Wellington Scoop

Substantial changes to Wellington’s draft Spatial Plan predicted by mayor

Report from RNZ by Harry Lock
Changes are being proposed to Wellington’s Spatial Plan, the high-level zoning document which caused a stir when it came out last year.

With the city’s population forecast to grow by tens of thousands, the draft version promotes high-density living spread across the city. But it provoked debate over its policy reducing the protections of “character areas”.

These areas are streetscapes notable for their heritage value, history or topography: think a row of pale, colonial cottages embedded into one of Wellington’s steep hills, for example. Some argued the protected areas should make way for denser housing, but others countered the areas contributed to the identity of the city.

The consultation over the draft plan showed the city’s residents were divided over the plans. Nearly 60 percent agreed with plans to intensify the CBD but when it came to the intensification of inner and outer suburbs just 45 and 44 percent were in favour respectively.

The revised version is expected to be made public within the next few days.

“There’s been a lot of further analysis, and while the overall shape is broadly similar, there are certainly some reasonably substantial changes that have been made within that overall shape,” said Wellington Mayor Andy Foster, while declining to give details.

Where to build the houses

The Spatial Plan will be one of the biggest influences on the look, feel, and shape of Wellington over the coming decades. It is the zoning document showing developers what can be built and where.

One of the lobby groups which was set up following the draft plan’s release is A City for People. Its spokesperson Marco Garlick’s main grievance is with the plan’s policy on “character areas”.

“We thought the draft Spatial Plan as released was a good plan but it could be more ambitious.”

Areas given special protections would make demolition difficult, and any subsequent development subject to controls. Garlick said unlocking these areas would be crucial to solving Wellington’s housing crisis.

“There’s really a lot of houses we need to enable here, and the best land for development is around those inner suburbs. There’s a lot of great schools, there’s a lot of great green space, transport, a lot of it has got good buses and it’s in walking distance of the city, and we think that’s one of the best places to enable lots and lots of people to live.”

The Spatial Plan does propose reducing these areas but, Garlick said, not by enough.

Rival campaign group Keep Wellington’s Character founder Felicity Wong takes the opposing view.

“I think [the Spatial Plan] was completely unacceptable in terms of heritage and character. It’s a townscape. It’s the environment in which we live, with the new and the old interwoven.

“People felt really threatened – they felt this carpet-bombing approach of the draft Spatial Plan was just ludicrous, resulting not from what people wanted who live in the city, but resulting from a central government directive that you must have six-storey buildings in these old areas.”

Both sides agreed housing was urgently needed but wanted it in different places.

The debate will come to a head in the next week or so. Foster said it would be up to the council to strike the right balance.

“We have had a bit of a split between the people who are just saying, ‘just develop as much as you can, or provide for the development of as much as you possibly can’, and other people are saying, ‘we actually value the character of these particular areas and we want to protect that character.’ I think it’s important we actually try and see if we can find a way between those two competing sets of values, really.”

He said his view was that densification should happen around transport hubs.

Councillor Rebecca Matthews said they needed to unshackle other suburbs as well.

“If we try and protect too many old houses we’re really limiting the growth and that’s what Auckland has seen. I do think we need to be thinking more ambitiously. And also to remember: this is just zoning, it’s potential for housing.”

Matthews also wanted there to be a re-assessment of the catchment areas around these transport hubs.

For some suburbs, the limit of dense developments was a five-minute walk away from the train station, but she would like to see that increased to a 10-minute walk.


  1. Andrew, 16. June 2021, 12:40

    Why all this emphasis on growth. Wellington is already full, the roads are full, public transport cannot cope and any remaining green space is mostly very compromised and is being threatened by encroachment. The environment is being degraded by a too high concentration of people already. Time to call a halt to expansion and work on trying to rehabilitate the environment as it is with a long term plan of reducing the overall population in Wellington to turn it back into an enjoyable city with a sustainable environment.

  2. Claire, 16. June 2021, 14:02

    The fact is that taller new builds should be on the plentiful brownfields available near transport. Carving up suburbs for the heck of it would be is wilful. And the population forecasts are much lower than presented last October.

  3. bsmith, 16. June 2021, 14:11

    Come on Andrew, get with the plan. There has to be a relentless push for growth, that way the council can charge even more residents exorbitant rates increases, thus taking in even more funds for their grandiose monuments to themselves.

  4. Bnnz75, 16. June 2021, 15:01

    Build new suburbs out of Wellington, improve shared transport such as rail. Encourage businesses to allow more remote working. Invest more on harbour transport.

    Increasing the housing density will only increase the toll on current roads. People will still use their SUVs for in town trips rather than cycle or walk.