15 Jun 2021

Wellington high-density housing plan gets 'substantial changes'

6:29 pm on 15 June 2021

Changes are being proposed to Wellington's Spatial Plan: the high-level zoning document which caused a stir when it came out last year.

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Photo: Wellington City Council

With the city's population forecast to grow by tens of thousands, the draft version, released last year, promotes high-density living spread across the city.

But it provoked debate over its policy reducing the protections afforded to "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," Wellington Mayor Andy Foster said, while declining to give specific details about what those changes were.

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, A City for People, spokesperson Marco Garlick's main grievance was 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."

These areas are afforded special protections which 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 took 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.

No relenting in the discussion for now

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Wellington Mayor Andy Foster. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The debate will ultimately 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.

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