Wellington Scoop

A nimby in Newtown

DSP in Newtown
Hanson Street in Newtown

by Claire Nolan
The Draft Spatial Plan is designed to blame the home-owning people of Wellington. It has its own spin aimed at Newtown’s heritage areas – older housing is up for grabs.

The DSP would have had a much easier passage if it was just proposing new buildings and greater density in appropriate areas, for example a disused petrol station on Riddiford Street, a disused bowling club in Owen Street, a demolished substation on Riddiford Street. These commercial areas have been zoned four storeys for a long time, so why haven’t they been developed?

Developments in Newtown that are currently being built add up to approx 250 to 300 dwellings.

There is a rental-only building for the Hospice; this is 39 dwellings and is a stepped-down building from five to three storeys. The Tip Top building behind Countdown is being demolished. It is a large site which is to be a retirement village – approximately 100 dwellings. And these occupants will free up existing homes. Apartments in Constable Street are four storey, 70 dwellings. Colombo Street apartments will be 40 dwellings. There are to be six new dwellings near Carrera Park and eight in Owen Street – these are a mix of two and three storeys. Arney Street dwellings – 22 of them – are low rise with some being dual key. So there’s potential room for extra people .

There are also Kainga Ora developments in Coromandel Street, where 29 new homes are to replace 12 old ones that will be demolished. And up next to the old bowling club – 30 more homes for Kainga Ora.

These are developments that are current. The hospice building height was lowered after residents’ involvement and concern. Design and quality has been lacking in the past – ie leaking buildings – so this needs to keep improving.

Newtown with these builds is well ahead of the projected increase in extra people needing new homes. The WCC said Newtown would need 700 more dwellings over thirty years. As mentioned there will be or are currently being built 250 to 300 dwellings. We are ten years ahead of what the council says we need.

So why take away heritage protection from pre-1930s housing? It’s not even remotely necessary with development of all types going on. A picture on the WCC website that probably set off a furore showed large six storey buildings dotted in and next to single level cottages. This is what’s makes us all Nimbys!

These would be incredibly inappropriate places for large buildings. No one in their right mind would want that. Neither planners nor reputable architects.

The DSP has made Nimbys of us all. The planners must have known there would be an uproar. And did they not know about all the development already going on?

The DSP has set up a intergenerational stoush around so called Nimbys not wanting the demolition of character and heritage. Pre-1930s houses have been presented as hell holes, mouldy, falling down eyesores. That is not what I see, nor is it the truth. It is spin. Eighty per cent of the pre 1930s homes have been renovated. And the others are controlled by laws that landlords now have to follow.

The Spatial Plan threatens to take away protection for half of Newtown. It sets up blame against those who enjoy living in the streets of one-storey villas – streets that are already dense, with great diversity and community, streets that already accept new arrivals. We are blamed for not wanting these houses to be demolished. And are told we should move if we don’t agree with urban vandalism and community destruction via the DSP.

This makes this author one heck of a Nimby!

Claire Nolan has been a Newtown resident for 25 years.


  1. I blame remuera, 6. January 2021, 12:36

    If the people aren’t there to buy or rent the houses they will not get built; the property speculators still need someone to pay their mortgage for them. So if the existing construction is adequate, then no more will happen, the worst would be that there is a little more housing than necessary. We have old houses for as far as the eye can see and areas will still be protected under the spatial plan. We are not going to run out of them, but we may be able to move people into better housing if the council gets out of the way.

  2. Helene Ritchie, 6. January 2021, 13:08

    Thanks Claire for your thoughtful contribution. I am just wondering – is the building on the right of the cottage only three storeys?

    At the start of this DSP proposal, I suggested that the Council approach should be one of collaboration and consensus, and taking some considerable time. There was so much factually wrong with the Council proposal – especially but not only the careless population and demographic (i.e. type of housing/homes needed for different sectors) projections and no accurate baseline information, no philosophical, values architectural, heritage or environmental or conservation, climate change principles etc.

    Nothing said by any one individual was going to ever make for a coherent way forward. (Apologies to all those who in good faith made submissions or ticked boxes with leading questions. You all care and you all have something to contribute I am sure. But the process is and was against you!) I see that Mt Victoria residents have proposed for themselves a different approach with the Council. That’s fine, but Mt Victoria is only one part of our city, picturesque and heritage though it is.

    I have no doubt if the Council continues along the path and process it has set for itself, that the end result will be a mishmash of a city which will hardly ensure a sustainable future.

  3. Ruth, 6. January 2021, 14:33

    All the sites you mentioned as appropriate Claire are eyesores and have been empty for years. You’re right, people would welcome fresh housing in those places. And already zoned for new high level building in Adelaide Rd is an empty run down building where LV Martin was some years ago. I just don’t understand why if these sites are not being built on there is a need for more. (Just to note, the City Mission is building some social housing this year in Oxford Terrace.)

  4. Claire, 6. January 2021, 15:12

    Helene: standing in front of the building to the left, no definitely not three storeys. I think it may be five. Building to the right does look like three.

  5. Marko, 7. January 2021, 6:48

    Newtown and Wellington needs lots of housing. This article not only underestimates how many sites need to be up zoned to cater for future population increase, but also forgets that we currently have a massive shortage. Wellington has failed to build enough dwellings to match demand for the last thirty years leaving us an estimated shortage of about 10-20k. The problem is urgent and the human cost is so high. We need to upzone so developers, Kainga ora, council and the community sector can all build to address the short fall.

  6. Darko Petrovic, 7. January 2021, 7:24

    Speak for yourself but do not call us all nimbys. Some of us support progress and younger generations having a chance to own a good quality home and not just so called character junk

  7. Claire, 7. January 2021, 9:21

    Marko the social housing waiting list of 21000 is for the whole of NZ. Newtown has always had social housing, another 50 as detailed in my article. These numbers are separate from population predictions for Newtown -at 200 builds we are well ahead of these projections.
    Darko no one is calling you a Nimby but would you like to own the house between those two buildings in the photo? There needs to be a better way to increase housing.

  8. Harold Rodd, 7. January 2021, 10:47

    The government must stop shilly-shallying. It should allow city valuations and therefore rates to be based on the worth of the site when fully developed thus stopping speculators from having a free ride to huge capital profits based on their doing absolutely nothing.

  9. daniel, 7. January 2021, 11:14

    “…would you like to own the house between those two buildings in the photo?”

    Yes, I would love to own this house. It would mean a safe place to shelter that isn’t prone to an over-leveraged landlord charging ridiculous rent. I’ve never wanted the type of fantasy micro-kingdom many homeowners seem to desire.

  10. Alain, 7. January 2021, 11:21

    @Darko- “character junk” or not, sadly Newtown is always going to be an expensive suburb for family homes. The spatial plan will make that worse if anything, as it will likely mean more one and two bedroom apartments being built, at the expense of bigger homes.

    Anyway, as Claire says there are plenty of sites that are either underutilised or undeveloped and have been for years. Surely building on those sites first makes more sense than demolishing existing stock?

  11. Peter Steven, 7. January 2021, 12:05

    Claire, if I owned the house in the middle I would either build a nice little multi-dwelling unit on it myself or sell it to a developer who could do the same thing. Nothing is forever in this world – cities should be constantly evolving and changing to meet the needs of their residents.

  12. greenwelly, 7. January 2021, 12:26

    @Peter, The registered company that owns the site classifies its business as “Investment – residential property.” It’s highly likely that it will be developed.

  13. Marko, 7. January 2021, 12:33

    The housing shortfall is not just the number of people waiting for social housing. It includes people in overcrowded flats, people pushed out of major centres due to housing costs and those who would prefer to live in terraced housing or apartments without 6 other random flat mates. We haven’t addressed the demand in any meaningful way, hence the rocketing prices and rents.

    And I would love to live in an warm apartment in that image over a cold, draughty villa which likely costs more in rent.

  14. Phil K, 7. January 2021, 13:25

    Thoughtful and well reasoned arguments Claire.
    The bottom line as you explain is that heritage projection does not need to be removed to provide for all the housing required for the next 30 years, simple as that! I would love to read a well-reasoned argument to the contrary … not emotion, not tall poppy syndrome, not wishful thinking but something based on facts.

  15. Rayward Chung, 7. January 2021, 14:03

    Hi Claire, an excellent article and I agree that there’s an abundance of locations where developers can build higher, denser developments. Did anyone watch the Grand Design programme the other night where a couple built their first home in Auckland on the site of an old warehouse? They built a beautiful apartment with a swimming pool on the roof, had the apartments below for rental to help pay their substantial mortgage and I believe commercial premises on the ground floor. By the time this was completed, there were similar height apartment blocks on either side on this street. They all looked impressive and I can envisage this type of development in Newtown on the sites you mention as well as other sites on Drummond Street and Adelaide Road. The problem as I see it is that the WCC are trying to apply the DSP to whole areas rather that selected streets on areas that wouldn’t get examples of that small cottage sandwiched between five or six storey buildings. Keep up the good work Claire.

  16. Conor, 7. January 2021, 14:27

    Ruth, Claire, Helene and Alain – may I suggest you cooperatively buy and develop one of the sites Claire mentions.

  17. Pseudopanax, 7. January 2021, 16:58

    Marko please begin by ‘up-zoning’ sites taken up by land bankers, car yards, car parks, empty office buildings and Waka Kotahi before your developers lay waste to our sunny warm and dry earthquake-proof character homes, to build high-rise apartments for Buy-To-Let investors. Do you think your projected thousands will still want to come here if it looks like midtown Manhattan with its soulless cold and shady wind tunnels? If you lived in San Francisco, would you demolish the charm that are the villas of Haight Ashbury? You are entitled to prefer apartment living but please not at the expense of the quality of life of those Wellingtonians who have worked hard and got their hands dirty to restore, upgrade and modernise well built character family homes and gardens. Claire and her campaign to protect and celebrate what is left of the essence and soul of our home town is to be applauded.

  18. Rayward Richard Chung, 7. January 2021, 17:11

    Hey Conor, that’s a great idea! Can I please join Ruth, Claire, Helene and Alain in buying and developing one of these sites? I think the site of the old Tramway Hotel would be an excellent site!

  19. Kassie, 7. January 2021, 17:45

    Cheers for the article Claire. Agree with you, there are many redundant commercial sites in Newtown that should be redeveloped to support more housing. I haven’t seen the DSP so I’ll look that up now. I’m in support of keeping well-maintained historic buildings, but the one in your photo above honestly should be demolished. I own the apartment that backs right onto this house, in the block at the left in your photo (QM apartments has 6 storeys FYI) and I can tell you this blue house is a tip and not worth keeping. It has not been maintained well and my guess is it would need a lot of money to be bought back up to scratch. Their fence is broken and bangs against my wall day in and day out in the wind, the young people renting there don’t respect the property – eg jumping over the gate, and rubbish all over that table often.
    There are some historic buildings in Newtown that definitely could be removed and replaced with better housing.

  20. Claire, 7. January 2021, 18:58

    Kassie I suggest you read the DSP to see what people are debating. No idea how the building was able to be six storeys high. The fact is that those buildings were built so close to the cottage and shading it. The cottage would start to deteriorate immediately. With the dank conditions and much less sun, the structure would suffer. This should be avoided so close to a smaller dwelling.

  21. Tamati, 7. January 2021, 20:42

    With Wellington’s median house price closing in on $1m, and Newtown probably already topping that, how can people continually oppose something that will allow for more houses to be built. Marko is correct, the shortfall is massively understated. People who would much rather live in suburbs close to their work are being forced out further where rents and houses are “affordable”. Newtown, along with most other southern and eastern suburbs, has gentrified so quickly most haven’t noticed. When bored landlords finally clear out the last few rundown flats that students and the working class can afford, the transformation will be complete.

    I challenge anyone opposing the DSP tell me how a young professional family, for example a nurse at the hospital and a teacher at Newtown school, could possibly afford to buy a house in Newtown. How can the people packing your groceries at New World afford $250 a week in rent. People tout how long they’ve lived in Newtown; have they looked around and seen what has happened to the suburb they purport to love? I’d rather soulless apartments that families could possibly afford vs the soulless suburb Newtown is becoming.

  22. Alain, 8. January 2021, 7:10

    Tamati, no one is opposing more houses being built in Newtown (or suggesting there isn’t a problem) – what they’re advocating for is more nuance to the Council’s proposed solution. Big difference.

    However, if you think the Spatial Plan is going to make housing for families in Newtown significantly more affordable I think you’re in for a shock. It won’t be cheap 3-4 bedroom apartments that go up.

  23. I blame remuera, 8. January 2021, 9:08

    Only thing I disagree with you on Tamati is: I don’t think housing that would be affordable for working people and families could be soulless once they were living in it.

  24. Rich, 8. January 2021, 15:21

    HI Claire, Thanks for contributing to the debate. How do you feel about backing up your claim that “eighty per cent of the pre 1930s homes have been renovated.” Where did you get that number from?

    Also, it’s pretty apparent to anyone who walks around Newtown that many pre-1930’s houses are mouldy, unhealthy and falling down. That’s not untrue or “spin.”

  25. D'Esterre, 8. January 2021, 15:31

    Conor: “Ruth, Claire, Helene and Alain – may I suggest you cooperatively buy and develop one of the sites Claire mentions.” Here’s a thing. As I recall, it’s you who has been campaigning for increased housing intensity in areas such as Newtown. How about you take your own advice? You could form a consortium with some of like-minded commenters. We’d all be delighted to see what you could come up with.

    In my view, the picture above exemplifies everything that’s wrong with pepper-potting multi-storey developments into areas with single-level housing. This is how slums are made.

  26. I blame remuera, 8. January 2021, 18:37

    @D’Esterre. Having lived in the area where this photo was taken, the surrounding apartments are quite nice as I can tell. The older building shown however seems far too typical of the older rental housing around Wellington.

  27. Claire, 8. January 2021, 21:56

    Rich I have lived here for 25 years. In that time have gotten to know people in quite a few streets. Have seen the work they have done and have been to the open homes. I have also seen the suburb transform and probably become mostly owner occupied. Sure there are still houses that need work – they are being bought and done up. The rest are rented and the landlords are putting in insulation and heatpumps because they are legislated to do so. Newer homes of course can suffer from mould also; that is called the leaky house fiasco.

  28. D'Esterre, 9. January 2021, 15:46

    I blame remuera: “… the surrounding apartments are quite nice as I can tell … “ No doubt. But that isn’t really the issue. It’s the fact of them being cheek-by-jowl with a single-storey villa. This sort of thing was becoming a problem in parts of ChCh when we lived there many years ago. It destroys people’s enjoyment of their properties. We also know a multi-storey apartment block in Auckland, where the neighbouring (also multi-storey) apartment block has been built 2-3 metres away, on the east side. Thus all the apartments on that side have the concrete wall of the neighbouring building almost within touching distance of their balconies. It has destroyed sunlight and outlook. And resale value. Who knows what the Council was thinking, when it issued the consent. Certainly not of the unfortunate owners in the existing building.

  29. Alain, 9. January 2021, 23:12

    Hey Claire, can you please stop ruining the narrative that suggests every villa is damp and mouldy? All the apartment blocks and townhouses built during the 90s and 2000s were 100% watertight btw, in case anyone is wondering…

  30. Catherine McLeavey, 16. January 2021, 18:25

    Great article Claire