Wellington Scoop

Redrafted Spatial Plan increases character areas (but they’re still being cut by 60%)

Report from RNZ by Harry Lock
Special character areas are the big winner in the newest draft of Wellington’s Spatial Plan, the zoning document which dictates to developers what they can build and where.

The areas – selected for their heritage and architectural values – faced a dramatic downsizing in the Draft Spatial Plan’s first iteration.

The current draft has more than 300 hectares of character areas, which are afforded special protections for the buildings inside the areas, making demolition difficult. Any new buildings going up are required to fit in with the architectural style.

With the capital’s population forecast to increase substantially, the initial version of the Spatial Plan proposed to allow for higher-density developments across suburbs. Instead of expanding out, it looked at expanding up. As part of that, it proposed reducing the size of the character areas by more than 70 percent, down to just 88 hectares.

But the move to downscale character areas was criticised by those who wanted to preserve the heritage, historical and architectural values of some suburbs such as Mount Victoria and Thorndon.

On Tuesday, Mayor Andy Foster indicated there were some substantial changes being made to the Spatial Plan. That has been confirmed today.

In its newest version, the size of the character areas when compared with the earlier draft will be 70 percent greater, expanding the character areas up to 127 hectares. However, character areas will still be reduced by about 60 percent compared to now.

The change will be a disappointment for those who argued that character areas hindered development.

“We have to take big steps to increasing housing provision,” said Councillor Iona Pannett, chair of Pūroro Āmua – the Council’s Planning and Environment Committee. “Otherwise young people will increasingly choose other towns and cities because Wellington is unaffordable. This trend presents a real risk to the future of our city and region.”

While the size of the character areas has been increased, the ‘general character overlay’ – which placed certain size limits on buildings right next to character areas – will be removed.

This will mean larger developments will now be able to take place adjacent to character areas.

There is still the potential for further changes, with the new draft plan coming to councillors next Thursday, where there is a strong change further amendments will be tabled.

Foster said the council needed to find the balance between those who wanted to preserve heritage and those who saw it as a road-block to densification. He said it would be the central city areas which would bear the brunt of development in the short term.

“Together, they are expected to accommodate another 29,000 to 33,000 people – or 12,000 to 14,000 more homes. They generally have larger sites for redevelopment and have good transport, services, amenities, and facilities.

“We will continue to engage with government to ensure that issues around insurance and resilience are addressed.”

However the balance is achieved longer-term, data showed more than 30,000 new homes will be needed if the capital’s population does grow by 80,000 people.

Other changes in the new plan:

A new city goal, Partnership with Mana Whenua, has been added
Changes to the walking catchments around main transport hubs such as Johnsonville
Addition of five new “Opportunity Sites” for strategic development opportunities
Height controls completely removed from the central city.

‘Prioritising aesthetic value over wellbeing of people’

Advocacy group A City for People spokesperson Eleanor West said the new plan focusing more on character areas was no good. “We’re gutted. The spatial plan that went out to consultation last year … was a good plan, it struck a good balance between protecting the history of our city while also making space allowing the demolition of poor quality mouldy homes that are making people sick.

“We have a housing crisis.”

West said that plan allowed for more housing and feedback from the public was split.

“Now what we’re seeing is that the council officers have taken that feedback and come down on the side of character preservation. The new draft plan means they are increasing the parts of the city where you need a resource consent to demolish a house”.

She said this was preventing development in the city “in the name of protecting character”.

“Getting consent to demolish something is just over the top … especially [for] some of these homes, they’re falling apart.”

“I definitely support protecting well-maintained parts of that heritage of our city. What they’re proposing to do now is taking that preservation way too far. They are prioritising aesthetic value over the wellbeing of people who need homes.

She said most of the people who supported the increase in development were younger. And that was down to not having the privilege of owning a home. She said the older generation had more sway in the council’s decision, adding that the council would not be able to hear from people who were working two jobs or living in cars.

“Council officers who are proposing this new draft spatial plan with extra character protections, it feels to me, they are making a political decision and trying to find a compromise. Whereas it is their role to present the best possible plan for our city that enables enough space for growth, it protects things people care about and it prioritises everyone’s wellbeing.”

She said that compromise was a job for the councillors, and not council staffers.

Spinoff: Deciding the shape of Wellington’s future


  1. Iona Pannett, 17. June 2021, 18:12

    Tamatha Paul and I have organised a briefing by officers for councillors on the Spatial Plan at 1:30pm on 21st June at the Council. It will be live streamed too. Everyone is welcome to come along and see what questions councillors are asking or you can listen in. [via twitter]

  2. Michael Gibson, 17. June 2021, 18:29

    Iona – you are a wonder – thank you for letting us know about this briefing. And thank you, Tamatha.

  3. John Rankin, 17. June 2021, 19:07

    Based on the above quotes, this member of “the older generation” hopes Eleanor West will stand for Council next election. “Density done well” is long overdue in Wellington.

  4. Claire, 17. June 2021, 19:26

    Cutting the character areas by 60% is far too much. When there are Brownfields all over Wellington that can be developed. In Newtown there are people who want to develop on Riddiford Street. So character areas don’t need to be decimated.

  5. Rebecca Matthews, 18. June 2021, 9:23

    This is a recommendation from staff, not a decision. Elected councillors make this decision and I for one will not be voting for old houses over people. [via twitter]

  6. Claire, 18. June 2021, 9:35

    Rebecca: Thank goodness some people on the WCC can see that decimation of character areas is not necessary. Plenty of buildings can go on vacant carparking areas. Should I call it the try-and-find-mould-everywhere stance.

  7. Jackson, 19. June 2021, 9:13

    Rebecca, please bear in mind the realities of our geology when voting for taller buildings. There is no escaping this and recent history has shown that we cannot entirely rely on our engineering know how to build resilient buildings (looking at BNZ etc here).

  8. Geoff Simmons, 19. June 2021, 19:02

    The Govt should use kainga ora compulsory purchase for Adelaide Road, do the infra and dvpt in one go. Kent and Cambridge too. [via twitter]

  9. Conor Hill, 19. June 2021, 19:07

    The Govt now has power to compulsorily acquire land for urban development. They should use it here, and in Johnsonville at least. Since they gave themselves this power almost a year ago it hasn’t happened anywhere. [via twitter]

  10. Quay Lyme, 19. June 2021, 19:57

    I suggest the government start by compulsorily acquiring wherever Geoff and Conor live.

  11. Claire, 20. June 2021, 7:37

    Quay: it wouldn’t hurt to acquire land on Adelaide Road as a lot is carpark or low rise.

    Lifting the 1930s protection for done-up old houses is akin to acquiring. Once a few go there is a domino effect. So that’s a land grab. And talk of colonisation in 2021 is crazy. People living in Wellington currently are NOT colonists.

  12. Newtown, 20. June 2021, 10:27

    I agree with Claire on buying land along Adelaide Rd. It’s prime land dotted with brutalist low risers waiting to be developed. I’d love a rule that would allow first home/apartment buyers to get the first dibs, or something that states that the dwelling can only be purchased if the owner is going to live in it. The idea is to stop investors snapping up properties that are put on AirBnb or short term rent market.

  13. M, 20. June 2021, 20:44

    Whats the stress.. We don’t need 80,000 houses tomorrow. We all know the 30 year plan will be reviewed like any good business process which has a forecast… and like a business process it will be adapted to whatever changes are thrown at the city and let’s be honest we still not sure if the number is correct. So let’s be open minded as the WCC staff plan is saying the demand can be met with good planning. And like Jill says there’s more to Wellington than the inner suburbs😀

  14. James, 20. June 2021, 20:47

    We desperately need some inner-city green areas where all these new people can recreate. There’s barely even a basketball court. Cresting canyons of high rise apartments will kill the inner-city and make it a dead space. I’m also worried getting rid of the height limit will ruin the character look. There’s lots of old factory buildings that could be built on for apartments.

  15. M, 20. June 2021, 21:01

    Conor and Geoffrey… now that’s what you call colonisation.

  16. nemo, 21. June 2021, 13:33

    James – where are these “lots of old factory buildings that could be built on for apartments” ? I’d love to buy one – the old TipTop building would have made a great apartment building, but they demolished it. Kia Ora Sheetmetals has also been demolished. The former 100% Electrical /Newbolds is being demolished as we speak. I’m quite serious – please tell me where this treasure-trove of old disused factory buildings exist cos I can’t find them!

  17. Claire, 21. June 2021, 16:04

    Nemo: have look in the Dom Post page two. Some good sites there. The Tip Top site is to be a retirement village for 100 people. There are brown fields sites all over Wgtn – old petrol stations, one on Adelaide Road is to be an apartment block. And one on Riddiford Street. The Newbold site is to be retail and some have mentioned 4 new apartment blocks.

  18. Greenwelly, 21. June 2021, 17:13

    Claire, I think he was talking about the actual buildings capable of being strengthened/upgraded/repurposed with appropriate industrial heritage elements preserved, as opposed to blank sites for more tilt slab blocks.

  19. michael, 21. June 2021, 17:45

    James absolutely agree with you. While I fully support retaining the character areas of Wellington, it appears that this will be at the expense of the inner city and those living there. Even though the inner-city is already the largest suburb in Wellington on the smallest area of land, it appears the council are going to jam as many mpre people as possible in dozens of unrestricted height apartment buildings.

    WCC has already allowed high rise apartments to go up wall to wall in many places, creating grey canyons without any reasonable sized green space or community areas for residents. Given WCC’s poor track record and ad hoc approach to city planning, it is unlikely Wellington will be able to provide healthy and sustainable living environments and I cannot imagine the social and mental health issues this is going to create. I wonder in the years to come when they look at the city, will today’s councillors feel proud of their decisions?

  20. Sleeve Tat, 21. June 2021, 17:50

    Nemo: have a wander around town and keep your eyes open, plenty of potential around. The shark mural shed opposite Chaffers New World, carpark on corner of Leeds and Ghuznee which was meant to be apartments years ago. Abel Smith St has a few sites with potential. Francis Holmes building and adjoining carpark on Taranaki St.

  21. M, 21. June 2021, 18:12

    Nemo…the old pub in Adelaide Road. Please save this and bring its history alive. The owners are in Akld. I can see the inside like the Timaru information centre…that dockside warehouse. And like the buildings in the cbd where the exterior is retained showcasing the skills of builders in years by gone but modern and cosy inside. If those walls could talk😀

  22. Claire, 21. June 2021, 18:46

    Michael: There is room down most inner suburbs’ main commercial area for new buildings. And there is still some character hectares left that will take buildings.

  23. michael, 21. June 2021, 20:46

    Claire it is not just about building more apartments. Right now WCC reports show that the inner-city is critically short of green space and community areas for existing apartments. So, unless the council gives priority to sorting the deficit now, as well as mandating useable green spaces/parks for new developments, there is no way inner-city residents can expect to have a sustainable healthy living environment. Add this problem to the failing pipes, the faltering public transport and the urgent push to produce housing regardless of circumstances, Wellington city has little chance of retaining its “coolest little capital in the world” mantra.

  24. Georgina Campbell, 22. June 2021, 8:39

    The first draft spatial plan reduced character areas by 219ha. The final draft reduces them by 180ha. Which strikes the right balance? This plan will shape Wellington’s future generations, that’s why councillors make the final call and not council officers.

  25. Conor Hill, 22. June 2021, 8:43

    It might surprise people, but WCC is actually one of the councils most likely to upzone. Christchurch has unanimously complained about the NPS-UD, and Porirua is consulting on a district plan without even referencing it! [via twitter]

  26. Rebecca Matthews, 22. June 2021, 8:46

    If we don’t vote for more housing this week the message is clear – we’re not a city for all, we’re a gated community. [via twitter]

  27. Claire, 22. June 2021, 8:58

    Rebecca: that is an ill-informed statement. More housing will be built.
    Conor: that’s what the WCC should have done instead of coming up with a poor plan and getting hopes up for affordable housing.
    Georgina: The Councillors are not capable of making the correct decision, they are swayed by politics and lobby groups. And unable to take expert advice in a career limiting way. The Officers are attempting to bring development and character together.

  28. D'Esterre, 22. June 2021, 13:58

    I have just found out that Councillors Pannett and Paul have denied everyone who has previously presented on the spatial plan from speaking at Thursday’s meeting. Does this mean that only people who haven’t previously presented will be allowed to speak? Either way, this looks undemocratic, as if the Council doesn’t wish to hear dissenting views.

    The article above quotes the Mayor as saying that the inner city is “….expected to accommodate another 29,000 to 33,000 people….”. Further on in the article, there’s this: “….if the capital’s population does grow by 80,000 people.” Some years back, figures of this sort were being bruited about: they were debunked at the time, as I recall. I’m surprised to see them resurrected here.

    M, yes indeed, it’s what colonisation looked like. Expropriation of privately-owned property. Wrong then; wrong now.

    Conor, I’m mighty pleased that Christchurch City has gone into bat for its citizens over the NPS-UD. Would that WCC had been so courageous! We used to live in ChCh: the sun is low in the winter, exacerbating the shading that goes with tall buildings. That was beginning to be an issue when we left.

    Rebecca Matthews: Claire’s correct: more houses and apartments will be built. In that regard, Wellington remains open for business.