14 Mar 2024

Wellington City Council votes to increase housing density

6:04 pm on 14 March 2024
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An independent panel recommended increased character housing protections in Wellington, but councillors rejected the recommendation (file photo]. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Wellington city councillors have voted to increase housing density, reduce heritage protection and increase the amount of housing near rail lines.

The council has been thrashing out amendments to its District Plan throughout Thursday.

The plan determines the rules for building in the city, and is based on recommendations from an Independent Panel.

The council decided to reject many of those recommendations, including that the Johnsonville train line not qualify as a rapid transit service.

The rejection meant areas around that line would be allowed to be built up to at least six storeys - a change brought in by the government in 2020.

The council also voted to reject recommendations for character housing protections and to shrink the city's 'character areas' from 206 hectares to 85.

It decided to do away with heritage protections on a range of buildings, including the earthquake prone, derelict Gordon Wilson Flats which is owned by Victoria University.

The Miramar Gas Tank, Emeny House, Kahn House, Olympus Apartments, Wharenui Apartments, Robert Stout Building, Primitive Methodist Church, Johnsonville Masonic Hall and Star of the Sea Chapel also had their heritage protections removed.

It also chose to reject the panel's recommendation and allow Newtown's Adelaide Road to further densify.

A recent view of the flats' walkway, taken from the university's virtual reality project.

The derelict Gordon Wilson flats have lost their heritage protections. Photo: Victoria University

These decisions will now be up to Resource Management Act Reform Minister Chris Bishop to decide on.

Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau said the changes were needed to lower emissions and make the city more affordable.

"For me, the choice is simple. I want to lead a Wellington that is a modern, thriving city, where homes are affordable, where people can walk, bike and bus wherever they need to go."

She said she wanted to make sure Wellington was planning and building for the next generation - "a generation who will bring their talent and ideas and add to our city's rich history, culture and economy".

To allow that to happen, there needed to be "abundant and affordable places for them to live", she said.

Wellington risked brain drain if the changes were not made, Whanau said.

Councillor Nikau Wi Neera said the council, in passing the amendments, had "ensured a generation of working people, of students, of families of retirees, anyone who is in desperate need of housing in the city, will be able to achieve that".

Councillor Ben McNulty said the plan was delivering on the dream.

"What a bloody good district plan we have landed on, I am very stoked."

Tory Whanau

Mayor Tory Whanau said she wanted Wellington to be a "modern, thriving city". Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

But not all councillors were fans of the decision.

Councillor Tony Randle told RNZ the plan was not really for the city's benefit.

"It's really been dominated by the green, red councillors around the table who are determined to make the city denser way beyond what is reasonable."

Randle said the councillors had not really given the Independent Hearing Panel respect.

Iona Pannett was also not a fan of the plan -particularly the stripping of heritage protections for the Gordon Wilson Flats.

"I am really concerned about the process because both the independent commisioners and the environment court have declared that it has heritage value, and it's housing and it should not be demolished for a university gateway.

"It can be restored and it's a wonderful example, it's the only one [of its building type] left in the country."

Parts of the proposed District Plan not related to housing and other densification, including hospital and tertiary zones, will be considered over the course of 2024.

The Independent Hearing Panel will report back to the council with its recommendations on the remainder of the plan in early 2025.

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