Wellington Scoop

It’s agreed – where high rise apartments shouldn’t be built

by Lindsay Shelton
I agree with Guy Marriage when he opposes plans that would allow high-rise apartment buildings in narrow central city streets.

Writing in the DomPost about Wellington’s controversial draft Spatial Plan, he said:

Right on Taranaki Street is the place for tall towers – not in the midst of the narrow street network behind. Perhaps the council’s plan for six-storey minimums and 10-storey maximums should be modified to include the words “where appropriate”. Allowing 13-storey residential blocks in the middle of narrow back streets is just plain wrong.

In the grossly over-crowded streets of Hong Kong the tower blocks built for the masses look and feel like prison hell: urbanism done bad. We need to be careful about what the council are proposing and we need to respond.

Similar concerns, and a similar proposal for where new housing should be allowed, have been voiced by the Mt Victoria Historical Society.

We are not against more housing or more affordable housing but such development should be
a) phased, so that it first takes place in areas which need regeneration e.g. Adelaide Road and Kent Terrace
b)actively planned rather than laissez faire, so the Plan does not give rise to low quality, inappropriate development in the wrong places. Building 4-6 storey apartments in Mt Victoria is unlikely to provide affordable housing and will, in fact, expel the many young people currently occupying the large houses currently divided into multiple flats

Removal of the pre-1930s restricted demolition rule from the whole suburb(i.e. there will be no requirement to seek a resource consent to demolish a pre-1930s building outside a ‘character sub-area’ and then to build 3-6 storeys) will quickly lead to the loss of an essential part of Wellington’s identity. The historic housing stock of Mt Victoria and its unique form are used to promote Wellington, not least by Wellington City Council. The suburb is visited and appreciated by New Zealanders and international tourists. Layers of Wellington’s history can be told and reimagined through the houses that still exist. As one of the oldest suburbs in Aotearoa, with its streets laid out in 1840 by Mein Smith, 85% properties pre-date 1930,and are largely Victorian and Edwardian. This means generations of people and businesses who have helped make Wellington what it is. It is part of our collective culture.

The Newtown Residents Association has similar concerns – about six storey apartment buildings being permitted among the old houses in its suburban streets – and a similar plan for where such buildings should be allowed:

We agree that more housing is needed in Wellington and we agree with having a spatial plan that addresses this, but we don’t agree with this plan in its current form. The goal is to deliver good quality affordable housing. Wellington City Council and supporters of the plan talk about wanting ‘Density done Well’, and so do we. However the Spatial Plan states that one of the necessary factors is “Development that integrates with/relates to existing building form and style in the surrounding neighbourhood.”. This isn’t achievable with 6+ storey developments among one and two storey homes.

Buildings of ‘at least 6 storeys’ in the residential streets of Newtown as proposed in this plan would result in losing the very qualities, including sun and shelter, that make Newtown a great place to live. There is an alternative approach that we do support – a proposal to intensify housing along the commercial streets . We have advocated for this for many years, and it has the potential to create a precinct where density can truly be done well.

Agreement all round. Keep high rise apartments out of our character streets – because there are plenty of areas where they could be built without destroying neighbourhoods.

It’s now time for the council to show that it’s listening. Submissions on the Spatial Plan close tonight at 5pm.

DomPost: Reduction in council forecasts of population growth


  1. David Mackenzie, 5. October 2020, 9:34

    I like the phrase “actively planned”. Someone (I don’t know who) trustworthy could plan and arrange the completion of housing, not leaving it piecemeal to developers. Thus would we have an aesthetically pleasing and practical result. However, it is impossible to trust the Wellington City Council, either councilors, or council staff to have a hand in it. I quaver in terror remembering the continuing bus fiasco perpetrated on the city by the Lesser[sic] Wellington Regional Council. Perhaps we need a citizens’ revolt to overthrow those currently in charge and replace them with persons susceptible to sound advice, and with a sense of pride in and love for our city.

  2. Claire, 5. October 2020, 9:51

    Let’s hope there are a lot of submissions from the good folk of Wellington.
    The Alternative plan still has six storey buildings in the commercial strip of Newtown that’s going to be a canyon. Not all residents of Newtown agree with this. And it seems the Residents Association are pushing it very hard. We have had some new numbers from the council that would require around 700 dwellings in Newtown. A far lower number than the Association has. Is this the role of a Residents Association.
    Time is nearly up on this for now. Let’s hope the council sees some sense and starts again. I gave never seen such push back for a plan in Wellington.

  3. Marko, 5. October 2020, 11:56

    I’m sorry but the title is very biased. Please check the website of A City for People – this represents the views of students, young professionals, future generations and all those priced out of the leafy inner suburbs. Just quoting the narrow interests represented by residents associations cannot be equated with agreement.

  4. Michael Gibson, 5. October 2020, 12:07

    Thank goodness for Scoop – I think a lot of problems would be solved if the Council simply resolved to accept the wording of my submission: “. . . . that no new building should be permitted if sunlight or a view is taken from an existing building.”

  5. Julienz, 5. October 2020, 12:49

    @ David McKenzie. Agree we can’t trust WCC. In the outer suburbs we have been under the impression that the height limit is 8 metres but it seems council officers have been operating on an exceedance height of 11 metres. So when they say we are allowed 1 to 2 storeys, they actually allow 3 and a bit to developers. Now they want 3 to 4 so does that really mean 5? They really do very little to try to take residents and ratepayers along on the journey. Look at the mess they have made of Johnsonville.

  6. Claire, 5. October 2020, 15:14

    Of course it’s not just the associations all over Wellington. There are many groups, from We Are Newtown to heritage groups to experts’ advice. For example the whole of Newtown has been box dropped. All would like this plan started again. It’s insulting and has pitted people against each other.

  7. Ms Green, 5. October 2020, 16:59

    Marko – A City for People are simply wrong to support the draft Spatial Plan on the grounds that it will ensure affordable housing. It won’t. What it does is promote a deregulated concrete jungle, written for developers who have demonstrated that they are neither interested in affordable whatever that means nor in providing a healthy attractive city. The Plan also shows that the Council could not care less about these issues either. A City for People is misguided.

  8. Conor, 5. October 2020, 19:25

    Guy is mainly taking issue with the plans for Te Aro, which are very different to the plans for the inner suburbs like Mt Vic and Newtown. All his examples show how great cities and suburbs all feature 6 storey buildings – Paris, Greenwich Village, London.

  9. Julienz, 5. October 2020, 20:31

    Marko – You might want to be careful what are you wish for – Have a look at Te Ara:
    “In the early 1900s Oriental Bay became a fashionable address for the city’s affluent. However, in the 1930s and 1940s many of its grand houses were converted into flats and boarding houses. By the 1990s it had once again become the abode of the wealthy. Many people live in apartments, which are replacing the early wooden villas.”

    And also :
    “Since the 1980s gentrification has transformed the inner city, and many old houses have been renovated. Expensive homes and apartments now line streets once occupied by rickety boarding houses and rundown flats.”

    Rundown flats are bad but no flats could turn out to be worse. And many of us who live in the “leafy suburbs” did a stint in grotty flats too. I am guessing you didn’t grow up in a grotty flat but probably in a “leafy suburb” so just remember ages and stages are a relevant part of this debate. I don’t imagine most students and young professionals will spend their whole lives in a divided up house in Te Aro. Good things take time.

  10. Claire, 5. October 2020, 21:08

    The thing that sets Wellington aside from other cities except San Francisco is its older homes. SF has them also. It has hillscapes and streetscapes featuring those homes – have a look up at Saint Gerards and the classic Mt Victoria view. It will never be tall buildings that define Wellington. By the way Paris has height restrictions. London has many tall buildings but only in the centre (away from the historic areas).

  11. Julienz, 5. October 2020, 21:17

    Conor – Where in London are you talking about?
    This shows a building count of 649K buildings in London of which 517K are up to 10 metres high, that is 2 storeys. That is also my recollection from when I lived there in the 80s and from visiting since. From the stats I have been able to find Wellington City has 658 people per square km already compared to Auckland with 286 and Christchurch 241. We also have greater density than Greater Sydney and Greater Melbourne. How tightly packed in do you want us? There seems to be great concern about cowsbeing closely packed into paddocks, hens into coops and pigs into stalls but when it comes to people the tighter the better.

  12. Robbie, 5. October 2020, 21:32

    Marko, as a young professional who is actually from Newtown and Wellington you don’t represent me, so stop claiming you do. Where were you guys when the last spike in house prices priced all the Pasifika families out of Newtown in the early 2000s? Seems like your group is only white young professionals acting primarily out of self-interest.

  13. greenwelly, 6. October 2020, 10:10

    Marko, are you able to elaborate on who exactly “A City for People” actually are? The website is built of a platform “provided by Generation Zero” and the PR contact is Neale Jones- Associate Director of HawkerBritton and former chief of staff to Jacinda Ardern and with a long history of being involved in the upper echelons of leadership of Labour. But there is no more information about who the leadership of this group is ….

  14. Ms Green, 6. October 2020, 11:01

    I am wondering this as well. They apparently had some kind of meeting in Thistle Hall strongly supported by one councillor at least, who in my opinion fallaciously and loudly supports the draft spatial plan on the grounds that it will provide affordable housing. Maybe only one councillor supports this nonsense?

  15. Guy M, 7. October 2020, 7:03

    There is a huge misconception amongst some people that building more densely in the inner city will automatically mean more affordable housing. The simple answer is that: No, it won’t. Higher land prices in the inner city will always mean that housing in the inner city will always be more expensive than in the outer suburbs. Building taller also means it is more expensive to build: a concrete or steel framed apartment building is going to be more expensive to build than a low rise timber-framed dwelling. Those are just simple facts.

    The only way to get affordable housing is to legislate that a proportion of any new housing constructed includes affordable homes. This is the law in many larger overseas cities – effectively, the obscene sales prices of the richlister’s apartment subsidies the more affordable prices aimed at the people at the lower end of the market. We don’t have that legislation in NZ – perhaps we should.

    There is one other method that some people argue is an appropriate price-reducing mechanism: make housing smaller and smaller to achieve affordability. I’d caution against that: nothing good ever comes of purposely building slums. Small, over-crowded, micro-dwellings can only head in one direction in terms of quality: its a downward spiral. Build reasonable sized apartments for all: subsidise some to be able to be sold at affordable prices. Build cheap tat and that is all you will ever have: cheap tat. That’s not the way to build a city.

  16. K, 7. October 2020, 13:16

    Guy M: I only need to look at property listings to know that high rise developments do lead to affordable housing. There are many relatively new 1-2 bedroom apartments available at far cheaper prices than what 1-2 bedroom houses are selling for anywhere in Wellington suburbs.

  17. Twerp, 7. October 2020, 16:19

    K – that’s probably because no one wants them due to insane insurance/bodycorp/earthquake issues. Not to mention actually being multiple stories up in an apartment block during an earthquake. You might find banks aren’t as keen to lend on an apartment as a house either.

  18. Julienz, 7. October 2020, 17:07

    K- I have looked at quite a few apartments at the lower end of the market recently. When you do due diligence you often find the body corporate or joint company owners are kicking the can down the road so far as earthquake strengthening and weather-tightness issues are concerned. An unsuspecting buyer may end up having to pay as much again as their purchase price to remediate these issues. That’s why they are cheap.

  19. Guy M, 8. October 2020, 9:13

    K – the proposed new one bedroom houses announced in Lower Hutt yesterday, selling at $520,000 each, are about 50% larger in size – or more – than an apartment selling for the same size. It’s not really comparing apples with apples.

  20. Pseudopanax, 8. October 2020, 9:15

    @Greenwelly and Ms Green. I too was wondering who is behind ‘City For People’. A very slick PR campaign with instant access to TVNZ and RNZ suddenly appears with a pro development agenda suggests either the Deep State of murky developers or a certain political party that has recently discovered the ‘Affordable Homes for All’ mantra with nudge and a wink to the Politics Of Envy!

  21. Ms Green, 8. October 2020, 11:13

    I agree … A City for People seems a front for developers and unregulated development disguised as “affordable homes” for young people with rich parents who apparently always live in the massive amounts of cold mouldy homes (which by the way, their parents survived in, and are still surviving…only just) with rent no more than $35 a day, or are homeless, and are all sick?? As for the councillor who loudly supports them, let alone the mayor, the former did not seem to understand the true intent of the flawed draft spatial plan, the latter on past record always has seemed pleased to promote unregulated development.