Wellington Scoop

Defending the streets of Newtown

newtown panorama 2

by James Fraser
My father Harry Fraser arrived in Newtown aged 14 in 1923 and lived here until he died in 1998. Coming out of his electrical apprenticeship in the Depression years, he began his career as an electrician by walking the streets of Wellington carrying his ladder looking for work.

For the next 50 plus years he worked as a self employed contractor all over Wellington City, apart from his war years spent in the RNZAF servicing US war planes at Guadalcanal.

He loved Newtown to its core and maintained that it was the best suburb to live in the city he got to know so well, because of its warm and sunny microclimate. Sheltered from the southerlies, with a gentle north facing slope and a spring or two to help keep its gardens moist. He met my mother, Bernice Hunt, in 1945, recovering in hospital from dysentry, and brought her back to Owen Street in Newtown where they raised four boys and lived the rest of their days.

He and my mother were busy members of the Newtown community, parent-teachers, church activities, Newtown Residents Association etc. As a proud Newtownian, Dad would often bemoan how the suburb suffered from a ‘poor’ reputation and official neglect, especially when the Hospital and Polytech were allowed to spread into residential areas.

Zoning changes in the 1960s allowed for wholesale demolition of houses to become light industrial areas, such as on Adelaide Road, Riddiford and Mansfield Streets. Particularly upsetting for my parents was when the Anglican Diocese decided to demolish their beloved St Thomas’s Church following a fire that damaged it, instead of repairing it. Eventually the land was sold to McDonalds, to help pay for the new Cathedral on Molesworth St. Sacrilege!

As keen gardeners, they fed a growing family with vegetables from their sunny backyard. They both worked and saved and bought the house next door and Harry became a hobby landlord with the philosophy that if you provided a good home at a reasonable rent you would attract long term tenants who would treat the house with care. He despaired at the number of racketeer landlords who would let their properties fall into disrepair while charging high rents.

These few regrets about their time in Newtown would pale however into a red mist if they could see what the city council have planned for its sunny streets in the Planning for Growth Draft Spatial Plan.

Yet again, Newtown is being dumped on.

By taking away current height restrictions to encourage developers to build apartment buildings of at least six storeys in amongst pre 1930s bungalows in over half of the suburb, it aims to deliver the numbers required by growth projections on flat land cheaper for developers than more appropriate sites closer to town.

Lazy WCC Planners have ignored recommendations for more protection made in their own Report on Character Houses by Boffa Miskell, and have decided that whole blocks of cottages and bungalows could be given over to developers.

Horrified residents are suddenly faced with the prospect of a tall building going up next door – replacing their sunshine with shady wind tunnels, turning their warm dry sunny houses and gardens into cold damp holes. When they, along with others in ‘Character Houses’ in other areas, complained that their families’ quality of life, gardens, Heritage and Community were on the line, they’ve been accused of being over-privileged Nimbys contributing to the housing crisis. Councillors pushing political agendas have inflamed the debate – pitting Old vs New, Owners vs Renters, Suburb vs Suburb, Boomers vs the rest.

Alarmed Newtown residents looking in vain to their councillors for support, are getting together to fight this Council Charter for Developers. Working together as WE ARE NEWTOWN with a deadline for submissions looming, a Public Meeting was organised last Wednesday, which was a sellout (under Level Two) with another 400 viewing on Facebook.

Impassioned pleas were made by residents and heritage advocates for the council to work WITH the community to consider an approach to development that doesn’t resemble 1980s Romania.

Although the Mayor and Councillor responsible for Urban Development spoke at the meeting, sadly both our two Southern Ward Councillors and our MP attended but said nothing.

Local resident James Coyle gave a thoughtful presentation to emphasise that we recognise the need for growth but not at the expense of those who have not contributed to either shortages or the availability of cheap finance which have fuelled the Buy to Let Apartments boom.

Are we in Newtown yet again going to suffer uncontrolled development without the infrastructure to match? As Housing has become THE issue for the Labour Party, National Policy Statements direct that Wellington’s inner suburbs must go up wherever they can to accommodate apartments, leaving only a few streets with ‘Character Housing’. Whatever heritage is outside these areas is at the mercy of a Planning Department which has failed us in the past.

Surely it is better that development comes from within our communities, and not from profit driven developers who are not obliged to provide affordable housing?

As none of our representatives actually live in Newtown, there seems to be a democratic disconnect going on here, with the same old attitudes that Harry complained about still at play in the WCC. Isn’t it time that Newtown had a champion for a future who works for both renters and owners, young and old etc?

Find out about the plans, listen to our ideas for alternative approaches-and then tell the WCC what you want for your community. Submissions for the Draft Spatial Plan close 5pm Monday October 5th.


James Fraser, a born and bred Newtown resident, is Co-Convenor of We Are Newtown.


  1. Traveller, 24. September 2020, 11:28

    So many other cities have saved their character/heritage areas – it’s such a pleasure to admire the old houses that have been preserved in Sydney’s Paddington or New York’s Greenwich Village or London’s Soho or the Marais in Paris. Newtown’s heritage streets deserve the same respect – for the good of our city.

  2. K, 24. September 2020, 11:32

    “By taking away current height restrictions to encourage developers to build apartment buildings of at least six storeys in amongst pre 1930s bungalows in over half of the suburb, it aims to deliver the numbers required by growth projections on flat land cheaper for developers than more appropriate sites closer to town.” Closer to town??? Newtown is an inner city suburb a short walk from the CBD. That is the point of making it a higher density suburb, there are few suburbs as close to the city centre that are as ripe for densification as Newtown is.

  3. A, 24. September 2020, 12:45

    K commented: “Closer to town??? Newtown is … a short walk from the CBD. That is the point of making it a higher density suburb…”

    Has K ever been to Newtown? It’s a half hour walk from most of Newtown to the city, unless you’re the Governor General with a driveway at the Basin Reserve. Newtown is only called inner city because of the line drawn in 1840 denoting where the town belt would go. Looking at a map you will see Karori, Brooklyn and Wadestown are as close as Newtown to the CBD, and certainly Kelburn is a lot closer but that town belt line allows Kelburn to go under the radar as ‘outer suburb’ when it’s a 5 or 10 minute stroll to the city!

  4. Matt, 24. September 2020, 12:53

    1980s Romania… C’mon man… There are still going to be development controls in place! The general character overlay will still be in effect across the majority of the suburb.

  5. I blame remuera, 24. September 2020, 13:26

    James Fraser if you have any children you should consider that they will never have the opportunity to raise a family in Newtown, nor will another electrician like your father, if you get your way. Refusal to address housing supply in suburbs that have the amenities and public transport that Newtown does will drive up prices and rents till only the very rich can afford to live here while ordinary people are driven further out from the employment centers both in our central city and the surrounding suburbs, paying more in time and money to get to work when they should be saving for their future and taking time with their families.

  6. Marko, 24. September 2020, 14:08

    I would love the author to talk to the low-income families and student renters in Newtown. But he doesn’t have long, as they are slowly put surely priced out – to the detriment to the real “character” of the suburb. 16% growth in house prices over the last year. You will also find that many of the houses are not warm or dry but instead are cold and mouldy. Basing access to healthy homes around who pay can enough to get sun or afford expensive retrofits is a recipe for disaster.

  7. Conor, 24. September 2020, 14:10

    Newtown seems to have an identity crisis. Standalone pre 1930s homes go for well north of a million dollars in most instances. The diversity that many in the suburb are so proud of comes mainly from people living in medium and high density social housing, some buildings of which are higher than anything proposed in the Draft Spatial Plan.

    Meanwhile there is a one bedroom flat in a character home available for rent for $750 a week. That landlording “hobby” which the author writes about sure sounds like fun! https://www.trademe.co.nz/a/property/residential/rent/wellington/wellington/newtown/listing/2790535152?bof=D270fRFu

  8. AW, 24. September 2020, 15:22

    Half an hours walk away = close. Immediately adjacent = close. Newtown is close to the city.

  9. Claire, 24. September 2020, 15:25

    I have three neighbours in Newtown who are in their early thirties who have bought houses in Newtown in the last few years. So it can be done. Six storey buildings are for Adelaide Road, the WCC can find someway of persuading sale or rezoning those industrial style buildings. What a great apartment precinct that would make. Instead of removing protection from pre-1930s cottages.

  10. Claire, 24. September 2020, 15:53

    A lot of people bought old dungers in Newtown in the 1980s, paying ten percent interest, when wages were not brilliant. So it was a struggle. Then over a long time they did them up. Mostly insulated and refurbished. So these houses have been brought up to standard. And they don’t become an issue in an earthquake. As of course six storey buildings would. And the cost of insurance for high rises is through the roof. Have any of the commentors been in a taller building in say the Kaikoura quake? Many people do not want to live in a taller apartment now.

  11. EveryoneRelax, 24. September 2020, 17:29

    @Conor, just so we’re clear. That 1-bedroom is offered on a month-to-month basis, still extortionate but not quite the going rate for a 1-year lease. Also here’s what I’d do:
    – The government should impose a supplementary tax on secondary and tertiary homes (never going to happen). There needs to not just be a measure to prevent the gentry from buying a larger share in the property market but a method to redistribute it back to the rest of us. Our housing distribution is bordering on Victorian.
    – Councils should double the rates of homes that have been unoccupied for more than 3-months, mandating that they either find tenants or drop rents until they can. The capital gains on homes are so significant at the moment that owners make returns with or without tenants; there are 191,700 empty homes in this country. Specific seasonal parts of the country should be excluded from this.
    – The government should be proactively incentivising the repurposing of commercial real estate in the central city. This would have the double effect of compensating for the massive losses the hospitality and retail sectors are making. It doesn’t make sense that Lambton Quay is only occupied from 9 – 5 while people can’t afford to buy homes 300 metres away in Kelburn because of its proximity to Lambton Quay.
    – Wellington City Council should cut their losses with the convention centre given that the thing will cost a fortune in rates to build and then to run. The idea of conferences if not outdated now will become so within the next decade, it’s a disaster waiting to happen. Put 400 2 bedroom apartments there.
    – Use whatever the money the council can salvage from that and fund social housing behind the Countdown in Newtown.
    – Make the resource consent process for heritage properties cheaper and more fluid and make it scaled to property value like rates are.
    – Demolish homes that are dilapidated in certain areas if need be but also pressure development in places like Cambridge Terrace.

    Basically, prevent putting up 6 storey-or-more buildings in the middle of residential areas at all costs. There’s room to move here, the guns are aimed at the wrong target.

  12. Ben Schrader, 24. September 2020, 17:30

    Conor’s point that Newtown’s diversity comes from social housing residents might be right, but what guarantee will there be that it will become more diverse and affordable with six-storey apartment blocks?

    The 60sqm apartments in the Wellington Company’s eight-storey Monark apartments in Adelaide Rd were being sold last year for about $600k. That doesn’t seem that affordable to me, but I assume they were a fair reflection of the total building cost.

    I don’t think we can rely on private developers to build the type of affordable housing that would maintain Newtown’s social diversity, but the state or council could step up and build further blocks of social or community housing on selected brownfield sites. Rather than further high-rise Newtown Flats-type developments, it could be three-storey Te Mara-type initiatives (as in Hopper St).

    In other words, Newtown could continue intensify without the need to destroy so much of what makes it a great place to live.

  13. Julienz, 24. September 2020, 19:02

    It’s not just Newtown. They propose to zone almost every suburb inner and outer for these six storey monstrosities. How this will be an affordable solution for our aging population is beyond me. If they’re walk up they won’t be accessible to the elderly and if they need lifts the body corporate costs will make them unaffordable. Our mayor tells us it’s all out of the Council’s hands because the government says they must do it. Did they push back? Of course not. We need to ask all our Labour MPs why they have allowed this to happen and lobby our Council to revolt against this edict from “Wellington aka the government”.

  14. mw, 24. September 2020, 19:02

    It’s sad to see how we are being pitted against each other. When we stop and look at this plan, it will not give cheaper housing to the average kiwi and will push people out of their homes. The prices increasing in Newtown and associated draft plan areas are being driven by property developers, not the people. There is a shortage of companies that can build quality high rise buildings..so they will not happen overnight, and not everyone wants to live in an apartment. The low interest rates are encouraging people to invest in houses where they may not have, and then there’s the 2000 houses that are bought for investment but not rented.
    Wouldn’t you think a more phased approach would reduce the shortage of wellington’s social housing… if you listen to what James’ idea is, you will find there are better options.
    Just go for a drive down Hanson Street…is this how you want you your children to live? No green space, no trees or birdlife – apartments cover the whole site.

  15. Jon, 24. September 2020, 21:09

    I was watching the shading video of a 6 storey block on the corner of Constable and Owen. It is critical that each house receives sunlight because:
    1. It dries and warms the house
    2. Makes the plants in your garden grow
    3. Proven important for maintaining mental health
    4. Essential for a clothesline!
    5. Good for warming people!
    Don’t remove this essential resource with your 6 storey buildings.

  16. mw, 24. September 2020, 22:24

    In regards to hanson st.
    We don’t want this for your children. Hope you dont too.

  17. Pseudopanax, 24. September 2020, 22:31

    @Conor your comment reeks of the ‘Politics Of Envy’ and you obviously don’t live in Newtown. To punish residents for an asset bubble not of their making by giving profit-driven developers the power to trash their quality of life is aiming at the wrong target. Furthermore your sarcastic remark about ‘Hobby Landlording being fun’ missed the point about responsible Landlords and does a disservice to any argument you may have for high density amongst existing pre 1930s housing.

  18. TrevorH, 25. September 2020, 7:00

    @Claire, I agree with you. I am puzzled anyone would want to live in a multi-storey apartment building after the Kaikoura shake, and the continual shifting of the goalposts on seismic standards that has beggared many. Intensification in suburbs close to the CBD is also backward looking given the declining importance of the CBD that has been accelerated by COVID. This is 60s thinking.

  19. Conor, 25. September 2020, 9:21

    Pseudopanax – No, while I like Newtown, and have spent years living there, $750 for a one bedroom is a bit much. To be fair, not sure I’d shift back, lots of the old timers seem to want to drain it of life and turn it into a Remuera/Karori/Fendalton type spot. The asset bubble is absolutely of homeowners’ making. By making it hard for people to build more homes, they ensure asset prices increase.

  20. Toni, 25. September 2020, 9:34

    Overseas experience has shown that, when central and local government work in collaboration with the public, it is possible to find acceptable solutions for everyone. The problem in NZ is the public have been forced into a defensive position by dragonian mandates which have little regard for the neighbourhoods and their ideas/needs. WCC’s planning for growth can be applauded for all its meetings with the public, but it only needs the excuse ‘we have no choice’ (and how many times have you heard that) while it continues on its planned agenda. Attitudes all round will have to change before we will see healthy sustainable living environments.

  21. Roger Tidman, 25. September 2020, 10:52

    James, I was born and raised in Newtown as was my father. Both my sets of grandparents lived there, paternal in Riddiford St., maternal in Wilson. Both houses long gone. My sister, Stephanie and I grew up in Picton Ave., in the house my paternal great grandparents purchased in 1897 or thereabouts, much altered but still standing and recently sold for $995k. I went to school with Stewart (Stuart?).

  22. John Smith, 25. September 2020, 14:08

    Let’s be honest – the vast majority of Newtown housing is pre-1930s, and 80% of that is in a terrible state – a handful of houses have had some level of maintenance, but generally the housing stock is of a low standard. I think being able to build new housing, of multiple levels, would be the best thing that could happen to the inner city suburb of Newtown.

    I too had many ancestors who had houses in Newtown – it was a recent tour of them with relatives that confirmed what a shocking state the housing standard is in the area. Replacing it with new housing can only be a benefit. [The other thing that struck me about Newtown was all the cars everywhere, and car parking!!! Anything that can be done to remove the reliance on cars must be step in the right direction of a more livable city].

  23. Marilyn Head, 25. September 2020, 16:01

    Thought provoking and pertinent article and comments. People are not just widgets to be fitted into any four walls. I too have raised 4 children here with my husband over the past three decades. We came here when it was definitely undesirable because that’s what we could afford. We’ve loved being part of a diverse welcoming community that cares passionately for the people, businesses, and environment of Newtown. Everything that has happened to upgrade Newtown and make it such a great place to live has been done by our people , particularly Anna Kemble Welch and Martin Hanly to whom we owe street planting, Carrara Park and the Newtown festival, to name a few of their projects. We’ve had to fight other battles especially around alcohol and poor road servicing and traffic speeds. I agree that it does feel as if we are being dumped on again, while the potential for densified housing in Khandallah, Seatoun, Ngaio for instance doesn’t seem to have been considered. Wgtn and the southern suburbs are a dead-end but Wgtn has two satellite cities through which we connect to the rest of the island. We should be strengthening those connections and spreading the housing rather than exacerbating the bottleneck.

  24. Pseudopanax, 25. September 2020, 16:54

    @Conor. If you knew the people of Newtown you would know that it would NEVER EVER be like Remuera, Fendalton or even Karori! And when say you ‘People’ you mean ‘Developers’.

  25. Julienz, 25. September 2020, 21:16

    @Marilyn Head – the proposals for Khandallah and Ngaio are for at least six storey buildings within ten minutes walk of any station on the Johnsonville line so we are facing exactly the same monstrosities popping up as Newtown. I think Seatoun escapes only because of the threat of sea level rise. Kelburn is however pretty lightly affected. I don’t think anyone wants to lock the city into being as it is now but we are going from not being allowed to infill with more than one storey to now six storeys plus.

  26. Larcus Mush, 25. September 2020, 22:27

    Lived in Newtown for 3 months in 2006 – worst choice ever. So glad I made the move to Khandallah then eventually Totara Park.

  27. Julienz, 27. September 2020, 10:06

    Peter Dunne has weighed in on the Spatial Plan. If WCC was not so strait jacketed by Central Government we would have a better chance of developing a Spatial Plan that most Wellingtonians would agree to live with. We do need more land freed up for housing. It is one of a suite of actions needed to deal with supply and affordability. Enabling on its own is not going to get houses built. Someone has to pay for them. Central Government may have a place in telling us how much housing we should allow for but they don’t need to force a nationwide “cookie cutter” approach on how to do it. Let us have the flexibility to work out that part for ourselves.

  28. Concerned Wellingtonian, 27. September 2020, 11:11

    I can understand it if some councillors are desperate to help the government out of the hole it dug for itself with Kiwibuild. But please do not let them do it by spoiling Wellington.

  29. mw, 27. September 2020, 17:34

    @conor…these Newtown people who are being called old timers are actually a mix range of ages and some have given a lot of their time to the community and the diversity of Wellington which you love. And still are. These Newtown people still give each year to Wellington…the epic Newtown Fair for all ages. And again continually give their free time. You will find they have ideas, have offered ideas on how to accommodate extra housing but not at the cost of ruining communities and are looking forward. The political blanket approach is not the answer for all cities … one shoe does not fit all.
    In the mayoral campaign you noted what you love about Wellington was its diversity and recognised it was the neighbourhoods that made Wellington what it is. Which is no different from the group of Newtown people referred to. Please listen to all of their ideas, not the spin, as people do care and have ideas.

  30. Lute, 29. September 2020, 15:04

    Conor, while I’m very happy we have social housing in Newtown, I’m not sure I agree with your assertion that all our diversity comes from there.
    My street has ~25 households living on it, all in stand-alone dwellings (one is in two flats). We have a couple of groups of younger people; at least one retired household; single people, couples, families with younger and older children; a range of income levels (as far as one can tell); and reasonable ethnic diversity (at least 7 of the households are non-Pākehā, so about the NZ average).
    EveryoneRelax suggests more council housing should be built “behind the Countdown”. That would be great, but – assuming you mean the old TipTop factory – a bit difficult, since the land is owned by Rymans and so is presumably intended to be built into a retirement complex. If the Council wanted to build a road there they could probably “localise” (as opposed to “nationalise”) it quite easily, but doing that for housing would be extremely difficult.