Wellington Scoop

No sign of a truce

by Lindsay Shelton
There’s no sign of a truce in the battle over Wellington’s Spatial Plan. Who’d have expected that town planning would create so much passion? Even animosity in some quarters, despite the fact that there’s so much common ground – all the opposing groups agree that Wellington needs more homes.

The city council received a really high number of submissions when its consultation closed last week. The total is likely to be more than 2000. There were 1970 online submissions, but also many more that didn’t seem to have been counted – they were mailed in, in writing, on paper, in envelopes …

In Newsroom last month, Dileepa Fonseca summarised some of the arguments “for and against” saving or destroying heritage homes, as the Spatial Plan is proposing. Georgina Campbell in the NZ Herald, writing provocatively about “heritage hellholes,” also talked to people with opposing views.

More constructively, Max Rashbroke wrote in The Guardian about how consensus could be achieved. Ben Schrader has also pointed the way to common ground and how it could be identified.

Wherever you stand, however, there’s been much public suspicion about what the council wants from its Spatial Plan. There’ve also been challenges to the population forecasts on which the council’s planning was based.

In the last weeks of consultation, the council seemed to have second thoughts about the expected population growth. Jo Newman of the Mt Victoria Historical Society looked at the new figures:

… 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 [now] believes they now only need to find room for 2720-4731 people and 1083-1895 dwellings.

This means that Mt Victoria will need only 92 to 188 new homes over the next thirty years – meaning six new dwellings per year. In a year when there are already eight new dwellings being built in the suburb.

It’s not only Mt Victoria where residents have been upset by the Spatial Plan proposals. Inner city residents are also concerned, pointing out that Te Aro is now Wellington’s biggest suburb. Bigger than Karori. And it will have 1600 more residents in a few years when current building projects are completed and occupied. At a meeting of Historic Places Wellington at the weekend, we heard concerns that council planning has failed to deal with the wider inner city areas around Victoria Street, where most development has so far been based.

Those who value the inner city’s character houses and heritage areas are clear about how housing demands could be met – the council should be aiming for development along so-called “brown fields” areas such as Adelaide Road, which are ready for high rise development without the destruction of heritage streets. But even if Wellington gets many more apartment buildings, this does not solve the other related issue – the need for more affordable dwellings.

Consultation is not yet over, as Andy Foster pointed out in a Radioactive interview in August:

This is the second stage of four. The first stage was essentially saying do you want to go “up” or do you want to go “out”? We did that last year, we got around 1,300 submissions at that stage. We put four options to Wellingtonians, we said either we can densify the central city … or see development in other places such as the northern suburbs … Really strong feedback from the community was that they preferred to densify rather than to go out … The third stage will be what we call a non-statutory district plan for change, which will be drafted in the first quarter next year and that’s actually when you get into planning rules. And finally there will be an actual statutory district plan which will be the end of next year … there’s a lot of opportunity for people to have input during this process.

So there’ll be two more rounds of consultation. Let’s aim to reach consensus by then.


  1. Claire, 13. October 2020, 11:54

    The consultation to the spatial plan included questions like … I support higher buildings near the central city even if it means more people living in a hazard zone. The kicker was I support walking, cycling, public transport, even if it means more people living in a hazard zone. This one had 70% support. These questions are irresponsible and skewed. I remember complaining about them when answering them. I would have thought most people would say no. It’s like the Psychology game where people are pressed into giving someone an electric shock because peer pressure suggested they should do it. So the whole premise of the spatial plan is based on these sorts of questions. Another reason to bin the spatial plan if it’s based on this nonsense.

  2. Toni, 13. October 2020, 12:26

    I believe most people accept the reality that our population is going to grow, but they do not want to accept ad hoc planning where there is no overall mandated plan to ensure all developments fit within their environment and provide homes where communities can thrive.

    In particular the horrifying reality of dozens of high-rise buildings proposed for the inner-city, that currently can be build wall-to-wall at the same height along roads (which has been already started in Victoria Street) is likely to become the norm, unless council does what they are claiming and ensures this style of building is replaced by holistic developments where lots of natural light, green spaces and communal areas are designed to produce sustainable communal living environments to ensure the physical and mental health of the residents is not compromised.

    Surely the spatial plan should have been developed in conjunction with the transport and infrastructure plans etc, to determine where increased development can reasonably occur, and then developed further with each of the affected communities. Instead it seems like the council have just arbitrarily made areas subjected to various levels of density. This will cause opposition and anger over the next few years as developers rush in to take advance of the current deficient development guidelines before changes are made to these, and the district plan. As a result, many areas with be left with poorly designed depressing ad-hoc developments we already find dotted around the city which are more about profit than people, and which do not encourage sustainable living environments.

  3. greenwelly, 13. October 2020, 13:47

    Surely the spatial plan should have been developed in conjunction with the transport and infrastructure plans etc, to determine where increased development can reasonably occur

    Fat chance, with major transport decisions now subsumed into the time warp that is LWGM, there is simply no way for the council to even know where things like bus corridors or LRT might eventually run…
    This is perfectly crystallised in the Golden mile plans, https://lgwm.nz/our-plan/our-projects/golden-mile/ which will determine a “preferred option” in “early 2021” to then have more “public consultation” before any changes begin to be implement in 2022…(3 years after the initial announcement….)
    (and this was sold as a “quick win”)-

  4. Conor, 13. October 2020, 17:16

    Rashbrooke’s example of Seattle has average house prices of over a million New Zealand dollars, and Schrader was on RNZ saying even ugly buildings need protecting. These are both extreme points of view, on the “character” protection side, so it’s disingenuous to pretend these are compromise positions.

    The draft spatial plan was the attempt at a truce. It doesn’t please anyone. So it might be about right. Spending millions more on another two rounds of consultation is nothing but a waste of ratepayers’ money, as “consensus” will not be achieved.

  5. Northland, 13. October 2020, 21:32

    If you like to see your rates disappear in a pit of endless consultation, then you’ll be pleased by what Andy Foster says. Two more rounds and how many more years of consultation? At the end of it all there will still be the same opposing camps with the same diametrically opposing views. Unfortunately, this creeping propensity to over-consult has lulled residents into the false sense of security that any change is vetoable so long as you have the appropriate ‘Save the Xyz’ campaign mobilized to oppose it. This cannot be allowed to form the de-facto way of operating for Councils. They are given a mandate at election time, and they should work within that mandate to get things done.

  6. Ross Clark, 14. October 2020, 1:56

    It’s not enough for the city to plan for and by itself – this is the sort of thing which needs to be handled on a regional basis – especially transport.

  7. Trish Janes, 14. October 2020, 8:58

    The NZ Herald yesterday had a cautionary tale about neighbours’ experience with the Auckland Spatial Plan.

    Kohimarama residents want Auckland Council to reject a retirement village plan which they say breaches height limits by more than double. “The design smashes through the 11m height limits set in the Auckland Unitary Plan. If they can build double the height, then any H5 zone is vulnerable to having someone build 21m next to single-level homes. Three storeys is in the Unitary Plan and they want to go eight.”

    However the Herald reports that planning barrister Kitt Littlejohn encouraged the community group to understand the Unitary Plan, saying land developers using new thresholds were “not the bad guys” and it was outdated to view them like that. The difficulty for most lay-users of the Unitary Plan is that they treat the permitted heights in the various zones as a limit which cannot be exceeded. But that is not how this plan works. The permitted heights – and other development standards – are set at levels whereby adverse effects (from that height etc) are considered acceptable, i.e., deemed not to be adverse. But the plan does not define the point at which the effects become adverse,” Littlejohn said.

    “Land developers using the new planning thresholds for Auckland are not the bad guys here and there is no justification to treat them as such. They are perfectly entitled – indeed, are now encouraged by the new national policy statement for urban development capacity – to apply to develop land with more intensive land uses in urban areas. Neighbours are also perfectly entitled to object. Neither is right or wrong – they are simply responding to a change in the planning regime and the direction that has been clearly signalled by national government. Turning it into a sensational battle of good vs evil is simply outdated.”

  8. Trish, 14. October 2020, 9:07

    Toni, Greenwelly, Ross Clark – “Surely the spatial plan should have been developed in conjunction with the transport and infrastructure plans etc, to determine where increased development can reasonably occur.” “It’s not enough for the city to plan for and by itself – this … needs to be handled on a regional basis – especially transport.” Too late. There was a proposal to combine the councils into a Super City. But it was rejected at the referendum. Sad.

  9. michael, 14. October 2020, 9:12

    Let’s face it, while the council continues to take years and years to make decisions and address the planning problems, developers not concerned about ensuring buildings fit into the surrounding environment and whether they are built for sustainable living, will continue to build cheap and unattractive housing whereever they can.

  10. Conor, 14. October 2020, 12:09

    Yes, we should amalgamate. But, the spatial plan came off the back of a regional HBA which looks at housing, transport and three water infrastructure at a regional level.

  11. Ben Schrader, 14. October 2020, 12:55

    Conor – the point I was making about protecting ‘ugly’ houses was a criticism of the policy of assessing the proposed sub-character areas on aesthetic grounds only. By protecting only ‘beautiful’ (usually highly gentrified) buildings, you miss out on those that have been modified by generations of occupiers to meet their different needs.

    This includes the Greek couple I once lived next to in Mt Victoria who had put aluminium windows into their Victorian cottage (because the wooden ones rattled and failed to keep out cold draughts) and concreted their front garden to make a sunny patio. During summer evenings the couple would sit out there drinking ouzo and eating olives. For me, the house shows how post-war refugees adapted to living in their new land while retaining some of the practices of their old. The house tells an important Wellington story, but would be demolished under the DSP because it would not meet its rigid aesthetic criteria for protection.

    I was therefore arguing on RNZ that if Wellington City wants to be able to relate its diverse history through its built environment, it needs to keep some (definitely not all) ‘ugly’ buildings rather than retaining only the ‘beautiful’ ones. I don’t think this is an extreme position to hold.

  12. Wellington Commuter, 15. October 2020, 11:59

    The Spatial Plan is targeting a few suburbs over many others. It has just four suburbs (Te Aro, Karori, Tawa and Johnsonville) bearing the burden of housing over half the mooted 80,000 future Wellingtonians. Inner City suburbs and those to south & east need to take a fair share. [via twitter]

  13. claire, 15. October 2020, 13:47

    Wellington Commuter. Have you looked at the plan for Newtown? More or less half of it is in purple for six storey buildings. And pre 1930
    Protections would be removed. We have made a very big push back from our representative groups.

  14. Julienz, 15. October 2020, 17:02

    @Wellington Commuter @Claire All suburbs on the Johnsonville line are affected with vast swathes enabled for six storeys plus.

  15. ICW, 15. October 2020, 17:52

    The inner-city is taking a huge increase.
    Wgtn Central: = 153.8% increase
    Te Aro: = 90.1%

    Grenada = 76%.
    Churton Park = 56%.
    Newtown = 43.8%.
    Mt Cook = 40.4%
    with most others having less than 20% increase.

  16. Wellington Commuter, 18. October 2020, 16:53

    ICW From where are you getting these figures – they are not correct.
    The Spatial Plan Document “Citywide Estimated Growth Distribution Figures 25/09/2020” has the official suburb by suburb growth figures and, using suburban population from Wellington Water Three Waters Assessment (2019), we can see the following are the correct growth figures in the WCC Spatial Plan:
    Wellington Central Popn: 4,000 SP Growth: 2,310 Growth: 58%
    Te Aro Popn: 12,600 SP Growth: 14,018 Growth: 111%
    Churton Park Popn: 6,468 SP Growth: 1,680 Growth: 26%
    Newtown Popn: 9,900 SP Growth: 2,011 Growth: 20%
    Mount Cook Popn: 8,000 SP Growth: 440 Growth: 6%

    WRT to your claim “with most others having less than 20% increase.”, also clearly incorrect:
    Johnsonville Popn: 11,800 SP Growth: 6,008 Growth: 51%
    Tawa Popn: 15,500 SP Growth: 7,576 Growth: 49%
    Karori Popn: 16,400 SP Growth: 7,906 Growth: 48%

    As for which areas are hit hardest, it is clearly the CBD and Northern Suburbs with Inner City suburbs hardly affected:
    Central Popn: 22,500 SP Growth: 19,504 Growth: 7%
    North Popn: 42,468 SP Growth: 24,957 Growth: 59%
    West Popn: 33,900 SP Growth: 14,023 Growth: 41%
    South Popn: 14,500 SP Growth: 5,390 Growth: 37%
    East Popn: 26,470 SP Growth: 5,988 Growth: 23%
    Inner Popn: 35,100 SP Growth: 4,688 Growth: 13%

    To reiterate, the Spatial Plan is targeting a few suburbs over many others. It has just four suburbs (Te Aro, Karori, Tawa and Johnsonville) bearing the burden of housing over half the mooted 80,000 future Wellingtonians. Inner City suburbs and those to south & east need to take a fair share.