Wellington City Council spends $1.7 million on experts then rejects their findings

April 28, 2024


22 April 2024

The Wellington City Council spent over $1.7 million on a set of experts to hear submissions on the District Plan, and then went on to ignore their key findings.

Costs for the independent hearings panel were requested from the council, and have been released by liveable city advocacy group LIVE WELLington.

The spend covers all of 2023 and up to February 2024, and relates to logistical costs to set up and hold the hearing, along with fees and expenses for the 8 panel members.  The scope of the request did not include council staff costs.

“It is entirely reasonable to invest this kind of money into the important process to form Wellington’s new District Plan, the city’s blueprint for at least the next 10 years,” says LIVE WELLington convenor Jane O’Loughlin.

“However it is entirely unreasonable – having invested in this expertise – to then reject key planks of the evidence provided by the panel.”

The panel of independent commissioners was charged with the role of hearing submissions from hundreds of submitters, and making recommendations to the council about the best way to balance competing interests, based on evidence put forward, and within the legal framework.

The bulk of the submissions and discussion the hearings panel heard were around several key issues, such as the extent of character areas in Wellington that should be retained.  Recommendations on these foundational issues were rejected by councillors, who voted to put forward their alternative amendments.  These are now with RMA Reform Minister Chris Bishop for a final decision.

“Rather than heed advice from their own lawyers that changes to the panel’s recommendations should be by exception, councillors made amendments that were not based on examination of the evidence, but instead reflected their own politically-driven positions.”

“Some of those councillors have been critical of the Government’s new Fast Track Bill, which removes the rights of the community to input into decision-making on important projects, however there is a strong parallel here, with council politicians deciding that they – not the public – should hold the power.”

LIVE WELLington submitted to the panel on measures to find a sensible balance between retaining Wellington’s iconic character areas and upzoning for greater density in the inner city suburbs.

LIVE WELLington strongly supports the recommendations of the independent panel of commissioners, an experienced group of urban design and legal experts, whose proposals were based on months of hearing submissions and examining witnesses.

The Independent Hearings Panel recommended that 190 hectares of the current 307 ha of character areas in Wellington be retained. This would still be compliant with the NPSUD rules and would accommodate 30 years of Wellington growth. The councillors amendments would remove three quarters of the character areas, and reduce them down to 85 ha.

Modelling provided to the council showed that the housing capacity between the two options differed by just 2% - in other words, it is possible to retain character areas while provided the needed housing.

“We can only now look to the Minister – who will be advised by legal experts - to respect the process and choose the recommendations based on evidence, made by the independent hearings panel.”