Wellington’s new council – what does it mean for housing and planning?

October 26, 2022

With a new Wellington city council now in place, it’s time to examine the views of our new councillors on urban form, housing and a liveable city.

During the election, the excellent website Policy.nz asked candidates around the country to submit their policies and priorities under a range of headings, including ‘housing and planning’.  Using this, LIVE WELLington has extracted the policies of our new Wellington City councillors.  This summary table is available here, and our analysis follows.

First of all, it’s worth noting we now have 16 councillors – up one on the usual 15 with the addition of the new Māori ward representative, and two up on the last year of the last council which decided against replacing councillor Malcolm Sparrow when he resigned a year ago.

Given the cost of housing in Wellington it is perhaps no surprise that most councillors include in their policies the desire to provide ‘affordable homes’.   

Most talk about supporting densification to achieve this, though a couple (Ray Chung, John Apanowicz, Tony Randle) are interested in opening up new green fields land to achieve this, while Nicola Young specifies ‘brown fields’ development.

Mayor Tory Whanau wants to partner with Kāinga Ora to achieve this, Teri O’Neill wants to partner with mana whenua, and Tim Brown says he will work with ‘developers, iwi, and institutions’.

Tim Brown, John Apanowicz, Diane Calvert, and Ray Chung talk about the need to review the cost of consenting, to reduce the cost of new housing. Labour candidates, whose policies are mostly identical, say they want to ‘drive and resource increased and faster consenting of housing development’.

Many left-leaning candidates speak about ‘supporting and strengthening’ the District Plan. Labour councillors Rebecca Matthews, Ben McNulty and Nureddin Abdurahman all provide identical wording: ‘Strengthen and support the spatial and district plan to maximise the delivery of accessible, affordable housing choices throughout the city’.  What does it mean to ‘strengthen’ the Spatial Plan, a document that was agreed more than a year ago? Who knows, but whatever it means we can assume Labour councillors will all be singing from the same song sheet.

One area where we may find heads nodding more generally is the development of the Adelaide Road area. Labour councillors (again in unison) say they want to ‘drive an urban re-development programme as part of Lets Get Wellington Moving between the CBD and Newtown that includes housing’.  This is a very similar message to the one promoted by new Mayor Tory Whanau (‘Deliver quality, affordable housing together with light rail through an urban revitalisation corridor from the waterfront to the hospital’) and not far off the message from Nicola Young (‘Regenerate brown field sites for mixed-use housing. Adelaide Road should be a planned precinct with parks, local shops – and housing’).

Could it be we find early common ground on urban design? Here at LIVE WELLington we’ll count that as a win – development of the Adelaide Road area is what we’ve been advocating as a priority for a year so it’s great that the message has gotten through.

Improving the city’s green spaces is mentioned by a few such as Nīkau Wi Neera and Laurie Foon who wants to: ‘Create more green spaces in denser areas with space to grow food and composting. Make a native street tree policy for the whole city!’

Apart from green spaces, ideas on improving streetscape, creating neighbourhoods, or great urban design, are in short supply. Diane Calvert wants to ‘re-introduce neighbourhood/precinct planning’, Tamatha Paul mentions ‘liveable’ homes, and we must mention Tory Whanau’s idea (not in the ‘housing’ section but too good to leave out) of daylighting underground streams: ‘bringing our awa out of the pipes, and using water sensitive urban design’.

Nicola Young is the only councillor to talk about protection of character and heritage suburbs.  (It should be noted that Iona Pannett did not fill this particular survey in, however her support for character and heritage is well known).

A few mentioned the need to improve the performance of existing homes, such as Sarah Free who wants to ‘support organisations like Sustainability Trust to provide insulation and energy efficiency advice so everyone can live in warm dry homes’.

Other themes were initiatives to end homelessness and to support council housing tenants.

Stepping back, it appears the council is fairly unified in wanting to provide more housing, but seems less interested in building a city made up of cohesive neighbourhoods, that retain Wellington’s character and heritage where possible.

It’s likely that once again the council will be fairly evening split on the fraught issues of densification and character retention, although some of the new independent councillors’ views on this are untested.

LIVE WELLington hopes that all councillors will retain an open mind when it comes to decision making, and take into account evidence and changing context, but we’re not holding our breath.

It’s likely that the Labour councillors will continue to stick to the Government’s controversial party lines when it comes to housing and planning policy, which means no change from last term.

We’ll continue to provide the facts and stories to promote policies for a liveable city that retains and promotes a good balance of amenity and heritage alongside well-planned new developments to provide a range of housing.  The new District Plan will finally face the scrutiny of independent commissioners in the new year – it will be interesting to see if that process makes any difference to the highly politicised decision-making of the past year and a half.