Wellington housing plan signed off after heated debate

Wellington City Council has signed off on its spatial plan – paving the way for a significant step-change in housing development.

The plan shrinks protected character areas by almost three-quarters, allows at least six-storey developments in suburban centres and along key transit routes, and expands walking catchment areas for railway station stops and the central city.

Councillors have decided not to allow unlimited building heights in the CBD, leaving them as they are ranging between eight to 28 storeys.

However, there will be a minimum building height of six storeys.

The decision was part of an almost 12-hour Planning and Environment Committee meeting that stretched into tonight.

The spatial plan is the document outlining how the city will accommodate a growing population of between 50,000 and 80,000 more people over the next 30 years.

It will act as a set of guidelines for the council’s review of the District Plan, which has the statutory teeth for new rules.

The most heated debate was over how much protection character areas in the city should get.

At the moment there are parts of the city identified as character areas, like in Thorndon and Mt Victoria.

They have blanket heritage protection where a resource consent is required to demolish any buildings built before 1930.

Councillors Rebecca Matthews and Tamatha Paul unsuccessfully tried to remove all pre-1930 character protections.

“Character homes do not mean the same thing for a generation that is locked out of housing”, Matthews said.

But they did successfully increase the walking catchments from railway station stops to 10 minutes, instead of only five.

Councillors Jenny Condie and Jill Day found support to increase them from the central city to 15 minutes, instead of only 10.

This will allow for building heights of at least six storeys within these catchments.

Councillors Laurie Foon and Fleur Fitzsimons found support for reducing character areas by 71 per cent instead of the draft plan’s proposal of 58 per cent.

Fitzsimons said this was a “compromise on character” after some difficult discussions with the community.

People have gone through a “genuine sense of grief about what they fear will happen in their neighbourhood” but have also come around to the reality that others were being shut out, Fitzsimons said.

Day said damp and old homes should not be prioritised over the basic right for people to have a roof over their head.

“This city is not a museum. We do not need to have a nostalgic city that holds us back in a period of time that doesn’t serve us now.”

Councillor Nicola Young got the numbers around the table to put the lid back on central city building heights.

She said unlimited heights would change the face of the city forever and she voiced concerns about building on marshy land and wind effects.

Young unsuccessfully tried to expand the character precincts from what was proposed in the draft spatial plan.

“We’ve missed out some areas that add a huge amount to the face of our city. These areas deserve protection and recognition.”

Young said the spatial plan has been polarised into a debate between boomer nimbys and generation zero yimbys.

Mayor Andy Foster supported Young’s amendment saying the inner suburbs were never going to do the heavy lifting for higher density development.

“I’m disappointed in this whole debate and how divisive it’s become and I think unnecessarily so.”

Councillor Iona Pannett said character buildings contributed to the city’s identity and reducing their protection would only make a “minor dent” in supply.

She said the lots were small and expensive.

“I’m worried people have been told they’re going to get affordable housing in the inner city and I just don’t think that’s going to happen.”

Paul said it was “just nuts” that her colleagues would even propose to protect more character.

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