit. As to character protection, Boffa Miskel did a survey and the council has taken that into account with their proposed character protections. It is exactly what you say you want.

  7. John M, 3. September 2020, 0:37

    It’s so much easier to predict the future than address any current crisis, and the further into the future the better. That allows the Council to have a field day with wild and hopeless predictions laced with noble strategies addressing the coming crisis head on, blah, blah, blah. The short end of this is nothing will happen. 80,000 people won’t come, and if they do this bunch of councillors will be long gone and the people of the day will have to sort out whatever in a sensible balanced, fair way.

  8. Hugh Rennie QC, 3. September 2020, 19:37

    1. The early 1970s official estimates for population growth predicted that within 20 years the Judgeford/ Grenada/ etc areas would be full, the Hutt Valley bulging, and Featherston would have a population of 10,000 commuting to Wellington. This was based on assumptions about employment in manufacturing, processing, distribution, office and other industries, etc which were wrong.
    2. The Council’s planning then assumed the economic life of a wooden building was 70 years. Their plan assumed that people in areas like Mt Cook and the Aro Valley would welcome the acquisition and demolition of their homes, a North West Connector up the Valley through to Karori,and UK-style high rise rental flats dotted around. They built one – the Nairn Street flats. Those who actually lived in these areas rebelled. It took years of fighting the Council to deliver what the locals wanted, not what the planners dreamed of. Read more.

  9. David Mackenzie, 4. September 2020, 8:41

    Don’t you mean “wildly pessimistic”. More people are seen as a curse, not as a blessing. There is no particular reason to regard more as better, except perhaps those lunatic admirers of growth, the economists.