19 Jul 2023

'Density done well' can benefit communities - Kāinga Ora

4:31 pm on 19 July 2023
Housing in Mount Victoria, Wellington.

Wellington City Council's district plan is undergoing a full review, with commissioners hearing from submitters about how the city can house more people. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Communities need to accept built environments with more density so that more people can live close to where services are, a manager of urban planning at Kāinga Ora says.

The state housing agency has spent $800,000 on lawyers, planners, and architects to help it prepare submissions on Wellington City Council's district plan review.

It is pushing for changes to the capital's housing rules including fewer protections for character buildings and allowing building heights to increase.

The agency's general manager of urban planning and design, Katja Lietz, told Morning Report that in addition to being a public housing landlord, Kāinga Ora was the government's urban development authority.

"So we do have a responsibility to facilitate and enable urban development so that we can get more homes at affordable price points in the right places."

The council's district plan is undergoing a full review, with commissioners hearing from submitters about how Wellington can house more people.

Lietz said the agency was participating in the planning process because it wanted to improve the quality of the district plans.

"I think it's really important to note that for people to thrive and to have really good lives, it is really important that they have safe and secure places to live in places where getting to work, getting to education is easy, and ideally where one can do that by public transport."

But some say the agency has an unfair advantage when it comes to submitting, given its access to lawyers, planners and architects.

Jane O'Loughlin from the liveable city advocacy group LIVEWellington yesterday called Kāinga Ora's submission ridiculous and a waste of money.

"They are asking for extreme changes to the planning laws, which most Wellingtonians would not be aware of, and they go way beyond the scope of the discussion that's already been had about the District Plan."

Council officials had already rejected most of what Kāinga Ora was asking for, but the commissioners could make up their own minds and may take a different view, O'Loughlin said.

"Even though their requests are quite extreme, we are concerned the commissioners will be obliged to take them seriously just because they've turned up and asked for this with a lot of expert evidence on their side."

Lietz said it was "really understandable" some were nervous about change but added that "density done well" could work really well for communities.

"Unless we have that critical mass of people, local shops, local schools, [and] local public transport services won't be viable," she said.

"It is important that we enable more people to live in those places where those services exist and to do so we do need to accept a different built environment that is more dense."

Lietz said she did not think retaining a suburb's character and achieving density were "mutually exclusive" things and the agency's submission was designed to ensure more people could live in neighbourhoods that had "really good services".

"For more people to live in those places, we need to enable greater density."

Wellington City Council said the commissioners' final decisions about the District Plan changes were expected to be made in March 2024.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs