Kāinga Ora spends $800,000 to influence Wellington District Plan

July 16, 2023

Kāinga Ora has spent $800,000 hiring a vast team of lawyers, planners and architects to influence the outcome of the Wellington District Plan, drowning out local voices, says Wellington community and urban design advocacy group LIVE WELLington.

“Citizens who know and love their city and neighborhood attempt to get involved in the District Plan process however we struggle to compete with highly paid lawyers and planners flown in from other cities to argue for inappropriate planning rules that are not conducive to a liveable city,” says LIVE WELLington convenor Jane O’Loughlin.

The panel of Independent Commissioners at Wellington District Plan hearings (left) are well outnumbered by Kāinga Ora’s legal and planning team (right).

LIVE WELLington requested a breakdown of the costs Kāinga Ora has incurred as part of making submissions on the Wellington District Plan process, after observing the large number of lawyers, planners and architects involved on behalf of the agency.

The costs totalling $796,292 relate to the 2021-2022 financial year onwards, and comprise

  • $285,199 for planning
  • $110,093 for urban design
  • $32,000 for heritage
  • $30,000 for architectural
  • $338,999 for legal

The city’s District Plan sets the rules for housing and infrastructure development over the next decade and longer. 

“Although most people think Kāinga Ora’s role is to build and maintain public housing, the agency is also a urban development agency that has given itself the role of promoting the government’s controversial housing regulations – the National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS-UD), and the Medium Density Residential Standards (MDRS).

“Indeed, in a kind of attack dog role, the agency is pushing these pieces of legislation as far as they can, making submissions for radical changes to Wellington’s district plan, that would astound most Wellingtonians.

“Our city’s District Plan has been under discussion for several years and you would expect that changes now are around the margins, however Kāinga Ora is putting forward extreme ideas that have not been tested with the public.”

These include dramatic increases to allowed building heights across the whole city, from Churton Park to Kilbirnie, and adjusting the already controversial MDRS rules to allow developers to increase the shade on neighbouring properties.

They also include changes that may make Kāinga Ora’s role as a developer easier and cheaper but will not be good for the tenants of their buildings – such as removing requirements to provide access to outdoor space, and a minimum outlook.

Below are just a selection of the hundreds of changes put forward by Kāinga Ora:

  • Opposing character precincts entirely and replacing them with a toothless ‘overlay’ with no height controls
  • Requesting the that the controversial ‘walkable catchment’ that determines where the NPS-UD will apply be extended to 20 minutes – well beyond what experts recommend and beyond the 10-15 minutes thoroughly debated by the council previously.
  • Increasing allowed heights across the city including:
    • 18 metre (5 storey) heights for Churton Park, Newlands, Karori, Brooklyn, Island Bay, Hataitai (all of these areas are currently proposed to be 11 m except in some town centres)
    • 29 metres (9 storey) for parts of Miramar (currently proposed to be 11 m)
    • 21 metres (6 stories) for Ngaio, Khandallah, Kelburn (currently proposed to be 11 metres)
    • 36 metre (11 storey) heights for Johnsonville, Aro Valley, Newtown, Kilbirnie (whereas these areas are currently proposed to be mainly either 11 or 21 m)
    • 43 metres (14 storey) heights for Mt Victoria and Mt Cook (currently proposed to be a mix of 11 and 21 metres)
  • Changing the height in relation to boundary (HIRB) from 5 to 6 metres for the medium density zone which is most of the city, thereby increasing allowable shade from neighbouring properties)
  • Removing design guides from the District Plan so that they are informal guidance only.
  • Removing special rules for multi-unit housing
  • Removing requirements that apartments should provide access to outdoor living space
  • Removing requirements that apartments should allow tenants an outlook space.

“Whatever you think about those matters, it should be up to the community and city to decide them, not a government agency coming in at the last minute.  It is it’s totally unrealistic and against natural justice to change such important matters at this late stage when the wider public is largely unaware.”

The government has set an expectation that higher density is required and the Wellington City Council has responded to that with what is already a significantly different proposed District Plan which already provides far more capacity than is required for forecast population increases (the PDP will provide for 50,000 more people whereas the population increase projection is 36,000).

The process of presenting evidence to an independent commissioners’ panel is still underway and no final decisions have been made. 

“Groups like ours have spent many hours of volunteer time reading hundreds of pages of submissions from government agencies like  Kāinga Ora and Waka Kotahi in order to provide some balance to this debate which is otherwise dominated by groups with the most access to lawyers and other experts.

“It’s unfair and undesirable that a central government agency with access to so many resources is skewing the pitch like this.

“Most of the more radical submissions have been opposed by the council’s officers, which indicates Kāinga Ora’s involvement has been unhelpful, and an expensive waste of time.”

“We can only hope that Commissioners will also give Kāinga Ora short shrift.”