- What is Live Wellington’s view on housing?
- What’s wrong with the spatial plan and draft district plan?
- Why has so much land been upzoned?
- But don’t we need to upzone land to accommodate our growing population?
- Are we short of housing or short of affordable housing?
- What is underutilised land and why is it important?
- What is the role of the planning system in our housing crisis?
- What are the risks of removing a lot of the planning rules?
- What is Live Wellington’s solution?
What is Live Wellington’s view on housing?
Live Wellington wants all people to have warm, dry affordable homes in thriving communities. We want to do this in ways that meet the needs of both existing and new residents, so that we build on the strengths of both and create a great future together. Council and government could start by asking communities “how can you welcome more people” and then work out the answer together.
To deal with the immediate crisis, we need to focus on making good use of underutilised land as a priority. This means we can create more housing more quickly and have these conversations about the longer term.
What’s wrong with the spatial plan and draft district plan?
The spatial plan (finalised by the Wellington City Council on 24 June) and the District Plan (being consulted on until 2022) propose radical changes to height limits and permitted housing activities across Wellington’s inner city suburbs.
The city council chose to push central government planning guidance to the limits, to impact as many neighborhoods as possible with a requirement to allow 6 storey plus apartment blocks as of right throughout much of city’s inner suburbs.
Instead of concentrating medium density townhouses and apartments towards obvious areas that are ripe for development, and positioned along infrastructure corridors, this is likely to result in an ugly pepperpotting effect across a broad range of the city, putting pressure on infrastructure, and creating a disjointed cityscape.
Why has so much land been upzoned?
The council assumes that only a very small proportion of rezoned land will be developed – 14% or lower for anything zoned over 3 storeys. (See Citywide Growth Figure Information Sheet )
This low assumed uptake rate means that huge amounts of land must be rezoned in order to get the numbers of houses needed to meet projected demand.
The impact is that development then gets scattered across a large area, instead of being grouped appropriately in one area.
We say this needs to change – other policy measures are needed to encourage the development of housing where the city actually wants it, based on infrastructure and transport investment. This means that a smaller amount of land overall needs to be rezoned, and it will be less expensive for the city to provide services.
But don’t we need to upzone land to accommodate our growing population?
We need more houses, but there is already land available for apartments and medium density living.
Te Aro and Newtown in particular have a lot of areas of underutilised land, which could provide housing for large numbers of people. These brownfields sites have the advantage of being along the infrastructure spine, and close to transport hubs.
It makes sense to develop these sites first.
Are we short of housing or short of affordable housing?
Maybe a little bit of both, but the real gap is affordable housing. This is a legacy of a 25 year gap in public investment in housing. The private sector has continued building houses, with numbers going up and down in relation to prices and economic activity, but without public housing investment we have seen the housing mix change drastically.
New builds have increasingly been aimed at the top end of the market and have been often purchased by people who already own houses and have ready access to finance. So while we are building more homes than ever before, affordability has been going down. This pattern has nothing to do with the planning system and tweaking the planning system won’t fix it.
What is underutilised land and why is it important?
Throughout our city are many sites that sit idle or underutilised. Huge tracts of land are crying out for leadership to develop the homes, green spaces and small business facilities we all deserve. Live Wellington defines underutilised land as land that
- allowed to be developed for housing and mixed use under current planning rules
- is vacant, used for storage and parking, or occupied by low-quality low-rise commercial development
We also include derelict buildings.
Many of these sites are close to public transport and could be developed to create strong hearts for new 15 minute communities. There is enough underutilised land to provide tens of thousands of quality homes across the city close to public transport and local facilities.
What is the role of the planning system in our housing crisis?
The District Plan controls what people can build on a site, and so it’s natural to ask whether those rules have affected how much housing has been built.
But on the other hand, these rules don’t compel anyone build on a particular site, and so we need to be careful about jumping to conclusions. We need to look at how much spare capacity there is under the current rules, because if there is a lot of underutilised land there could be a variety of impediments preventing development
Wellington has a very large amount of underutilised land. The planning rules have nothing to do with this. Planning rules are always a source of grumbling but when we look at this under-developed land we realise that there must be something else going on.
What are the risks of removing a lot of the planning rules?
If the planning rules aren’t the main problem, then removing them may lead to unintended consequences rather than more housing. Planning rules deal with things like sunlight, character and design. Getting rid of rules may simply mean that the quality of the urban environment is reduced with little gain for housing. Without sunlight and shading rules for example, one new home may shade two existing homes, potentially creating damp issues.
New Zealand has had lots of experience with deregulation promising great results and leaving a legacy of problems instead; leaky homes problems are an obvious example in the area of building.
Planning rules are also a tool to ensure that housing development, infrastructure and transport investment are all coordinated. Planning and sequencing where development occurs so that it aligns with transport and infrastructure reduces costs and provides greater certainty for everyone. A hands-off approach to where new development occurs makes coordinating major investments much harder.
What is Live Wellington’s solution?
Wellington needs to adapt and evolve in order to meet the challenges of the future, not just in terms of providing housing, but to address the climate crisis and the many other crises that face us all. LIVE WELLington proposes a holistic approach grounded in planning, partnerships and participation. There are six key aspects of our solution
start with no regrets options, coordinate investment and adapt our plans as we go.
start by asking communities "how can you welcome new people, new houses while protecting the liveability and quality of your community"?
Some suburbs in Wellington have been proactive and done this without even being invited. Newtown is a great example. There is potential for this approach to protect people’s sense of community, to protect our democracy and to deliver change in a way that builds on our strengths rather than undermines the coherence of our city.
start to deliver changes Wellington needs, by working together; this includes local government, central government agencies, private developers, and communities. We need a plan that works for everyone, and where everyone can see how it works. The key broker in facilitating this ought to be our city council, with mana whenua alongside.
start to focus on the quality of our built environment through great urban design principles, integrated planning and learning from the best examples of overseas.
start to improve the quality of existing housing by fixing the buildings that need fixing so rental homes are warm, dry homes, and ensuring that new builds are constructed and located so that they are great places to live.
start to protect what what is already good about Wellington, and ensure we evolve together rather than being mired in conflicts that have been artificially created. Wellington’s liveability, character and heritage can be protected at the same time as new housing is added.
You can find more detail under Resources.