Wellington Scoop

Missed communication

by Lindsay Shelton
When the Wellington City Council asked us to comment on its new Spatial Plan, it told us the city’s population was going to increase by between 50,000 and 80,000 people over the next thirty years. This led to a great debate about adding blocks of apartments in inner city heritage areas alongside character homes. But towards the end of the consultation period, the council quietly released information that indicated all that debate may not have been necessary.

And they released the new figures in such a low key way that most of us failed to see them.

Jo Newman of the Mt Victoria Historical Society reported that the new information in …

… version 3 of the Mt Victoria-Oriental Bay housing density type map … is particularly concerning. Like the different versions of the map, there has been no public announcement that it’s been issued, even if you’re signed up to the Planningforgrowth mailing list. What it shows is that, in contrast to the Draft Spatial Plan document which says that inner-city suburbs must accommodate 14,000 people and 4100-5400 additional people over the next 30 years, the Council believes they now only need to find room for 2720-4731 people and 1083-1895 dwellings.

The new council figures show that Mt Victoria will need only 92 to 188 new dwellings over the next thirty years. Jo Newman again:

At the high end this is 6 new dwellings per annum. Right at this moment, there are 8 new dwellings under construction in character sub-areas of Mt Victoria replacing two that have been demolished i.e. 6 additional dwellings under the current rules.

She said the new information shows that the city council was not ready to take the Spatial Plan out to consultation and its numbers were wrong.

The council’s original population forecasts were challenged last month by historian Ben Schrader who wrote that the Spatial Plan’s presumption that Wellington’s population is going to increase by 80,000 over the next 30 years is wildly optimistic. He said 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.

And Hugh Rennie gave more details of the unreliability of population growth forecasts:

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.

A rebellion against living in high-rise flats? A preference for old timber houses?


  1. D'Esterre, 6. October 2020, 15:11

    “But towards the end of the consultation period, the council quietly released information that indicated all that debate may not have been necessary.” So. As many of us realised, the figures, with which we were presented initially, simply weren’t plausible. I’ve found the report on WCC’s website. Bookmarked it, lest it disappear, as documents are apt to do from that site. The evidence suggests that we cannot believe a word WCC says.

    I’m very angry about this. It’s the second time in 5 years that WCC has tried to strongarm us over urban densification. It failed last time. And it looks set fair to fail again. JI’m fed up with having the “nimby” epithet flung at me, simply because I want to preserve the character and amenities of the suburb in which I live.

    I’m infuriated at what looks like WCC disregard at best, contempt at worst, for the legitimate concerns of many ratepayers. I’m equally angry at central government. Its wrong-headed NPS-UD is forcing Council to embark on a project of densification which – on the evidence – is neither needed nor wanted by the unfortunate ratepayers in affected suburbs. It looks to me like authoritarianism, dressed up as progressivism.

  2. Julienz, 6. October 2020, 17:04

    D’Esterre – I am in touch with a few other Khandallah residents who are also very angry about the same things as you. Perhaps you could get in touch via the Onslow Residents Community Association. Lawrence knows how to contact me.

  3. michael, 6. October 2020, 17:40

    It’s no different from the figures released for the Central Library.
    1)We were told it will cost $200 million to “remediate” the existing building and base isolate it, and $160 million for a new build.
    2)We learn the “remediation” is actually a complete redesign with changes to the building footprint.
    3)At public meetings engineers and architects explain how the remediation costs have been over-estimated and can be reduced considerably, while the new build estimates did not include base isolation.
    4)In the meanwhile, the whole issue goes out for consultation at huge effort and cost, with the public making decisions based on the flawed costings, which skew all the decision making.

  4. Jo Newman, 6. October 2020, 18:50

    I’ve heard today that the council have received 1970 online submissions and “a few hundred” others. There also seems to be an indication that they may, after all, consider oral hearings (i.e. allowing those who wish, to speak to their submissions).

  5. Local, 6. October 2020, 18:58

    Yes michael – flawed figures, flawed costings, tick box questions prejudged by the Council, which shows disregard for and disrespect of us and our views. Consultation has become a repetitive costly just-pretend game for the council.
    I am most concerned that Councillors based on the flawed costings and process for the library might be stupid enough to demolish it or support
    the $200m option which if the Town hall is a “good” example will take ten years…or more. The $ 200m option is a very difficult fraught project, and entirely unnecessary. The most cost effective ($78-96m) make-safe option (A) is the only one likely to be managed within a set timetable and budget.

  6. D'Esterre, 6. October 2020, 23:16

    Julienz: thanks. Yes, we’re members of ORCA. Lawrence was enormously helpful with regard to making a submission on the draft spatial plan.

    I’ve provided a caustic critique: mass rapid transit, my foot! We have nothing of that sort here, nor does the plan propose any such system. Characterising the Johnsonville train line as MRT doesn’t make it so. Silk purse, sow’s ear and all that. I’ve also called the Council out on the population growth projections used in the draft plan. The quiet release of the revised projections vindicates my scepticism.

    Michael: “It’s no different from the figures released for the Central Library.” Exactly. Ratepayers have been comprehensively hornswoggled over the library, both what needs fixing and costs. In this household, we’re astonished and disturbed at ratepayer misapprehensions on this topic. The library isn’t unsafe. It needs to have the floors remediated, and the costs for that are nowhere near what the Council is claiming. As has been pointed out by engineers and architects. During lockdown, we watched on YouTube a Council meeting, at which said architects and engineers made submissions to that effect.

    Local: “The most cost effective ($78-96m) make-safe option (A) is the only one likely to be managed within a set timetable and budget.” Precisely. We fail to understand why the Council hasn’t pursued this option.

  7. Michael Gibson, 7. October 2020, 7:56

    It would be good to see a Council response to this. One of the Council’s deficiencies is the failure to have “Questions” on the Agenda. Under Standing Orders, a Councillor can a) have their question asked at a Council Meeting and b) have the answer recorded in the Minutes so that we can all read the answer.
    What question should be asked about the Spatial Plan fiasco? How about “Have you read Lindsay Shelton’s excellent Wellington.Scoop article ‘Missed communication’ and, if so, how should we, as Councillors, explain what is happening?”

  8. claire, 21. October 2020, 11:25

    In the Dom Post this morning an example of the lack of communication from the WCC. An online survey of only 130 people was taken on reusable burial plots. After a certain time the body would be dug up and moved. What about the expensive headstone? Look I am holding back on what I really think. I would say if the council went out wider it would be a NO! Out of 130 people 40 percent said yes. This is a ridiculously small sample.
    Please think about buying more land or upping the cost of the plots. At the very least have many more people give their thoughts on it.