15 Mar 2024

Housing advocacy groups celebrate big changes to Wellington's zoning rules

8:41 am on 15 March 2024
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Wellington city councillors have voted to increase housing density, reduce heritage protection and increase the amount of housing near rail lines. Photo: 123rf

Housing advocacy groups and pro-density councillors are delighted by changes to Wellington's proposed district plan, after a series of amendments were made by councillors at Thursday's meeting.

Amid a housing crisis in the capital, the Wellington City Council has broadly rejected a plan criticised for not doing enough to encourage more houses, drawn up by an independent hearing panel.

At Thursday's meeting, councillors passed a number of amendments to the plan which determines the city's planning rules.

The final say now rests with Housing Minister Chris Bishop, who can either accept the changes, or go with the original plan drawn up by the panel.

A number of heritage protections were lifted - among them, the Gordon Wilson Flats, a run-down former social housing complex owned by Victoria University, which has sat empty for years.

The university, which wants to use the space to extend its campus, said it was delighted by the decision.

The changes also sought to re-classify the Johnsonville train line as "rapid transit", allowing buildings up to six storeys high near its train stations.

Councillor Nīkau Wi Neera refuted criticism that the line was not busy enough to warrant it.

"A lot of the complaints are about frequency, which is a result of patronage, which is a result of housing. So obviously the patronage is not going to be extremely high because we've zoned it so restrictively."

Luke Somervell from the group City for People said they were stoked with the amendments which would allow higher buildings in more places.

"The assumptions of people on the panel were so out of touch and out of step with the evidence," he said. "We were worried that councillors would listen to them, instead of what people want.

"A lot of people want more housing, they want to live in apartments, in fact they'll take anything at this stage, really."

He said increasing the housing stock would alleviate the long queues at flat viewings symptomatic of the competitive rental market, and make it harder for landlords to rent run-down places at high prices.

But Jane O'Laughlin from the group Live Wellington, a proponent of maintaining character areas, said the decision was an insult to anyone who submitted on the district plan, as it had undone the work by the panel.

She said removing rules about what can be built in character areas would not increase the housing stock.

"The big barrier to housing in Wellington has not been zoning, it has been the economics of building," she said. "And that was made clear in the commissioner's hearing, where developers told them there was no shortage of land, there was no shortage of sites."

Councillor Tony Randle was also unimpressed with the amended plan, saying it pushed density beyond what was reasonable.

"You've got Hay Street [in Oriental Bay], a totally steep street, now supposedly going to have six-storey apartments on it, which is ridiculous."

Councillor Iona Pannett said she was disappointed in the changes.

"Essentially it's a neo-lib, pro-market approach to getting houses built, and people just won't get them at the prices they really need."

A spokesperson for Housing Minister Chris Bishop said at this stage it would be inappropriate for him to comment.

Meanwhile, proponents of a city with more homes to go around were holding out hope that he would agree to the changes.

Nīkau Wi Neera said it had been a long time coming.

"To the students of Wellington, to the renters of Wellington, to the working people of Wellington, to the young families, to the retirees, we did this for you guys. We really wanted to get that housing across the line, and that's finally what we've done."

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