Wellington Scoop

Adversarial, when we need consensus

by Helene Ritchie
Thank goodness for people like the Hanley-Kemble-Welches, Ben Schrader, Sue Elliott, Isla Stewart and A City for People, and all Wellingtonians prepared to give their time and expertise to express concerns, rage, and propose different proposals to the Wellington City Council’s Spatial Plan. And thanks to Wellington.Scoop for making the space for intelligent debate.

This is such a complex and difficult proposal with seen and unseen consequences.

The debate has been narrowed and become adversarial with mixed objectives. The Council is endeavouring to attach requirements of the Urban Development Act and the National Policy Statement-Urban Development Capacity (NPS-UDC) 2020 to its pre-prepared so-called Spatial Plan.

There actually is no requirement to develop a Spatial Plan (initially defined by the British Government in its 2004 Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act.) Essentially a Spatial Plan is simply a rebranding of a Town/City Plan.

If it is to continue (and I suggest in its current form and process despite some good elements it should be put to one side), then it needs clear political guidance from councillors. At present the transport and urban development portfolio is held by the mayor. The mayoral role should demand his full attention. Spatial Plan responsibilities require focus, energy and time if the public are to be properly considered – it needs to rest with another councillor.

I note that the mayor told a Newtown meeting last week that the Government imposed the Spatial Plan process and outcome on the Council. This is not entirely true.

A questioner from the audience asked whether the Council pushed back. It did not.

Just for the record, the mayor (Councillor Foster then holding the transport and urban development portfolio) was a strong advocate that a CCO, semi-privatised implementation agency Urban Development Authority be established (which included compulsory private property acquisition). The Council’s intention to establish it (I objected to it in March 2016), appears still to be on the Council books, and it is far more extreme than what the Government has proposed.

It is not acceptable for the mayor to just say the Spatial Plan is Government imposed. He advocated it and takes responsibility, with a photo, for the draft which was prepared before the passing of the Urban Development Act and the National Plan Statement was approved.

If the Spatial Plan is to continue, then the approach being taken by the Council should be a different one – one that encourages a collaborative approach, not the adversarial one that we have, and not a tick box submission process with questions pre-set.

The Council already has Towards 2040 Smart Capital 2011, as well as an Urban Growth Plan (2015) which then predicted a 55,000 population increase over the next 30 years (not 80,000) with a need for 22,000 new homes. The Spatial Plan seems to duplicate and extend these rather than update them. The council also has a District Plan to be reviewed.

People love this city. We all should be able to live in it in healthy, socially sustainable environments, protecting the character and improving where we want and can.

It is far too simplistic for the Council to say that what is guiding the future development of our city is a (disputed) 80,000 people in future.

I already see a lot of six storey plus and three storey plus new builds haphazardly replacing small wooden houses in the CBD and some suburbs. Must this be allowed now?

In the meantime, without wishing to throw myself into this cauldron, can anyone (from the Council?) tell us the current baseline from which Council is working? What is allowed and happening already? Could that not be amended to provide a more simplified process? How many (and where) apartments, currently consented in the CBD, are being or to be built? For how many people and homes? And in the suburbs? Which ones? For how many people and homes? Are the approvals based on current demand? Will supply exceed demand for the near future?

In other words, do we have enough now or do we need more now (say in the next five years)? Does anybody know?

Are all of these new builds over two storeys approved by officers with delegated authority on the grounds of minor impact? What rules related to healthy sustainable environments do they need to comply with?

Finally, I say to Council, there are far better ways to seek consensus across the city on such a complex matter. We achieved it with the protection of the Town Belt – but over six years.

The Council should abandon this spatial plan process and start again, with clear guiding principles being accepted by consensus of the people of Wellington, or it could simply update its 2015 Urban Growth Plan.

Helene Ritchie is a former deputy mayor, and was chair of the Town Belt committee which led to legislation to protect Wellington’s Town Belt in perpetuity.


  1. Claire, 28. September 2020, 10:29

    Thanks to Helen for that great clarifying article. And for pointing out the history of urban planning in Wellington. There are many people who will agree with Helene in saying let’s abandon this spatial plan and start again. The WCC and possibly the Govt will find themselves on the wrong side of history if they keep pushing this. People all over Wellington are dismayed at the extent of it, and the authoritarian approach.

  2. Conor, 28. September 2020, 11:30

    Helene – I’d suggest digging into the detail, of which there is a huge amount, including one round of engagement already, the HBA which shows where Wellington is not providing enough home building capacity, and screeds of Q and As.

    Mainly what has happened is people have said they want a compact resilient city that’s easy to get around and good for the environment. Once people have realised what that looks like in practice, a loud minority have had second thoughts.

    Keep in mind that the requirements of the NPS-UD means the District plan (which follows this and will also be consulted on) has to be updated by late 2022. So consultation can start again, but the timeframe is still (in council time) short.

  3. K, 28. September 2020, 13:32

    “do we have enough now?” Obviously not, as evidenced by skyrocketing house prices and rents, which is purely a symptom of the fact that there is too little supply to meet overwhelming demand.

    To lower prices of houses and rent, you need either more supply or less demand. It is a pretty simple equation. And unless the council is going to officially be in the business of trying to discourage people from living in Wellington (highly doubtful), then that only leaves increasing supply. In a city as constrained by geography as Wellington is, it makes sense on multiple factors to make the new supply in existing suburbs close to the city centre. It makes sense to leverage existing infrastructure, it makes sense to negate transport infrastructure pressure on further-out suburbs, and it makes sense to place higher-density housing with less/zero parking in places where students/young professionals/retail & hospitality workers could best utilise it (inner city suburbs).

    Yes, there will be loss of “enjoyment” from existing properties that are overshadowed by new developments, but this is compensated for by significantly higher value of the property with its rights to build higher developments. I appreciate some will not care about this less enjoyment/higher value trade off, but they have options available (they can move), unlike the vastly more people who can’t afford to buy or rent, which this new policy is designed to remediate.

    If it comes down to a choice between some existing house owners having their property enjoyment lessened in exchange for a large increase in their property value and being able to house significantly more people in a more affordable way, vs. the status quo, I think most people in the city would be for the new initiative. Of course there is merit in discussing a compromise, but so far the “compromise” seems to be removing a whole bunch or area for high density housing developments that would accommodate 10,000s of people, to protect a few hundred home owners from losing sun/views.

  4. Helene Ritchie, 28. September 2020, 13:49

    Conor, thanks for the suggestion! I can assure you I have dug into the voluminous amount of detail – as I always do before I put pen to paper. Some of it has included – the mayor’s election brochure where he promised to “ensure excellent engagement on our upcoming Spatial Plan….” … “to establish an Urban Development Agency;’ the Urban Development Act 2020; Council’s proposal for an Urban Development Agency; my own paper of March 2016 based on my then research; the previous National Policy Statement – Urban Capacity 2016; and the NPS-UD (Urban Development) itself as it is called, (NPS-UD); (and the various deadlines set), related new and existing other National Policy statements; parts of the District Plan; previous WCC Urban Growth Plan 2015; previous Smart City Strategy 2011; Dr Jenny Condie’s Wellington.Scoop contribution etc. etc. I have also tried to translate all the acronyms used in the NPS-UC (eg. HBA, MUC etc.)

    Quite frankly, the process adopted by the Council of repetitive non statutory consultation with mixed objectives until the public is exhausted is poor process, and adversarial process even more so.

    I do not agree with you that “a loud minority have had second thoughts”. There is no evidence of that. Many citizens are simply trying to contribute their valuable knowledge, expertise and concerns to Council’s adversarial process culminating in a tick box submission.

    There are better ways.

  5. Dyepa, 28. September 2020, 14:05

    Conor, let me fix that for you. Mainly what has happened is a loud minority, extinction rebellion/cycling advocates et al, have said they want a communist style housing programme without any cars. Once the rest of Wellington has realised what has happened, they have rejected it.

  6. Julienz, 28. September 2020, 15:45

    Conor – In Khandallah we were consulted on Medium Density Housing. I understand the Council defines ‘Medium Density’ as ‘Two or More Flats/Units/Townhouses/Apartments/Houses joined together in a one storey, two or three storey building’. The proposal in the Spatial Plan is for at least to 6 storeys near train stations and 3 to 4 storeys for most of Khandallah – so quite a different proposition.

  7. Kassie McLuskie, 28. September 2020, 19:57

    Great to see such a well thought out article. The Spatial Plan as it stands will cause irreparable to Wellington, the people who live here and the communities that make up this unique city. It has caused great anxiety at a time when we least need it and does not offer any solutions. Building more houses/flats will not solve a housing crisis but simply go to line the pockets of the few. Even the Government has come out against what the WCC are proposing, saying that this was not the intention of the Urban Development Act.
    You want to solve the problem – start by looking at who you are trying to house and then how their needs are best met, bring in capital gains tax to make it less profitable to be a landlord, change the real estate laws, ban closed tenders which push up the price of property and most of all talk to the communities that are affected and let them come up with a plan which will work for all. But please stop this particular spatial plan and lets all work together not apart to create a better one.

  8. TrevorH, 29. September 2020, 7:09

    @Kasie McLuskie: if you “make it less profitable to be a landlord” then who will provide the great bulk of rental properties? Kiwibuild-the-Sequel? Already landlords are selling up in droves because of the new regulations, and the supply of rentals is contracting. I am not a landlord and never would be one again, having had our house trashed by tenants when we had to let it out to take an overseas posting.

    As to the wider point about intensification, I cannot comprehend how anyone would freely choose to live in a dwelling taller than two storeys in this earthquake prone city. We have Kaikoura quake refugees from the inner city living around us out here in Miramar who would never go back. So who do our councillors envisage will live in their Stalinist cell-blocks?

  9. Julienz, 29. September 2020, 8:17

    @Kassie McLuskie – Can you point me to where “the Government has come out against what the WCC are proposing, saying that this was not the intention of the Urban Development Act.“ At the moment I am feeling the Government forced the Council’s hand but I am happy to be put right on that.

  10. Marko, 29. September 2020, 8:54

    Why does this particular issue require “consensus”? Not all issues get consensus in politics, that’s just reality. I particularly worry that gaining consensus by definition excludes young people, people who have been priced out of the city and live up the coast/hutt, and future generations. Wellington city has had chronic undersupply for decades, future generations deserve to be able live here at a reasonable price.

  11. Kassie McLuskie, 29. September 2020, 9:23

    When I went to a meet the candidates debate (24 September) and asked a question Paul Eagle said that. Sadly it was spoken not written but it was videoed by the Newtown Residents association. Also looking at what I have been reading, the process the WCC has gone through was incorrect which is not what the Government had intended. If I was a conspiracy theorist (which I am not) I would suspect a plot by National councillors.

  12. Toni, 29. September 2020, 11:22

    Some interesting extracts from “Spatial Planning Opportunities and Options for Metropolitan Wellington” prepared for the Local Government Commission in 2016.

    “A spatial plan would provide an overarching strategic plan that clearly lays out how and where metropolitan Wellington is expected to grow over the medium-term, the location and form of future development (including within existing urban areas), the transportation networks, infrastructure and community facilities needed to facilitate such growth. Such a plan would be based on integrated regional modelling and forecasting, with input from a range of government agencies, stakeholders and the wider community.”

    “Wellington is unique within New Zealand in having its metropolitan urban area administered by five territorial local authorities. Each of these councils currently undertakes district-scale planning that incorporates elements of spatial planning to varying degrees, including development frameworks, urban development plans, urban growth strategies and similar planning instruments. However, uncertainty exists as to whether these plans represent component parts of an overall ‘spatial plan’, or are in effect ‘competitive strategies’ as they are usually prepared without reference to the planning undertaken by other councils in the region.”

    “Furthermore, there has usually been limited central government engagement in these plans, and they have generally assumed a relatively low profile within their respective community and business sectors compared to larger collaborative planning exercises undertaken elsewhere in New Zealand. For example, although district growth planning addresses local roading and accessibility issues it appears to have little influence on regional transportation requirements, reactively responding to initiatives as they arise rather than acting as a key input to their development. The major roading projects underway or proposed in the region as part of the Wellington Northern Corridor improvements (for example, Transmission Gully) have significant implications for growth; ideally, these are matters that should be addressed at a regional level given the nature and scale of such projects. Similarly, in terms of housing, no clear collective position on regional supply and affordability is apparent, as is any evidence of a deliberate, co-ordinated regional response to these matters.”

  13. Patrick Morgan, Cycling Action Network, 29. September 2020, 14:46

    @Dyepa. “a loud minority, extinction rebellion/cycling advocates et al, have said they want a communist style housing programme without any cars.” That’s a bold claim. Can you provide examples to back it up?

    As a cycling advocate, our vision is clear: we reckon streets are part of our neighbourhood. They are places where people meet, where we shop, where we live. Streets are places where kids meet friends and play. It’s time for politicians in councils and government to make our streets safe and attractive for everyone. We can do this by setting safe traffic speeds, by making more space for people on bikes, on foot and on public transport, and by better city planning.
    It’s simply a matter of putting people first.

  14. Cream pie, 29. September 2020, 17:52

    Patrick – I see where you’re going with this. If kids play on the street, I guess we can give over the playgrounds to six storey apartment blocks too.

  15. Ellen, 30. September 2020, 22:50

    To answer some of your questions Helene, excerpts from the 2017 Housing and Business Land Capacity Assessment, by the WCC which is the most up to date assessment and used as a basis for the draft Spatial Plan:

    Wellington City will need to provide for between 24,929 and 32,337 new dwellings between 2017 and 2047. Wellington City has a capacity for 20,294 realisable dwellings over the period between 2017 and 2047.
    • This represents a shortfall of between 4,635 and 12,043 dwellings from that required to meet projected population growth.

    Residential capacity has been assessed by determining as a starting point what capacity is enabled by the Wellington City District Plan. Plan enabled capacity is then assessed for feasibility, and lastly consideration is given to what proportion of that feasible development is likely to be realised.

    The assessment has revealed that Wellington City has an overall undersupply of residential development capacity beyond the medium term (10 years). This shortage is particularly acute in the form of terrace housing and apartment development, both of which cannot meet anticipated demand over the long term (2027-2047). There is sufficient standalone dwelling capacity to meet projected demand over the long term, however the majority of that is located within existing urban areas.

  16. Helene Ritchie, 1. October 2020, 10:16

    Thanks Ellen. Yes there are multiple documents (far too many). The one you refer to has stats already out of date. A more interesting one is the Central City Spatial Vision Feb 2020.
    The so-called Spatial Plan consultation has now been narrowed down to provision of housing (“affordable”, but without definition) with at least six storey buildings versus protection of existing homes, and heritage protection – pitting people against each other in an aggressive way, with repetitive non-statutory “consultations” and more to come. There is an urgency now – before the randomness of the current
    District Plan and building code allows an almost deregulated environment to upset our city and the wellbeing of the inhabitants and the environment.
    The Spatial Plan review as “notified” is a mere interloper with mixed objectives, planning for a disputed 80,000 people by 2050. It plans for growth but it is also required in the NPS_UD to plan for wellbeing and a well functioning urban environment; in the meantime it allows today for disregard, and rampant market-led development.
    There is an urgency – the statutory District Plan and rules should be reviewed now (the Council does not need to wait until “by August 2022”). The long term Spatial Plan could then be an ongoing discussion enabling not only growth but creative and acceptable solutions.