Wellington Scoop

Why the Spatial Plan is wrong

by William Guest for the Karori Residents Association
The Draft Spatial Plan is hopelessly inadequate for citizens to accept, as they have not been properly consulted over its reasoning or its likelihood of success. Much more information is required for informed opinions to lead to good decisions.

It seems likely that the Spatial Plan has been prepared by planners whose real interest is the next version of the District Scheme. They appear to want a map of the city with zones painted or cross-hatched in different colours, with brief specifications of how high you can build and how close you can be to the boundary etc etc

We argue for a substantial extension of time for submissions and suggest at least 2 months after the information and plans which we are requesting have been released.

Even if the 80,000-population growth figure is correct – and it does not seem to have been convincingly calculated – the basic approach of this draft spatial plan is wrong. The “aspirational” goals are ethereal and unsubstantiated, mostly unmeasurable and incapable of being assessed by benefit-cost analyses or any rational procedure.

There is no adequate description of the state of our infrastructure, no stocktake of what additional infrastructure is required now (to meet current shortfalls) or in the future as the population grows.

In an un-numbered question in the questionnaire that forms the bulk of the on-line submission form, the Council asks “To what extent do you agree or disagree with what is proposed with intensification in the Outer Suburbs?” It follows this with “If you disagree, where would you distribute the additional 80,000 people across the city over the next 30 years?”

The answer is this:

Any population growth will be distributed by free market choices, not by Council fiat. The choices of individual citizens, organisations, and businesses will depend on the availability of suitable land and infrastructure that suits their needs and preferences.

The draft spatial plan utterly fails to consider infrastructure needs and the time it will take to bring infrastructure to a state where population growth can be absorbed. The time required to bring infrastructure to a good state will depend both on budget capability and the construction periods for some very major projects (such as the arterial road improvements, sewerage upgrades, public transport route improvements, schools, health facilities, sports grounds etc etc).

There is no point at all in altering district scheme zones for population intensification if the infrastructure is already inadequate and there is no complementary plan to address these shortfalls.

What Additional Information is Needed for an Informed Consultation?

Three information reports would be useful. (Reports, not plans).

1. A Demographic Report, outlining the projected age groups of the population now and over the next 30 years, linked to the general occupations. How many retirees will the city have? How many tertiary students? How many families? How many NZ citizens and Permanent Resident Visa Holders? How many students on short term visas? How many have the intent to own their own dwelling unit in Wellington, and how many intend only to rent?

2. A Housing Demand Report, outlining the profile of dwelling units that the market is expected to want (rather than what the Council seems to think they can have to squeeze them into the CBD). A current view in the property market is that many retirees are keen to downsize from their former family home but want to be in a freehold property “on the flat”. They have no interest in multi-storey apartment blocks, and no wish to have any involvement with a body corporate. However, there are very few single-story home units available, and the Council seems intent on stamping them out. On the other hand, many renters are temporary residents, or are unable to buy a dwelling unit yet, and both are in the “minimum rent” frame of mind, willing to take whatever a cheap developer or slum landlord offers them.

3. An Infrastructure Report, outlining the current infrastructure shortfalls and the current plans to address them (these would include but not be limited to roading issues, public transport, schools, and the three waters). The plan would also look at the infrastructure needs to support the increased population in those areas identified in the special plan together with a timeframe to address those needs.

The information should also include a group of plans. All plans should include an assessment of the adequacy of the assets now, and the projected impact of the changes in population and economic activity that the spatial plan implies:

•A Road Plan, with emphasis on major roads essential for commercial activity, and current and projected public transport routes

•A Public Transport plan, including commuter car parking and bus priority provisions.

•A Three Waters, Electricity, and Telecommunications Plan.

•A Social Impact Plan, to cover services that a healthy community needs (Education from early childhood to full secondary, health services, retail and services spaces, sports grounds).

•A Resilience and Emergency Management Plan.

•A Budget Estimate Plan, covering the potential costs of the implemented plans, and showing how they might be afforded, including what assistance will need to be asked from central government.

•A Development Feasibility Plan, covering the interdependencies between major infrastructure works and the ability to absorb more population

What is a Development Feasibility Plan?

By way of example, consider the western suburbs. The Karori Residents Association has estimated that around 25,000 people depend on the Karori Tunnel as their main access route to the CBD. The tunnel is too small for large vehicles – double deck buses cannot use it – and with one lane in each direction, the tunnel is a severe congestion point at peak hours.

The Spatial Plan indicates that the number of dwelling units in Karori alone could rise by between 43% and 58% over 30 years. KRA believes that a new tunnel is essential now, let alone in 30 years’ time. By implication, the detailed study undertaken for the Council by Beca Group (“Wellington: Outer Suburbs Assessment & Evaluation”) agrees with this view …

A Development Feasibility Report is needed to identify when the new tunnel might be built, so that additional housing can be developed in Karori and west. If the new tunnel cannot be completed for 15 years, then additional housing should only be scheduled from year 16.

There must be comparable constraints for every suburb and the CBD. They all need to be identified and evaluated to develop a coherent growth strategy and district scheme.

Consideration should be given to the long run economic costs to the community of developments in each area, so that the optimum cost (the total of public and private cost) is achieved. It may well be that the first few years’ growth will have to be in greenfield developments between Johnsonville and Churton Park, while at the same time, Council works on the infrastructure of the older inner and outer suburbs. And discusses with government about how some of that work might be funded.


The Draft Spatial Plan now is insufficiently supported by information and data to be accepted. Citizens need much more time and information to accept the consultation exercise as adequate …. The Draft Spatial Plan should be put aside for now, and a new timetable established for the consultation process to resume once the recommended information and plans have been provided.

This is an edited version of the Karori Residents Association’s submission to the Wellington City Council.


  1. Conor, 7. October 2020, 11:07

    “Any population growth will be distributed by free market choices, not by Council fiat” is a very radical statement and would imply that the council should remove all zoning restrictions and allow people to build up to whatever height they chose anywhere.

  2. Rohan, 7. October 2020, 11:57

    A set of planning documents is not the answer. Council getting out of the way of development is the answer. That would actually enable “free market choices”. What is proposed would continue to restrain a functioning market for years to come. As a summary of the interests of a property owning retiree this response is fine. However it ignores the interests of all those locked out of the property market due to lack of housing supply.

  3. Mal, 7. October 2020, 12:20

    Start from the ground up. How can anyone start from the top and build on an already failing infrastructure!?

  4. Brent, 7. October 2020, 12:26

    I feel this addresses the core problems; the whole country has waste and storm water issues which impact our fresh water environments and overloaded traffic ways. Jamming more housing on top of that is ludicrous. Millenials crying about not being able to purchase houses aren’t going to fix our problems, even if housing becomes more affordable, unless they take off their idealistic ‘instant generation’ glasses and look at the problems we’re facing as a city that doesn’t allocate funding for things they can’t see.

  5. Phillipa B, 7. October 2020, 14:08

    Why don’t local councils address the current list of huge issues before adding to these problems?

  6. Wendy, 7. October 2020, 14:46

    Absolutely agree that “Much more information is required for informed opinions to lead to good decisions.”

  7. Catherine, 7. October 2020, 14:48

    This reads like stalling tactics. A bunch of extra plans and reports could take years to complete. There’s a housing crisis right now. People are living in mouldy rentals and struggling to pay the bills after they pay rent. FHBs are getting priced out of Wellington entirely. Solutions are needed unless we’re ok with Wellington becoming a city for the wealthy and elderly only. If we keep going this way in a few years Wellington will struggle to attract students, artists or young families.

  8. Twerp, 7. October 2020, 16:25

    Catherine – again, what people fail to realise is the spatial plan is about housing 80,000 FUTURE residents. It’s not about mouldy houses, affordable houses, first home buyers etc. These are all separate issues that should be dealt with by central or local government using rental standards and other schemes.

  9. Julienz, 7. October 2020, 16:48

    @Conor I didn’t interpret “free market choices” quite that way. Free market choices include choosing not to move and that seems the more likely outcome. Many people who are now becoming elderly put down roots in the suburbs thirty or more years ago. If housing choices that may suit them better (and free up bigger houses for younger families) are not available near to where they live now then they will just stay put.

  10. Wellington City Council, 7. October 2020, 17:24

    A big thanks to all who provided feedback on the Draft Spatial Plan. Over 2500 submissions and counting!
    Organisations and residents who have made submissions will have another opportunity to provide feedback via oral submissions in November. [via twitter]

  11. Toni, 7. October 2020, 18:01

    Catherine this is not stalling tactics, it is about making sure future homes can flush their toilets without pipes breaking down and sewerage entering the harbour, that people can get public transport to and from their homes. That future homes are built to a standard which provides sustainable living environments which include enough natural light, insulation, inside and outside spaces, community spaces, schools, health and other services nearby. Otherwise there is a danger of creating more substandard environments.

  12. Lachlan Patterson, 7. October 2020, 18:39

    @Phillipa B: People are coming whether we like it or not, there’s no wall around the Wellington border. If we DON’T plan for that growth, then we are exacerbating every one of those huge issues.

  13. Lachlan Patterson, 7. October 2020, 18:44

    @Twerp: We already have a housing deficit which we need to make up for, as well as the up to 80k new residents to expect over the next 30 years.

    Mouldy houses and unaffordable houses are the product of a housing shortage. Can regulate that to an extent, but any effective regulation will exacerbate the housing shortage further.

    Enabling a housing market where there are enough houses such that landlords have to compete for tenants like any other business has to compete for customers is essential.

  14. Lesleigh Salinger, 7. October 2020, 22:45

    The Spatial Plan as proposed looks only to areas where new housing may develop and intensify, not the state of current housing stock. KRA’s submission nails it absolutely, Wellington cannot grow on present failing infrastructure which is 80-100 yrs old and has been neglected for years; hence, for example, bursting pipes flooding raw sewerage into the harbor, and traffic jams across the city.

    Another problem is the 80,000 new citizens scenario; it’s at the top of projected stats, based on figures 7 yrs old. Consider these factors: over what timeframe would this increase be spaced? The last census failed so what accurate numbers are the projections made on? The boomer generation is entering the 70’s, dying off over the next 20 yrs; NZ population is below replacement level (for Pakeha at least) and Covid19 will seriously affect immigration for up to the next 5 yrs. Our city is crying out for major new infrastructure on which its future can be securely built. Only then can increases in population gradually be absorbed.

  15. Peter Steven, 8. October 2020, 9:58

    For all of you lot going on about how the current infrastructure won’t cope with more development – you’re looking at this the wrong way. As you know, over time, infrastructure such as roads, public transport, water and waste pipes will require significant amounts of money to be spent on maintenance, improvement or replacement. The infrastructure for spread out low-density population areas (like most of Wellington city) has a very high cost per capita to maintain compared to high-density areas.

    The likely effect of building more high density housing in Wellington will actually be that the people living in high density areas will be paying rates to subsidise the decaying infrastructure in more suburban areas where there is less of a tax base. Is this fair?

    I would suggest reading this article.

  16. Ms Green, 8. October 2020, 11:17

    Hey Peter. Haven’t there been infrastructure shortcuts allowed for developers building high rise in the CBD, such that we are now having problems (and breakages) with sewage discharge and sewage mixing with waste water? Just asking! You seem to understand these things.

  17. Peter Steven, 8. October 2020, 12:20

    Ms Green, I can’t comment on that sorry. Perhaps if someone from the Wellington City Council is reading this they could enlighten us.

    I just wanted to raise the point that infrastructure upgrades will be more affordable when there’s a larger pool of people able to pay for it. I imagine a lot of the city’s underground infrastructure is starting to crumble with sheer age by now as well.

  18. Julienz, 8. October 2020, 13:20

    @Peter Steven – Isn’t that how a Ponzi Scheme works? What would happen if we paused now and progressively upgraded for a stable population? Put aside the local/central government demarcation and think about New Zealand as a whole. Sure the underground infrastructure might need maintenance but we wouldn’t need more houses, more schools, more roads, more hospitals which we are constantly playing catch up on and the overseas income from our export industries (which is not keeping pace with population growth) would make the existing population richer. At some point we are going to have to accept we can’t keep growing out of our problems.

  19. D'Esterre, 9. October 2020, 12:26

    Catherine: “There’s a housing crisis right now.” As others have pointed out, the draft spatial plan isn’t about that. In addition, the issue of adequate and well-maintained infrastructure is (pardon the pun) of fundamental importance. No point building lots of houses without it. In the 1990s, the then government required all Councils to have asset management plans, which were supposed to include the creation of a cash reserve to fund infrastructure maintenance. The evidence suggests that this hasn’t happened here. As far as we can tell, it hasn’t happened anywhere else in NZ, either.

    “People are living in mouldy rentals…”
    This is certainly an issue, but it isn’t limited to old houses. In our youth, we gypsied around NZ. The environment here is variably damp: in our experience, inadequate insulation and sunlight, along with not regularly opening windows, doesn’t help. It isn’t an insurmountable problem, though.

    “FHBs are getting priced out of Wellington entirely.” This isn’t a new problem, either. In the early 70s, when we were newly-married, house prices here were out of our reach. We returned to the provinces. In the mid-70s, a relative bought an old house in Khandallah for $70,000; not long before, we’d bought an old house (in said provinces) for $6,500. Such was the price differential, even then. Both houses needed renovation and insulation.

    “…Wellington becoming a city for the wealthy and elderly only.” We’ve owned a property here for many years. Elderly, yes; wealthy, no. Over the last few years, prices in this city have increased, such that we’re now priced out of any chance of downsizing, even were there suitable properties. We want to live in Wellington: had we any desire to return to the provinces, we’d have done it long since.

    The NZ housing market has been wrecked by a series of economic changes beginning at the time of Rogernomics. Prices everywhere are ridiculously high. I do not know what the answers are, but they surely don’t involve wrecking the cityscape here in Wellington.