Wellington Scoop

Getting it wrong about population growth

by Hugh Rennie
Early 1970s official estimates for population growth predicted that within 20 years the Judgeford/ Grenada/ etc areas would be full, the Hutt Valley would be 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.

The Wellington City 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. No more Nairn Street flats, no North West connector, timber houses are still there but 40+ years older, and new building is similar to the old. (Incidentally, the cost of each flat was then equal to the cost of two new freehold houses in Newlands!)

Since then, whole areas of employment have gone – distribution warehouses, manufacturing, freezing works, motor assembly plants, head offices of major businesses. Now we are starting to see government agencies downsizing their Wellington activities and some are now run out of Auckland.

The City Council has no visible strategy to contain, let alone reverse, this trend.

The major attractions of Wellington life – lifestyle, residential environment, culture, education etc – are based on what is now to be discarded by these “planners”. Many of the areas Wellingtonians like most would never make it through today’s planning controls if they had not already been built.

One more significant earthquake would probably be terminal for any further growth in Wellington. Ask Christchurch people if they want to live in any residential block above 3 storeys!

Read more:
Ben Schrader on how the planners are wildly optimistic about population growth


  1. David Mackenzie, 4. September 2020, 9:53

    The people who live here and their viewpoints are what planners should take as a priority. When the new townspeople arrive, welcome them and find them somewhere to live, by all means. However, do not disfigure the city for the sake of a speculatory influx.

    I personally object to buildings taller than one storey being built anywhere within walking distance of anywhere else. Almost all parts of Wellington from Miramar to Karori and from Khandallah to Island Bay are in walking distance of each other.

    Please council: take advice from staff, do not treat it as vox dei.

  2. Leviathan, 4. September 2020, 10:13

    David Mackenzie – I’m not sure if your comment is satire or simply mis-informed. You object to any buildings taller than one storey within walking distance – that includes the whole of Wellington. Are you saying that the whole of Wellington from Miramar to Karori should be just one storey high? That would have the effect of deleting the entire CBD. Is that your intent, as a self imposed Voice of God?

  3. David Mackenzie, 4. September 2020, 13:17

    No not satire. I just mean that in an ideal world I would have low buildings. At least let’s not build any more tall ones. I would indeed be happy with fewer towers, but do not want to lay flat the ones we have. This is about planning for the future in a modest-sized city, made up of close neighboured villages.

  4. Richard Keller, 4. September 2020, 18:11

    These Council projected increases would be devastating. To control CO2 emissions and increasing pollution, the consumer world needs to restrict its population and GDP growth. Council operatives are from the neo-liberal tradition of the eighties which generally rejects obvious limits. That’s the larger context of these high population growth estimates.

  5. Toni, 5. September 2020, 8:47

    Unfortunately the council’s focus is on housing the supposed massive increase in population, while developers rub their hands in glee. Until the focus becomes all about people and their living environments, we will be faced with the increase in high-rise apartments in grey concrete landscapes as developers operate under the existing process. And the character of Wellington slowly fades into the history books.

  6. Helene Ritchie, 5. September 2020, 9:48

    Never mind the future future. What is allowed now? Most of the new apartment building in the CBD is way above six storeys. What is the allowable height and number of storeys now? Where? What delegated powers do the officers have to allow higher than that? Why? What was the deal? Does the public have any say about these apartment buildings before they are built? If not why not? Are there minimum size requirements? Are there any requirements for outdoor green ground level space, indoor communal space, water storage for disaster preparation, minimising water use by eg.recycling grey water, allowance for solar panels, and roof gardens to green the City and lessen Co2 impact, etc. associated with these apartment buildings? What are the rules? What other apartment developments are in the pipeline? Where?

    And finally…is the Body Corporate legal framework the best we can do to govern and manage these apartments?

  7. Traveller, 5. September 2020, 10:00

    It’s true that the city council has no evident strategy for containing, let alone reversing, the decline of Wellington’s business activity. The council does however spend a fortune every year financing the Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency, where such a strategy ought to be pre-eminent. The fact that WREDA has changed its name is an indication of how it has lost the economic focus that was expected when it was established.

  8. Concerned Wellingtonian, 5. September 2020, 13:23

    I ask again: what are new councillors doing about all this? Have they even begun to ask the very sensible questions posed by Helene Ritchie?

  9. Keith Flinders, 5. September 2020, 13:49

    Richard Keller: I don’t imagine for a moment that the WCC will be a trend setter and require Wellingtonians to limit children to one per household, and put up signs at the city limits “sorry we are full”.

    Reduction of CO2 emissions will come with electric mass transit systems if they ever get built, as will the move to electric trucks and fewer private cars. The CO2 released in construction projects will only increase though.

    Wellington is going to need more people living here to pay rates to fund the replacement of decaying and neglected infrastructure. The burden of this, and the vanity projects, will have a significant impact on most, especially those on the average wage and below, as well as those on fixed incomes. The now-meagre returns on any savings the retired, especially, have managed to keep to bolster pensions are no longer adequate.

  10. Stephen Edlin, 5. September 2020, 15:37

    It’s always so hard to get the population projections right.
    I have a feeling Wellington’s population will not increase to the figures quoted by the WCC. It’s a sad fact Wellington is no longer the fun and funky city it once was. If you factor in things like poor bus service, high property prices, closing and down-sizing of businesses, it’s hard to believe tens of thousands of people will want to come here to live.
    Have I mentioned the fault line that runs along the Hutt Road, and the probable sea level rise that will wash into the lower lying city streets. I just can’t see it happening.

  11. Wendy, 8. September 2020, 10:44

    If only the councillors and officers would read and consider Max Rashbrooke’s article in The Guardian and elect to use the ‘Seattle’ process, then perhaps we would not have to go through years of battling the council and developers.

  12. Trish.Janes, 8. September 2020, 14:46

    Thanks Wendy for highlighting how Seattle has found a way forward that avoids the trap that Wellington is in. Jim Seirs, Seattle’s guru, has visited NZ several times over the past 10 years invited by Inspiring Communities which has been promoting and explaining Community-Led Development. Their website has lots of techniques and achievements across NZ.

    Community-Led Development takes goodwill and hard work by all involved, but the outcomes are better than the inevitable result of butting heads.

  13. greenwelly, 8. September 2020, 15:03

    But Seattle’s approach still didn’t solve its housing affordability problem…
    Until COVID, Seattle property prices were the second fastest growing in the US (after Phoenix) and the bottom end of the market ($US400K) was increasing faster than the rest of the market.