Wellington Scoop

Protection of city’s character areas reduced as council agrees on Spatial Plan

The Wellington City Council debated its draft Spatial Plan today. Councillors voted against unlimited heights on CBD buildings. And by 9 to 6 they voted against an amendment that would have removed all pre-1930s character protections. But near the end of the meeting they voted to reduce character area protections by 71 per cent instead of the final draft’s proposal of 58 per cent.

NZ Herald: Spatial Plan signed off – shrinking character areas

Before the debate began, local residents spoke in defence of character areas.

Jane O’Loughlin:

I am representing a group of Matairangi Mount Victoria residents alarmed about council’s spatial plan and its impacts. We looked into the numbers, we talked to people, we went door to door with a petition. We found areas of Mount Victoria that would work well for medium density housing, and could house several thousand more people.

And we looked elsewhere around the city, and saw to our surprise that there are great swathes of land in Te Aro flat and Adelaide Road – all close to infrastructure and the central city – that were underutilized and crying out for development, that could house tens of thousands of people.

We held a public meeting to discuss the situation and we found that many Mount Victoria residents, like us, were very concerned about housing supply and felt that the city and Mount Victoria, needed to do what it could – but that it could be achieved in a far better way than the draft spatial plan outlined.

The council released revised population projections. This would now see Mount Victoria needing to find between 92 and 188 new dwellings over the next 30 years. 188 is nothing. In fact, we estimate that the rate of new dwellings being added in Mount Victoria right now is far greater.

So we wondered, why is the council so keen on removing controls on heritage suburbs, where there is already un-developed opportunities elsewhere? Why were heritage protections being stripped away so radically, when in fact we only need to find a couple of hundred new houses over 30 years?

But meanwhile, the debate had taken a nasty turn.

Inner city suburbs with heritage areas started to be characterised as the one thing holding back affordable housing. Suddenly it wasn’t enough to expose 66% of Mount Vic to development – let’s go further and trash the lot.

Unfortunately, several councillors have bought into this rhetoric. Rather than showing leadership and trying to bring different parts of the community together, we have councillors who have mocked and vilified residents of the city who have dared to speak up for heritage.

Feedback on the spatial plan found that the majority of submitters did not agree with the approach for the inner city, and among inner city submitters themselves there was huge opposition to the council’s plan – two-thirds opposed, most of those strongly disagreeing.

Now we have a revised plan on the table, which is a response to feedback. The media bought your line that this is a back down. It’s not a back down. It’s an improvement based on feedback from citizens who care about their city. That is how consultation works.

It is still a dramatic change and it will still result in loss of heritage that we are concerned about. Yet I understand some councillors are proposing to revert to the original draft spatial plan. What is the point of consultation if you are going to do that? Where is the legal basis for you to ignore feedback from constituents and disregard valid qualifying matters?

the NPS on Urban Design does not tie your hands. Explicitly in the document it allows for heritage protection. Even Grant Robertson has said it should be possible to find a sensible compromise – and he signed off the NPS. So if the architects of the directive think there’s room for compromise, and they have provided the tools for you to do just that, why are there councilors here going for total deregulation?

You have two paths before you today. You can go down the path of division, by voting against the improved spatial plan that council officers have developed. You can try to rebrand heritage areas as colonial heritage precincts, in an attempt to sow further hate and nastiness. You can ignore feedback from citizens who made their submissions to the spatial plan in good faith that you would listen.

Or you can show some leadership, and accept that the revised spatial plan before you is a pretty good effort at a compromise that meets everyone’s needs. It’s not perfect – we don’t love it, and the other side doesn’t love it either. That’s what compromises are.

Anna Kemble Welch

Wellington has such an exciting opportunity to find the best places to build more homes. We want to support a plan for more housing. We want densification done well.

Newtown has been telling the council for 30 years that we believe in more housing, and the Suburban Centre in Newtown is where it should be built, along the main public transport route. Now we have planned this out in detail to show how the Newtown Suburban Centre and adjacent ‘brownfields’ sites can easily provide opportunities for at least 2000 sunny, accessible, comfortable new apartments. This far exceedsthe targets set to meet future growth in our community– and the suburban centre and brownfields sites have a realisable potential fo r6 times that required of Newtown. This is different to the officers’ advice but they haven’t talked to us about this plan.

There’s potential here for over 4500 new homes –and many of the property owners are keen and ready to go.We know 12owners of suburban centre properties who are interested in developing more housing and we know 6 owners who already have initial plans drawn! It isn’t a scattergun waiting for developers to come along. This is real and waiting to happen!

If the zoning for 6 storeys is in the right place,the Suburban Centre–Newtown would welcome being among the first for the infrastructure upgrade and many new homes would be built in the next 10 years. But not if last year’s Draft Spatial Plan for 6+ storeys in most of our suburb goes ahead.

As organisers of the Newtown Festival we are closely connected to a really wide and diverse community of renters and home owners, current and future, and we speak on behalf of many. We are also Architects and urban designers who really care about sustainability and the carbon zero goals.

So many people went to an enormous effort to contribute to the consultation on the Draft Spatial Plan, by far the majority from Newtown were appalled by the 6+ storey blanket rezoning for most of the existing homes.

The new Revised Spatial Plan does more closely reflect what the community want. With some adjustments, Newtown would wholeheartedly support this through to the District Plan.

The Newtown Residents Association have APPROVED this motion: “If Newtown’s Spatial Plan mapping for 6 storeys was all focused within the suburban centre and Mansfield St escarpment area as in the concept plan developed by Red Design, and ifthe residential areas not included in heritage character protectionwere zoned for in-scale up to 3 storey infill housing, rather than enabling 6 or more storeys, then the Newtown Residents’ Association would wholeheartedly support the WCC Spatial Plan. We would totallysupport the prioritising of Newtown to be one of the first suburbs where densification is developed. The Association members look forward to in-depth community consultation to identify even moreareas suitable for intensification. “

We want the whole community to work together, Gen Zero, Renters United – we all agree, a city is for people, and we want more housing – and in Newtown we have a plan where it can be done well, where higher buildings fit and add positively to the place. This could be a template for a brilliant city with neighbourhoods and communities that welcome the changes, instead of the conflict and heartache that last year’s Draft Spatial Plan caused.

But councillors voted against extending protection for character areas.

Greens want “ambitious” Spatial Plan for Wellington


  1. Daniel, 24. June 2021, 15:31

    The Newtown Residents Association proposal is a healthy perspective, it’s a relief to see more reasonable voices speaking for Newtown.

  2. Georgina Campbell, 24. June 2021, 16:55

    Rebecca Matthews said “character homes do not mean the same thing for a generation that is locked out of housing. This is a human right and every time we make a change that makes it more difficult for housing to be built, we are denying the human rights of our citizens.”
    Jill Day said “this city is not a museum. We do not need to have a nostalgic city that holds us back in a period of time that doesn’t serve us now.” [via twitter]

  3. Julie Anne Genter, 24. June 2021, 16:57

    If people love old houses so much they can buy them and live in them or do them up themselves. Not use our planning rules to prevent more homes from being provided in desirable inner city neighbourhoods.
    Totally agree with DrJennyCondie: character is not heritage. The original proposal for the spatial plan allows for significant protection of heritage; the blanket character neighbourhoods are not necessary or helpful to achieving an equitable, green city. [via twitter]

  4. Julie Marshall, 24. June 2021, 16:58

    We are capable of it, but do we do it? You should see “little boxes on the hillside” being built near me. Ugly buildings built the wrong way to the sun so as to squeeze one more on the site. Will the 2020s be remembered as a missed architectural opportunity. Where is the design! [via twitter]

  5. Claire, 24. June 2021, 16:59

    I have been listening to the live debate on the DSP on the WCC website. Some councillors have displayed scant understanding of the information before them. The are engaged in highly emotional ranting. Especially when told there are other places to build besides the character areas. So distasteful and illogical.
    Julie Anne: you have it wrong. Yes we do live in them but those areas are not all you are going to need to build more houses. Also the mouldy prize goes to Govt housing.

  6. IBCycleway, 24. June 2021, 17:17

    I hope this Spatial Plan debate has engaged a lot more people in the importance of local politics. There are a few councillors who definitely need to lose their heritage protection in Oct 2022. [via twitter]

  7. Wellington Commuter, 24. June 2021, 17:35

    While hours are spent trying to squeeze another thousand future residents into character suburbs, there is little debate on how Te Aro, Johnsonville & Tawa, who ARE doing the heavy lifting, will cope with over twenty thousand more and thousands of high density buildings. [via twitter]

  8. Claire, 24. June 2021, 17:56

    Wellington Commuter: I think it’s a disgrace the calibre of some councillors who fail to understand the complexities of their decision or the papers they have before them. They have a fixation that it’s black and white but even if you bowled the lot you woundn’t have all you need.
    Where is Grant Robertson on this. Have you been listening today?

  9. michael, 24. June 2021, 18:28

    Lambton/Te Aro are doing more than their fair share of heavy lifting. They are already the biggest suburb in Wellington (in terms of population) on the smallest area of land, with very few community amenities and a WCC-acknowledged critical shortage of open inner city green spaces for health and well-being of residents. Now they are faced with unlimited height buildings with no WCC guarantees that open green space and community amenities will be mandated. Unless density is done well, the inner city is going to be faced with demoralising social and mental health issues.

  10. Peter Kerr, 24. June 2021, 18:49

    The word “character” as it is applied to houses is an invention of the real estate industry. It has no relevant meaning that can be applied to someone’s dwelling. It panders to bourgeois fantasies, implying exclusivity, and establishes a premium on ever increasing property values, affordable only to those can pay to live there. Cr.Day is right; who wants to live in a museum?

  11. David Tong, 24. June 2021, 19:02

    I do love old character houses, and was lucky enough to be able to afford to buy one with my partner last year. But here’s the thing: we wanted to buy a 2 bedroom apartment in Te Aro, but couldn’t find one we could get finance on. Urban intensification is about housing choice. [via twitter]

  12. Rustie, 24. June 2021, 19:04

    The whole argument is that everyone who can’t afford a Mt Vic villa or a Khandallah bungalow should all live together in one (six storey) building on a former petrol station site in Newtown. [via twitter]

  13. michael, 24. June 2021, 19:14

    Claire I am not surprised at the behaviour of some of the councillors, as all year long we have had to put up with their unprofessional behaviour in the place of calm, rational and balanced debate. Roll on the elections.

  14. City For People, 24. June 2021, 19:47

    Huge win! The expanded colonial character precincts have been rolled back to the smaller areas in the draft plan. A big win for housing, our climate, and decolonising our city! Thank you to laurie foon and Fleur Fitzsimons for moving this amendment. [via twitter]

  15. Traveller, 24. June 2021, 19:48

    A big loss for all the character homes that will now be demolished, and for the city’s character that will vanish with them.

  16. Claire, 24. June 2021, 19:49

    Laurie Foon and Fleur, you have thrown Newtown under a bus. We would have shown you through a large number of houses that had been done up if we had realised your tack. I don’t know who these people are who think Newtown should have large buildings in inappropriate places. I am guessing they don’t exist. This will make it so much harder to get a compromise, and to move forward with some extra houses now in our community.!

  17. Meredith, 24. June 2021, 19:49

    So, what have you won? More housing? Tomorrow? How? By hoping to bowl people’s homes and flats? Was it all just a game to win? And the other side (who are they?) to lose?

  18. Benoit, 24. June 2021, 20:03

    So the changes that were introduced following consultation are gone, is that right?

  19. Gwynn Compton, 24. June 2021, 20:04

    In other news that would otherwise fly under the radar, up here in Kāpiti today we adopted our long-term plan. As I said in today’s meeting, there’s things in here I love, things I’m sceptical about, and things I don’t agree with, but that’s politics.

  20. Claire, 24. June 2021, 20:08

    Sarah Free and Laurie Foon walked around Newtown and listened to our plan. We had people wanting to develop. You have set this whole thing back, when character areas are only 6% of the city and there is so so much more that could be developed (brownfields). Watching today I was not entirely sure that all councillors understood what they were voting for. How cooperative will people be now? All our submissions were for nothing!

  21. M, 24. June 2021, 20:25

    Be careful what you wish for… Newtown will get more expensive as the property developers circle, and they sure won’t be selling them cheap. Or is the plan for Housing NZ to take people’s homes to build affordable apartments?

  22. local, 24. June 2021, 20:33

    City for People: What exactly have you won when you say “A big win for housing, our climate and decolonising our City” Really? Have you won homes for our most vulnerable families? You will change our climate now? Decolonising? Do you mean our city will be like any other European high rise city with concrete canyons? That’s a win? I think you might have just lost a unique city for everyone.

  23. Steve G, 24. June 2021, 21:24

    Clearly no point in consultation then, was there? Thanks to Anna and the Newtown Residents Association for all their hard work and actually coming up with a pragmatic, community-driven solution. I didn’t see Fleur advocating for densification in Island Bay, but happy to give developers free reign on Newtown.

  24. Emma Osborne, 24. June 2021, 22:41

    Huge thanks to TamathaPaul and RebeccaMatthews for their leadership on more housing, more affordable housing & housing in the right place. Thanks to all our councillors who have voted/are voting for a progressive spatial plan. [via twitter]

  25. Fleur Fitzsimons, 24. June 2021, 22:46

    Wellington City Council have just passed an ambitious spatial plan which marks the biggest change in urban planning in Wellington in a generation. Some in-tact character will be protected and future growth will be focussed around transport and near our Central City. For me, this plan was always about giving a voice to those who are not yet born and I think we did that today. [via twitter]

  26. Claire, 24. June 2021, 22:59

    Fleur: I doubt you have had a good look at Newtown – you could have seen all the INTACT areas Boffa Miskel recommended. The emotional and illogical decision making today was a disgrace. The character areas are the whipping boy. This will make development very difficult now.
    City for People: This will not help home affordability. And it will take a very long time to get moving. Also the type of housing we need is social housing.

  27. Pseudopanax, 25. June 2021, 1:36

    Home Owners and Renters of Newtown were betrayed and ignored by our ‘representatives’ Foon and Fitzsimons, making a mockery of the ‘consultation’ process. A compromise presented by the community and council officials on the original compulsory random 6 storey development proposals dotted amongst 1-2 storey family homes was rejected by ambitious councillors and their Politics Of Envy. Consensus? What a Joke. Newtown has a sad history of betrayal by local politicians desperate to climb their party ladders.
    There is still time to resist and reject the divisive mistruths spun by our Councillors, Generation Year Zero and Neale Jones/City For Developers. These keyboard warriors failed to stand up to open scrutiny as revealed by their determination not to have a public debate. We must not let them destroy our taonga in their quest to character-cleanse! They hide behind the lie that handing our dry and sunny family homes over to developers will deliver well designed affordable housing. Is it naive stupidity to ignore obvious development sites and land banking for their 6 plus storey apartment blocks or is it resentment at being priced out by macro economic policies, FOMO,and the unscrupulous Closed Tender system? If WE can’t have ‘em, send them to Landfill!
    For Newtown a huge opportunity to work together to provide sustainable solutions and a win-win for all has been rejected by Councillors in favour of the Neo-Colonialist Body Corporate YIMBY fad. What a waste. We can only hope that it doesn’t end here.

  28. Vitamin, 25. June 2021, 7:13

    So much time and effort wasted trying to change character and inner city areas. Will it result in cheaper housing? No. Will it get rid of mouldy rentals. No. Will houses start being demolished. Unlikely. People pay a premium for these places because they like the character. You’d have to spend ten to twenty million just buying enough adjoining properties to actually build anything meaningful, assuming all those people want to sell to the same developer. Is that really going to happen?

  29. I blame remuera, 25. June 2021, 8:13

    Waking up quite pleased this morning that sense prevailed, people not buildings make the character of a city and the housing crisis has been pushing young and low income people out and making many of those who stayed sick. We are not going to run out of old houses, no one who owns one and wants to keep it will be made to do anything else and we have an enormous number of them. On the other hand, more, more modern homes should be built. With better insulation and ventilation these should hopefully give people an option to get out of mouldy overcrowded rentals and put a dent in the extortionate rents.

  30. Vitamin, 25. June 2021, 8:15

    I might add this is like some bizarre dystopian future. Where left wing councillors vote to remove all restrictions and give developers open slather, let the free market do its thing. I believe this is where the tension arises from people who can’t understand some of the green councillors’ votes. The modern Green Party is nothing like the old school one.

  31. Claire, 25. June 2021, 9:13

    Vitamin: I agree there is no real understanding that affordability in the market will not happen – it will get more expensive. There aren’t the big sections say in Newtown and Mt Victoria that will take multi units or larger buildings. Watching yesterday I think there were career limiting grandstanding decisions. And lack of critical thinking. How cooperative will people be who were presented with a reasonable second DSP, to then be whiplashed back to a poor one. Communities wanted to work with the WCC in a reasonable way, to work out what fits and some are way ahead in their plans with people lined up to develop. Doing the WCC’s work for them. The party line makes people appear stupid, ignoring all the evidence.

  32. GK, 25. June 2021, 10:37

    Claire: Does your definition of “community” only include those who agree with you?

  33. pedge, 25. June 2021, 10:39

    I think it’s quite interesting to note that people are rarely talking about design. Why are the character protection advocates so pessimistic about new buildings? Is our new architecture so terrible, that we should give up? Why can’t we create new and exciting buildings that will give the city character in years to come?
    The development of new pieces of city to me is exciting. If you think we are building bad architecture, why not fight for much better design?

  34. Claire, 25. June 2021, 10:48

    Pedge: people are for better design that’s why architects have drawn up a plan for Newtown. To use the commercial area as a showcase of design for housing. The community (not just me) does not want buildings dotted everywhere – that is bad design.
    Gk: no. Read above article.

  35. pedge, 25. June 2021, 11:21

    Claire. I would be interested in seeing that, are there details of the plan online?

  36. K, 25. June 2021, 12:10

    Congratulations to all the brave councilors who made the courageous votes that mattered. Onwards with intensification and rapidly improving the supply of accommodation in the central city! To all those bleating about loss of character – yeah there will be plenty of single family homes removed to make way for higher multi-family residences – that is what this city needs. Great cities are made by having dense city centers gradually decreasing in intensity the further removed from the center you get. At present Wellington is in a terrible state of only high density in the heart of the city before ramming hard up against swathes of low density inner city suburbs. This needs to change. You want a single family home with a decent backyard and garage? Then head further out of the city center – or buy in an inner city suburb but be prepared to pay higher prices (due to the value of the soon to be rezoned for higher density land increasing) and also to have slightly less privacy than you would get from the further out suburbs (due to multistorey overlooking housing nearby). This is a feature, not a bug, this is the way the majority of wellingtonians want things to happen. Just think what the world’s great cities would look like if they left large amounts of single family homes surrounding their CBDs, they would all look like Los Angeles, but without the great weather. Even Auckland (Auckland!) realized this. Lastly I think one needs to put the results of this in perspective: those who lost out – the homeowners fighting to reduce intensification plans – end up with a result that makes their properties worth even more as they immediately become attractive for developers, so they can dry their tears with more bags of money.

  37. Groggy, 25. June 2021, 12:43

    Pedge – have you seen the new buildings that have been erected lately? Yes our new architecture is indeed terrible, cheap brown boxes are the order of the day. I;m not sure how you plan to fight for better design on non-notifiable developments?

  38. Claire, 25. June 2021, 13:36

    K: what a hard point of view. You are talking about homes and communities. It will not happen as you propose. And it will take a very long time. By then you will be in a villa with two kids, fighting off the next thoughtless generation.

  39. pedge, 25. June 2021, 15:37

    Groggy. People are so desperate for housing that those cheap brown boxes you refer to are getting snapped up. When people have little choice, developers have little incentive to commission great design. I don’t disagree with you that most of our new apartment buildings are pretty terrible, but they are getting built under the status quo. Maybe as a society if we stop worrying so much about old villas and so called character and focus more attention to contemporary design we might get better results.

  40. Ian, 25. June 2021, 17:25

    Whatever your views on the decisions made – WCC consulted on a plan that WCC Officers had put a lot of work into, residents then put huge work into submissions to try and have input. The day before decision making, significant changes were made by officers and councillors. This was then voted on without any input from the community, and scant analysis. What have we learned about Council consultation for the next round of the Spatial Plan?

    Presumably the Draft Spatial Plan met requirements for increased housing – how then to justify increasing the walking catchment and decreasing character areas (which I actually agree with, but not the process).

  41. Jackson, 25. June 2021, 17:55

    Ian, this was also the case when Justin Lester tabled his great idea for the Island Bay Cycle Way after the community had been through a long consultation period. It shows that it is just a box ticking exercise and the only ones councillors listen to is themselves.

  42. Newtown, 25. June 2021, 19:39

    I would love for the council to go after cowboy landlords renting out filthy mould-laden flats. Seeing these photos makes me sick. Be bold and ban/blacklist those landlords from the rental market, giving them the ultimatum to do up the flat or sell it. The derelict house in Newtown that burnt down could’ve been easily prevented if the council were more proactive.

  43. Viferpilot, 26. June 2021, 1:03

    WCC councillors – you’re dreamin’ & fiddling while Rome burns! Your faith in deregulation is misplaced (where have you been hiding?). While you tweak ‘n tinker and sacrifice a few of Wellington’s character/community areas, the property market throughout the region is screaming along. Average value rising to $1,001,732, a 10.8% increase over three months. The focus on inner city suburbs and deregulating Wellington’s celebrated character will not achieve much, or anything, concerning ‘affordable housing’ in those areas. There are MUCH bigger, harder, fundamental rocks to crush councillors.

  44. K, 26. June 2021, 9:11

    viferpilot: increasing density is the only sure fire solution to increasing supply in existing areas, to solve the issues you mention (soaring house prices, lack of affordable housing). That’s how supply and demand works, if you enable more supply, prices will fall. Economics 101. Feel free to suggest more solutions.

  45. M, 26. June 2021, 10:37

    Increasing density needs to be done well not adhoc … if not, you will be creating more damp cold and yes mouldy houses and yes apartments. Wellington is a damp place. Naive to believe the smear campaign that it is only unmaintained old houses. Lookup the so-called warm houses of the 80s 90s and 2000 that have cost billions to fix. And there are still buildings being built without eaves in wellington. Light and outdoor areas are important for mental health.

  46. James Fraser, 26. June 2021, 11:35

    Julie Ann Genter. With all due respect I’m not sure you get it… yes we can stay in our warm dry family homes, it’s when the neighbour on your northern boundary sells to a developer to build a 6-storey plus concrete apartment block that blocks the sun and turns your home and garden into a damp cold miserable wind tunnel with no privacy it becomes a nightmare. I am guessing you, James and your families don’t live in a Type 4 zone as proposed in the Spatial Plan for most of Newtown. We all agree that we should intensify, but before giving free rein to developers with no obligation to provide affordable housing, why not consider starting on sites for e.g. where Waka Kotahi have land banked and demolished housing. Could you explain how sending acres of priceless timber and materials, from family homes that have stood the test of time over decades, to landfill, replaced with carbon intensive concrete, steel and asphalt is creating a greener city? Very sad to see the Green Party abandon Sustainability when it suits your political agenda to pander to Generation Zero. What a fraud! Your timely intervention with James Shaw just prior to the Council vote was calculated to lay waste to and ignore ten months of consultations, public meetings, submissions etc, where people, who actually live in these zones, gave up hours and days of their free time to help bring about a plan that would deliver for everyone. Shame on you both!

  47. Claire, 26. June 2021, 12:42

    James: you have nailed it my friend. Janette and Rod would roll in their graves at the neo liberal green party of today.

  48. Claire, 26. June 2021, 14:28

    K: there will never be enough homes built in the market to bring house prices down; they will all make money for someone. You do need to pull levers as the Government has done. And also THEY need to build housing themselves ie subsidised. The market has been tried. Gen Z and councillors are suggesting we go back to that.

  49. M, 26. June 2021, 14:55

    K. Homeowners fighting for reduce intensification? Really? You must have missed the Newtown plan. It offered more than the WCC plan. The ideas submitted by this suburb offer intensification which focused on livable areas done well to keep Wellington a great city for all ages and situations. We all know it does not take much to become a non city or town. What is great today may not be tomorrow… so we need a plan well done, not political rhetoric.

  50. Laurie Foon, 26. June 2021, 17:39

    A vision to create a capital that attracts 20-30 year-olds would have made this easier. That’s who Welly attracts! So then we must provide for them, especially housing!! For me, that meant lifting rules and protections to enable more inner-city housing. [via twitter]

    Comments on this report are now closed, as we’ve reached the maximum that our system can hold. However you can still comment following How Councillors Voted.]