8 May 2024

Wellington zoning changes backed by minister, but not all are happy with decisions

10:57 pm on 8 May 2024
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Photo: 123rf

The capital can increase housing intensity after RMA Reform Minister Chris Bishop's decisions on Wellington's District Plan.

Wellington City Council put forward its own recommendations for the plan after rejecting a range from an Independent Hearings Panel in March.

He rejected the council's recommendation to remove heritage protections from several buildings, saying it did not provide sufficient evidence to support its reasons for removing their protection.

But he sided with recommendations from the panel to enable building heights of six storeys within a 10-minute walkable catchment from the Kilbirnie Metropolitan Centre Zone.

He also agreed to zoning a strip of Adelaide Road as City Centre Zone (the hearings panel wanted it zoned as mixed use), classifying the Johnsonville train line as rapid transit, and exempting developments of one to three residential units in medium and high-density residential zones from minimum front and side yard requirements.

Councillor Ben McNulty said he was mostly happy with Bishop's decisions.

"This is probably the most fundamental thing in the control of council we can do, whilst the heritage loss is slightly frustrating overall, I'm ecstatic and full credit to Minister Bishop for making some genuinely bold and decisive calls here."

One of the major wins for the council was the higher density rule changes near the CBD, McNulty said.

"We know that people generally want to work close to where they live.

"That's not a uniquely Wellington or New Zealand thing, that is a uniquely human thing and in Wellington, where we have a very large CBD population people want to live in that walking distance."

He said the changes around the Johnsonville line were fantastic because it created more ratepayers with less marginal costs to add them to the city.

But councillor Tony Randle was not impressed and questioned where Bishop was getting his advice from about the Johnsonville line decision.

"I think Chris is passionate about getting housing, much as all councillors are, but being passionate and good-intentioned isn't enough really to put together the rules of how a city [should] be put together.

"It's just not a rapid transit service and saying it is, is just not going to change anything other than enable housing that's inappropriate along the Johnsonville line."

He was concerned bad rules would lead to bad results.

Tamatha Paul

Tamatha Paul. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Wellington Central MP Tamatha Paul was stoked with the changes to zoning in the central city.

"It means that we will have way more capacity in Wellington City and that we can build where people are, where people's work is [and] where their studies are."

She said some of the buildings on the heritage list were a complete waste of time and space.

Paul hoped Bishop would find a way to "do something productive with those buildings".

"He needs to make it really clear that our city is not a museum."

Wellington mayor Tory Whanau said Bishop accepting nine of 10 zoning changes was a step forward for Wellington and "shows commitment from both local and central government to fixing our housing crisis".

But she said she council would continue to work with him on making it easier to delist heritage buildings.

The future of Gordon Wilson Flats

Councillor Iona Pannett did not support the reduction in character protections that the minister had backed.

"It's just a shame that politicians have got involved in deciding how to do property development when it's not their expertise."

Pannett used to live in the Gordon Wilson Flats and supported the minister's decision to keep protections for the building.

"It's a very significant heritage building [and] a very important part of our modernist history."

Victoria University of Wellington was disappointed that the Gordon Wilson Flats' would not be delisted.

"This decision delays our intention to develop options to use the site for providing student accommodation at a time when housing availability and affordability is impacting our students' wellbeing and achievement," Victoria University chief operating officer Tina Wakefield said.

Back in 2022, the university made a submission to WCC's Proposed District Plan requesting the delisting of 320 The Terrace where the Gordon Wilson Flats are.

"At that time, we considered the Gordon Wilson Flats had insufficient heritage value to warrant inclusion in the Heritage schedule. We support the Mayor in her request to have further discussions regarding delisting of heritage buildings.

"We will need to reconsider our options for how best to allow this valuable site to be used again by the university's staff, student and wider Wellington community."

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