Wellington Scoop

The Adelaide Road solution

Adelaide Road in the future
Click on the image for a larger version

By Gregor Thompson
Perhaps the most perennial point of contention from the rather hostile spatial plan episode was Adelaide Road. A lot of people, often heritage advocates, couldn’t accept why it was necessary to allow demolition of homes in Newtown or Berhampore while down the road and closer to town several vacant sites sat idle on the main transport route.

The idea of blocks being acquired and developed in more attractive parts of the city before the central city wilderness continues to keep folk up at night. This is a pretty reasonable concern at a time of housing crisis. Aside from all the toing and froing, the he-said she-said yarda-yarda and all that carry on, the issue of what on earth is going on in Adelaide Road persists.

Believe it or not, back in 2008, the council set out to solve this problem. In March of that year, a community design workshop was led by internationally-renowned New Zealand urban designer Kobus Mentz. The executive summary of the 39 planning document states:

“Wellington City Council has worked with the community, landowners, businesses, developers, residents and others to explore the opportunities for the future growth and development of the northern Adelaide Road area. The project has looked at how this area can be developed and enhanced to create a more attractive, people-friendly and prosperous part of the city.”

The Council’s Urban Development and Transport Portfolio Leader was current Mayor Andy Foster, who said:

“The area under the spotlight – between the Basin Reserve and John Street – is expected to come under increasing development pressure as the city’s population increases and the Council wants to manage change to ensure it is positive for the local community and the wider city.”

The document stipulates an ideal of accommodating about 1550 more residents (870 dwellings) by 2026 as well recognising the importance of Adelaide Road as an employment area and providing opportunities for a diverse range of business/commercial activities, retail, institutional activities and other services. A further $9million dollars of investment from NZTA was supposed to widen Adelaide Road as well as help contribute trees on either side of the boulevard. Two extra bus lanes were to be created and shared – carefully, no doubt – with cyclists. Doesn’t all that sound great!

By November, the Adelaide Framework, the “long-term vision for future growth and development” appeared to be set in stone.

Twelve years on, the area (Mount Cook east) houses 2,643 residents (2018 census), up a mere 500 from 2,145 in 2006. It currently has a population density of 60.63 people per hectare, 8 people less per hectare than the neighbouring Mount Cook west, a territory which includes Prince of Wales and Nairn Street Parks. In terms of becoming a commercial hub, the extent to how diverged this prophecy is from reality cannot be overstated.

All this begs the question then, what happened?

First of all, the 2008 global financial crisis didn’t help, nor did NZTA withdrawing their investment. The council also quickly found out they could not mandate property owners to sell up and make space for widening.

In an October 2020 interview with Maggie Tweedie on Radio Active, Andy Foster had more to say on the matter. Tweedie asked why lower Adelaide Road had not been developed. Funnily enough, he had quite a lot to say on the subject, acknowledging the slump in progress:

“Look we did a really good community planning exercise and it was approved in 2008, so that’s quite a long time ago. And ah… there’s been very little uptake of that.”

In the interview he points to three reasons for “very little uptake”, the principal one being that the Adelaide Road Framework was predicated on transport and that public refusal of the Basin Reserve flyover threw a spanner in the works.

All the shortlisted options of Let’s Get Wellington Moving transport programme options from 2019 designate Adelaide Road as a main public transport route corridor. Programme 5 is evidently the favourite.

adelaide road map 2
Source: https://getwellymoving.co.nz/assets/Documents/Programme-Business-Case/LGWM-PBC-Report-21-June-2019-Draft.pdf

Since MRT is back on the table, one would imagine that the Adelaide Road development should be too. In fact, there have already been signs of progress; the Wellington City Mission development has been given a $10million ‘shovel ready’ grant; construction has started on the Monark six-storey Kiwibuild mixed use development and a site has been secured for a 24-unit co-housing space.

Foster’s second issue restricting growth was about the power to make acquisitions and use the land:

“The other problem is that we’ve not had the power to actually go in and do the work. We can provide for it, and we have provided for development but that doesn’t necessarily mean it happens.”

This is another complication that may have a new solution.

“I’m keen that we work with Kāinga Ora the government agency which now has the powers to do things like compulsory acquisitions and identify the areas that we think need to be renewed and redeveloped and pursue those with them and possibly private sector partners as well”

These new found powers, controversial as they are, could also have implications for bringing Cambridge Terrace into the 21st century.

The last reason the Mayor cited in his interview was pretty straight forward: development costs in Adelaide Road are not dissimilar to the cost of developing in a place like Victoria Street; however, given the location premium on Victoria Street, the financial reward for developers is always going to be higher in that locality. To the mayor, Adelaide Road seems a likely next venture.

Perhaps thinking of Adelaide Road as an inevitability is the kind of thinking that has led to it being under-prioritized. It seems proactivity has gone begging since the framework was sidelined after failing at the first hurdle.

Areas like Adelaide Road are the largest real contradiction in the council’s spatial plan. If the council wants its constituents to cooperate, it should first address the elephant in the room. This will take the wind out of the opposition’s argument and, more importantly, it will make sense. Density done well should be the ambition – so why not start with the least controversial zone.

All in all, there is some hope here – the Adelaide Road puzzle may well be getting solved behind the scenes, highlighted by the recent growth. As Andy Foster rightly and maybe accidentally pointed out, he and the council appear to be running out of excuses.

Adelaide Road 1940s

Ben Schrader writes:
Thanks for a fascinating recent history of inaction on Adelaide Road, Gregor. Readers might be surprised to know that the WCC has been struggling with what to do with the street since the 1940s when the City Engineer drew up this scheme. The Basin Reserve is bottom – north end. Apartments are on the east side of Adelaide Road and light industrial factories on the west. Whether this is ‘density done well’ is a moot point.


  1. Claire, 3. November 2020, 10:57

    Great article Gregor yes why indeed not Adelaide Road. The question on everyone’s lips. If it had been actioned in 2008, we wouldn’t be having the spatial plan stoush.

  2. Pedge, 3. November 2020, 11:39

    Does anyone know who owns the vast piece of land on the corner of Rugby and Tasman Streets? It’s been empty for years, a forced acquisition really should be on the cards there. I can’t think of a better location for a few well designed apartment buildings. [It’s been empty for more than a decade, first to be a supermarket, then bought by the Chinese Embassy – several years ago they announced plans for a new Embassy on the site.]

  3. K, 3. November 2020, 13:51

    @Claire: If what had been actioned? The council did action it in 2008. Any new developments on Adelaide Road after that are purely the choice of private landowners, who so far haven’t done much. You can’t force people to build new high rises on their land if they don’t want to. The solution to that (as mentioned in the article) is compulsory acquisition and building by central government, or some sort of subsidy which has not been offered (instead development costs have increased dramatically). Anyone in favour of compulsory acquisition needs to realise that once that happens there is nothing stopping the same thing happening elsewhere – including Mt Victoria & Newtown (some would likely argue this is a good thing, as an opportunity to get rid of properties owned by those opposing high-density developments).

  4. Toni, 3. November 2020, 13:59

    Totally agree with the mantra that “density done well should be the ambition” and hope that Adelaide Road does not get developed the same way as Victoria St/Dixon/Willis Streets with their wall-to-wall apartments, very high density living, and no reasonable green or community spaces – a recipe for long-term problems as has happened overseas. It will be interesting to see if the WCC’s goals to be the most-liveable city, with a focus on high quality buildings and ‘greening’ the central city, start happening.

  5. Conor, 3. November 2020, 14:39

    A good place to house a small fraction of the 200,000 people expected to shift to the region in the next 30 years. Obviously we need solutions in the rest of the city too.

    Also – how many tens of millions should ratepayers set aside for compulsory acquisition of land on Adelaide Road? That seems to be the key way you’re planning on having growth happen here.

  6. Claire, 3. November 2020, 14:56

    K I guess you can’t force people in the inner suburbs to sell land either. So there may be very sporadic building there.
    People are entitled to defend history, and character, and the current pleasant environment in their home area if they choose.

  7. Brian Dawson, 4. November 2020, 16:48

    Kent and Cambridge is very tricky land for building on, especially high rise. That makes construction expensive and harder to raise money for. Adelaide Rd is far easier. [via twitter]

  8. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 4. November 2020, 17:04

    Building apartments on car sales yards along Kent/Cambridge Tces etc won’t solve the housing crisis, but it’s a damn good start. Why should some of our best, most accessible sites close to CBD be devoted to display of cars when we can house people & create communities? [via twitter]

  9. Claire, 4. November 2020, 17:47

    Thanks Brian and Chris for talking sense. Brian What is wrong with the land on Kent and Cambridge Tce? And is there a problem in parts of Newtown ie flooding and alluvial soil therefore possible liquefaction?

  10. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 4. November 2020, 18:32

    Conor: “how many tens of millions should ratepayers set aside for compulsory acquisition of land on Adelaide Road?” It needn’t cost ratepayers a cent. Just encourage existing landowners to sell to developers or, if they won’t, or if land is needed to widen the corridor for LRT & cycling, then compulsory purchase whole blocks, take what’s needed for the road corridor, then on-sell the rest to developers at a margin. QED.

  11. M, 4. November 2020, 20:24

    Ratepayers are already paying the cost of developments…which could be redirected to much needed infrastructure or keeping the yearly rate increase down.

  12. Henry Filth, 4. November 2020, 22:09

    And green space? Open space? Non-commercial, non-residential space? Recreational space? Free space? Accessible space?

    Can there be some (lots) of that, too?

  13. Peter Barber, 5. November 2020, 9:10

    North Adelaide Road is a busy street and a wind tunnel. While the land underneath isn’t as bad as Kent and Cambridge Terraces, it is still not as good as sections higher on the hills adjacent. More trees would help the ambiance.

  14. durden, 6. November 2020, 8:19

    Surely Government House can move? Or we take back the land from the Chinese govt. Or don’t we slay sacred cows, or even talk about them ??