This is a guest post by reader Frank McRae

Wellington’s housing crisis has dramatically worsened over the last few years with rapidly rising rents, record low listings, and lines down the street for flat viewings. Remarkably then Wellington City Council has just voted, against the advice of their own experts, to remove eight key Special Housing Areas which were setup to help ease the city’s housing shortage. This is a move that will ultimately make it harder to build the houses needed to fix Wellington’s broken housing market, exacerbating the city’s affordability crisis and the social problems that come with it.  

Special Housing Areas

In August 2017 nine Special Housing Areas (SHAs) were established across Wellington City. These would allow for the construction of more homes in specially selected areas to alleviate the city’s mounting affordability problems. The nine SHAs were located in the suburbs of Mount Cook, Te Aro, Thorndon, Johnsonville, Woodridge, Glenside, and Churton Park.

In 2013 the government passed the Housing Accords and Special Housing Areas Act. The aim of this legislation was to boost housing supply in areas with significant affordability problems. This legislation correctly identified overly restrictive planning rules as a barrier to boosting housing supply, and allowed for the establishment of Special Housing Areas in areas with appropriate infrastructure and a demonstrated demand for residential housing.

SHAs do not provide “carte blanche” to developers. Developments are still required to go through a consenting process but SHAs generally give development an easier path with:

  • A more streamlined consenting process
  • No public notification
    • Limited appeals to the Environment Court

Public notification may seem like an innocuous means of transparency but it is not really about informing the public. In practice it hands objection rights against development to every member of the public. Full public notification allows any person to submit against a development for almost any reason. And any person who submits then has a right to be heard in an official hearing process. Further, once a resource consent decision is made following hearings, submitters have a right to appeal the decision to the Environment Court. This all adds significant cost and uncertainty to development, and ultimately when costs and uncertainty are too high then developers just won’t attempt to build at all.    

In SHAs, notification and the objection rights that come with it, are generally limited to adjacent property owners and infrastructure providers. This reduces costs and uncertainty for developers, but still allows those directly affected by development to have their say.    

Perhaps the most important aspect of the SHAs is that they provide a presumption that these areas will be developed for housing. This contrasts with the usual District Plan approach which, in practice, assumes that the city will retain its existing form and assesses potential developments against its impact on that.

The Wellington SHAs were due to lapse in August 2018. Council planning staff recommended extending them to September 2019 at which point the special housing legislation would expire. In a 7-8 vote Wellington’s councillors voted against continuing all except one SHA, the Arlington apartments in Mount Cook.

Of the eight SHAs voted out, the three most significant were Adelaide Road in Mount Cook, the Johnsonville centre, and Te Aro at the southern end of the CBD. The Adelaide Road area in particular is worth a closer look.

The Adelaide Road SHA

The Adelaide Road SHA is notable for being an ideal area for intensified urban housing. It meets all the conditions for creating a quality, sustainable urban development.

It is a large area. It is located on the fringe of the CBD on a high frequency bus route that may convert to light rail in the future. It has access to abundant open space with the city’s town belt network adjacent. It is proximate to the universities, hospital, and a number of schools. The existing “character” of the area is visible in the image below.

The pristine automotive repair shops that Wellington’s Green Party councillors saved from the scourge of more homes

The Adelaide Road Special Housing Area

Adelaide Road, Mount Cook and its surroundings. CBD proximity and an abundance of open space.

The Vote

Councillors Calvert, Calvi-Freeman, Foster, Free, Lee, Pannett, Sparrow, and Woolf all voted against continuing Wellington’s eight Special Housing Areas. Most hypocritically of these were the three Green Party councillors  Free, Lee, and Pannet. The three Green Party representatives voted against the SHAs despite the fact that these would enable the city to grow in the most sustainable way possible, and despite the social justice issues that stem from unaffordable housing.

Friends of the landlords: the eight Wellington City councillors who voted against affordable housing.

When pressed, the councillors provided a variety of reasons for voting down the SHAs.

Councillor Pannett argued that “Wellington can’t accommodate endless people”. This is despite the fact there is no link between construction and the number of people that exist. People don’t go away when you restrict construction, they are just forced into greater hardship. Also Wellington doesn’t need to provide for “endless growth”, just enough to keep up with its moderately growing population.  

Councillor Pannett’s claims about infrastructure and green space are strange given that all Special Housing Areas were required to have sufficient infrastructure as a condition of them becoming SHAs, and Wellington City has an abundance of green space. This can be seen in the aerial photo of the Adelaide Road area above.

Pannett also claimed that the SHAs would somehow present issues for climate change. It is unclear whether she is referring to the environmental impact of the developments themselves or their vulnerability to sea level rise. Neither are valid concerns.

By enabling more compact housing in central locations the SHAs will allow more people to reduce their auto dependence and energy use. The alternative to building in these central areas is to build in distant suburbs where people will drive more and live in larger, more energy intensive housing.

The only one of these SHAs that could possibly be vulnerable to sea level rise is in the CBD area of Te Aro. This is already one of the most intensely built up parts of the country. If sea level rise is really a problem here then the city has much bigger problems.     

Councillors Free and Lee claimed that instead of building more houses we should look to utilise the city’s empty homes. There is no evidence that Wellington has an unusual number of empty homes (other than perhaps in earthquake prone buildings) and even if there was it is not clear how they could be utilised to help solve the housing shortage.

Councillor Calvi-Freeman had concerns about preserving the sanctity of the existing Wellington District Plan, despite that plan being 18 years old and thoroughly ill-equipped to enable sufficient housing growth.  

Another common refrain of the councillors was that the SHAs were “undemocratic” in that they provide reduced means of objecting to and appealing development. As far as objection rights against development are a democratic right, they are one that conflicts with other democratic rights, like the right to adequate housing, and the rights of landowners to use their land as the see fit. Further, there would be nothing “undemocratic” about special housing areas established by a democratically elected central government and the vote of a democratically elected city council.  

Finally, a number of councillors claimed that the SHAs haven’t provided enough affordable housing yet to justify themselves.

Any single measure to improve affordability is going to do so incrementally but that doesn’t mean that we should cancel something that makes it easier to add housing just because it hasn’t instantly solved the problem. That would be like shutting down a soup kitchen because it hasn’t solved world hunger.   

The politics of housing

The reason city councillors vote against measures that would improve housing affordability is that the people that vote for and lobby them tend to be older, richer, and home-owning. Councillors do not generally represent the interests of the young, of renters, of the less well-off, because these people tend not to participate in local government politics.   

However, this need not always be the case. Auckland’s politics was firmly captured by home owning interests until younger people started taking notice. Efforts like the Spinoff’s War for Housing, the Coalition for More Homes, and the work of Generation Zero, helped shift Auckland’s politics towards better housing policy. Now that the housing crisis has spread to Wellington similar efforts are needed.     

Special Housing Areas are not perfect, nor are they a complete solution to the housing crisis on their own. But they are considerably better at enablinging homes to be built than the status quo of the District Plan. Our unaffordable cities need to provide much less restrictive planning rules and a presumption in favour of development in inner areas if they are to have any chance of building the houses they need. In voting against the Special Housing Areas, Wellington’s eight councillors have unfortunately set Wellington in the wrong direction.

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  1. Maybe we can set up a lobby group to campaign against these councilors in next years election and try and replace them with ones more friendlier to more housing

  2. Totally disagree with your attitude Frank – the SHA process was a complete disaster, and the councillors were right to send it packing. I’m not sure whether SHA ever worked in Auckland, but they certainly have not worked in Wellington. It has been an unqualified disaster in Shelly Bay, that’s for sure, where a piece of land like that should have had long and thoughtful discussion, rather than designs being prepared and then presented fait accompli, without the local community having any say so.

    There should be no shame in having projects go through the Notification process. In fact, it’s rude not to. SHA rules say, in effect, we don’t care what is built – its completely up to you. Well Frank, I do care, and I think that all who care need to be able to have a say. Secret developments with no comeback have no place in NZ society.

    1. “without the local community having any say so.”

      The local community get input through the district plan and other subsidary plans. People shouldn’t get to veto local development and removing that veto was the best thing the SHAs did.

      1. How local is local Sailor? No one at present lives right ON that part of Adelaide Road, but plenty – including me – live within 5 minutes walk, and I used to work there for years as well. There is no doubt that it is an area ripe for development.

        What Adelaide Road in particular needs is a co-ordinated, well-designed scheme, that takes into account the need for a high-speed public transport link through the centre, the 4 schools that are at one end of it and the major hospital at the other end, the Governor General’s palace and the watercourse running underground through there, as well as a desire for it to be a major area for housing growth. The last thing it needs is developers proposing piece-meal low-cost housing without being part of an overall plan. That’s the real reason why Adelaide Road is not an SHA.

        1. What you are saying is that it needs to be a big expensive controlled development or nothing. And in that case investors are choosing the nothing option.
          I’m not convinced that rules and regulations and consultations have ever achieved a better outcome than the free market. In general investors will build what people are wanting.

        2. Nope, not saying that at all – I’m saying that there needs to be a masterplan of what should happen in place, before anyone goes off and starts doing piecemeal developments. It’s a rundown shithole at present, waiting for Council to set the agenda. It won’t be expensive housing – that happens down at the waterfront – it is perfectly placed for decent quality worker housing, coordinated with the (eventual) rapid public transport system that is meant to happen here.

          Exactly why it hasn’t happened here yet, I don’t know. I’ll see if I can get a Councillor to front up about that.

    2. Guy, can you fill us in on the main problems with the Shelly Bay development because from the renders I see only high buildings against an empty ridge with no surrounding housing. Can understand traffic pressure being an issue but I figure there must be more to it than that. Any good articles?

      1. Sacha – It is not suited for housing, as it is one of the most wind swept and salt sprayed area of inner Wellington Harbour as it is in direct line of the northerly wind flow that is funneled by the hills at the northern western side of the harbour.

        1. Surely those who are going to reside there are capable of deciding for themselves whether it is too windy and there is too much salt. Why should other people be making that decision for them?

        2. More of an issue IMO is infrastructure who’s paying to upgrade road, water, sewers, etc. Couple of km of narrow winding road with no footpath. And what’s planned for public tranport, etc.

        3. gk is right – the major stows between the Council and the public is that it is widely perceived that the developer has pulled a swift one over the Council – leaving the Council with a bill for several millions in putting in major amounts of new infrastructure, as well as coming up with a plan for massive increase in the amount of cars out of the development.

          But there is another thing about Shelley Bay that stinks – the fact that it was land given back to the local iwi, and there was a feeling that they may have been going to have it as land for their people – which would have been a great solution in my mind. Instead, they decided (and are perfectly within their rights) to sell out / joint venture to a developer, and target the housing at rich people instead of their own kiwi. I dunno – it just feels wrong.

        4. Doesn’t most of Roseneath fall into that category as well? It’s Wellington, of course it’s going to be windy.

        5. The Roseneath ridge is “specific engineered design” in WCC’s wind zoning: even higher than Shelly Bay (which is only “extra high”).

        6. Just ’cause you don’t like it …

          “Too windy” – this is Wellington, by that logic it shouldn’t have been built. Isn’t even in the highest wind zone – only “extra high” not “specific engineered design”. So less windy than many of Wellington’s developed ridge lines.

          “Too much salt spray” – doesn’t seem to put people off existing coastal properties – could say the same about Oriental Bay or the other side of Evans Bay (Greta Point, etc). Then there’s the South Coast with large southerly storms…

        7. GK – Oriental Bay, Greta Point, Lyall Bay and the south coast are more sheltered from the northly winds, as you know is the predominant wind in Wellington. I have lived and worked at Shelly Bay and its one place I wouldn’t live compared to other coastal areas of Wellington city.

          With regards to your comment – “who’s paying to upgrade road, water, sewers, etc. Couple of km of narrow winding road with no footpath. And what’s planned for public transport, etc”, the Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust who is planning to develop Shelly Bay wants the Wellington City Council to pay for it.

    3. 1. I can see that Shelley bay is a special site that has greater than average public interest. The same can not be said for the other SHAs.

      2. What is a disaster about Shelley Bay? If you acknowledge that that area is to be converted into housing what is wrong with the proposed design?

      3. There is nothing “secret” about SHAs. They are made SHAs through a public process and it is presumed they will be developed for housing. Also the people directly affected do get notified.

      1. Frank McRae – Everything is wrong about Shelly Bay. It is not suited for housing, as it is most wind swept and salt sprayed area of Wellington Harbour as it is in direct line of the northerly wind flow that is funneled by the hills at the northern western side of the harbour.

        1. Surely those who are going to reside there are capable of deciding for themselves whether it is too windy and there is too much salt. Why should other people be making that decision for them?

        2. I think its a great spot for some apartments, on a high frequency bus route, within easy walking distance of both Miramar and Kilbirnie town centres and on one of the new urban cycleways into the city. It should have been developed years ago.

        3. Jezza – I spent 4 years of my military career living and working a Shelly Bay and it is place that I wouldn’t spend $500,000 plus to live there. On a calm day is great but once that northly wind starts its not pleasant.

        4. Kris – I wouldn’t particularly want to live their either but that’s not the point. If people are willing to buy apartments there they should be allowed to do so, they shouldn’t be stopped just because you and I wouldn’t enjoy living there.

      2. In answer to question 2, what is wrong with the proposed design? It is a car dependent 1970s model that lacks sympathy with the landscape and lacks any housing for the iwi group who are supplying the land, A 2020 model might have had variation in form and style, with a heavy emphasis on co-housing, a zero-car approach because of the narrow roads, with a heavy emphasis on car-sharing and sustainable transport instead, a group heating scheme to enhance energy efficiency, the road running to the rear rather that separating housing and water…. I could go on at length. I know a few of the younger Maori members of the iwi group who are partnering in this and they are frustrated at the lack of both a kaitiaki role for iwi and the low financial return from the plans. A more visionary approach would have delivered a far high qualty outcome for everyone.

    4. We don’t need to have ‘long and thoughtful discussion’ when we build a stand alone house on an existing section, I can make it as ugly as I want. Why does this need to be the case for a larger development on Adelaide Road or Shelly Bay?

      All this achieves is making small developments easier and bigger developments harder, pretty much a guaranteed way to ensure things a piecemeal.

      1. Exactly. There’s been no long and thoughtful discussion preventing the car dependent MacMansions with multiple vehicle crossings, which make cycling and walking more dangerous and which provide NO new homes. Yet that’s what my suburb is being filled with. The apartment buildings going in even have a better permeable / impermeable ratio than the standalones which are covered in driveways and hard stand areas.

    5. Guy, there is shame in having projects go through the Notification process; that’s where the complete disaster has been. Has Co-haus been granted consent yet or has that fantastic thoughtful development been skewered by the notification process? They had to notify over 100 residents, I believe! Now, imagine if the HNZ developments around here had to be notified. OMG. I’m so ashamed of what my locals were saying about those developments.

      What could possibly be so bad about these SHA areas on Adelaide Rd that is worse than having kids without houses, moved from garage to mouldy rental to grandma’s to a car to ‘uncle’s’ – which really means Mum is in survival sex. We have a crisis. Sometimes things can’t be done as thoughtfully as we’d like.

      1. “there is shame in having projects go through the Notification process” ? Heidi, I honestly don’t know what you are on about. Nothing wrong with having a project going through the public notification process – it’s just the cost involved, which is horrendous. If your work is any good, it will stand up to public scrutiny. If it is no good, and the public process shows it to be no good, then the process has served its purpose.

        It does not need to be that expensive. What DOES need to happen is that schemes that are not complying, get notified to the public. In Britain this is pretty easily achieved for every – that’s EVERY outline planning scheme, with an A4 notice attached to a nearby power pole. Pretty low cost. Those who live locally see the notice. Total cost is minuscule. Public notification doesn’t need to be the whole bloody palaver it is here.

  3. Agree that Adelaide Road is crying out to be turned into a boulevard for mixed use, mid rise buildings that adds significantly to the city’s housing stock. This vote is perplexing to me, but then so is the fact that that part of Adelaide Road remains so underdeveloped. I’d be keen for councillors to more fully explain their thinking on this decisions here.

    1. Odd that given you are socialist you want a more free-market approach. Have you finely, after years of absolute fail from socialist policies, realise that there is no need to organise the bakers to bake bread, supermarkets to stock shelves, and electricity to be provided? Have you realised that a free market is a far better determination to supply and demand? Have you realised if the council actually got out of the way then more housing will be built? Nah, I must be crazy.

      1. Adrian:

        Q1. Is your comment adding to this discussion? No.
        Q2. Does your comment have a negative personal tone? Yes.
        Q3. Should you step away from the keyboard and go calm your emotional farm? Yes.

        Daphne: As you were.

        1. Does it add to the discussion? I think the answer is yes. Some people here are advociating socalism to address our hosuing issues. Yet, from all the resarch we know socialsim will only makes things far worse.

          Do I have a negative tone towards self-declared socalists – you bet I do. The reasons are painfully obvious though history. I think I mentioned before but Daphne is not a “lefty” but a self described full on “socalist” as per her blog.

        2. So you’re happy to have some ‘lefty’ policies, as long as they’re not ‘socialist’ policies? So we can put in measures to try to ensure that all kids are fed and warm and housed, yeah? We don’t have to ensure that the market is the only thing that provides for them, do we?

          When a Finnish educationalist was out in Auckland recently, he looked rather perplexed when it was explained that some of our kids don’t learn well because they’re hungry… he said, “So, so, feed them! Don’t you feed your kids?” I’d hardly say Finland’s lefty policies have been a failure…

        3. “Some people here are advociating socalism to address our hosuing issues Yet, from all the resarch we know socialsim will only makes things far worse.

          You are going to have to elaborate there.

        4. “So you’re happy to have some ‘lefty’ policies, as long as they’re not ‘socialist’ policies?”

          I am very interested in your response to this too, Adrian. Because people through around the “socialism” tag a lot. In fact, on plenty of things that are left, but not socialism at all.

        5. I assume like most neolibs you are confusing democratic socialism (like in Scandinavia, Germany and the Netherlands) with a Communist dictatorship. Very different things.

          It really isn’t that hard to understand the difference. But of course the magic market will solve all our problems and what a fine job it is doing so far.

      2. Although it is funny how many right wing free market people seem to think it shouldn’t apply to housing. Act party for example.
        Free market – unless it affects me.

        1. Especially if you live in epsom. You deserve those great “public schools” more than any scum bag living in an appartment does.

        2. Crazy huh. I reckon the school zone should be mandated as a circle with radius representing the capacity. Or just a ballet where closest wins.

        3. Or a line that is equidistant between schools, so each child gets to go to their closest. I’m sure there’s a place for changing that slightly in order to plan best for school numbers, but examples like excluding apartments otherwise in the zone or Glendowie’s “well-heeled only” zones (note they overlap with Selwyn College heavily) need intervention. But we do digress… 🙂

        4. Unfortunately, JimboJones you are correct. If we could actually have a free market in housing then we could empower persons to make their own decisions and I think most of the issues would be solved. But perhaps I am dreamer.

        5. I doubt a free market would do much to solve our housing problems. Markets of all types go through boom and bust cycles, which has been shown to be detrimental to ensuring people are adequately housed.

          Also free markets tend to build for what is wanted tomorrow, which is not always the best outcome in the medium to long term.

          Free markets also value housing more highly than food growing, which might meet a pure financial model, but does not make good economic or social sense for a country.

  4. I don’t understand how SHA’s help in Wellington. It doesn’t change the underlying zone and it doesn’t change the basis for any decisions. In Auckland the whole point of SHA’s was to allow the Proposed Unitary Plan objectives and policies to be applied instead of the legacy District Plans. That meant you still had to do a rezoning but it would at least be consistent with the future direction. Where is there any advantage in Wellington? HASHA no longer has any point as the Unitary plan is operative (in part). If Wellington wants intensification then do intensification. Do a plan change.

    1. “I don’t understand how SHA’s help in Wellington. It doesn’t change the underlying zone and it doesn’t change the basis for any decisions.”

      The SHAs proscribe full public notification and limit appeals to the environment court. They provide a streamlined consenting process and most importantly they provide a presumption that these areas will be developed for housing.

      SHAs are an imperfect solution but they make it considerably easier to build houses that the usual District Plan process does. And full district plan changes can take up to ten years to become operative.

      1. Right I understand. So it is the due process legal rights of others that are the problem. Someone who wants to build a little day care centre has their application notified and people can appeal to the Environment Court, but someone who wants to build four storey buildings over a vast area gets an easy run.
        It didn’t work in Auckland because they still notified Watercare and Auckland Transport and they are the obstacles to building houses, not the neighbours.

        1. I think the problem is the unnecessary rights of “the community” (the neysayers). The daycare shouldn’t need to be notified either. Just because you live somewhere it doesn’t give you a right to dictate what goes on. I can’t choose who my neighbors are, what car they drive, but for some reason I can decide what house they can build.

        2. Nobody wanting to run a day care does it like that, miffy. They put in a consent for a day care for 8 kids, and then increase it to 15, and then to 25, and by the time it gets built it’s at 40 and soon after it’s at 75. Because at each stage the effects are less than minor. Which is not how the law’s supposed to work, but this is hardly the worst example…

        3. Yes – the rights we have extended to all and sundry to interfere in the construction of new housing are exactly the problem.

          Sorry, but when we have kids living in cars and garages if they’re not lucky enough to be rotting their lungs out in some mold-ridden slum, decent people actually don’t care about the imagined rights of the local NIMBYs to stand in the way of new housing through spurious objections under the planning process.

        4. Well I can agree with that. The mistake was the RMA extending standing to basically everyone and anyone where the Town and Country Planning Act restricted it to people with a specific interest. But you don’t fix the RMA with HASHA. HASHA was a bad joke where they introduced a new system instead of building more houses. One owner of a large block I worked for got to the end and looked at the expensive conditions AT and Watercare had put on his development and said “bugger this I will use the land for free range chickens instead”.

  5. He’s right that the 33,000 empty homes is fake news. It was the total number of houses that were unoccupied on census night in 2013, and includes people who were away on holiday, rentals where a tenant had left and the owner was waiting for the next tenant or taking the opportunity to get some renovations done.

    It does not represent the number of houses that are unoccupied in the medium and long term.

  6. Great post Frank – Talk Wellington would like to repost i that’s OK (and ideally be your first choice as a local platform! 😉

    General comment on the “OK what next” of this post and the comments: this all sounds a bit binary.
    EITHER we put up with lower-quality develpoment apparently guaranteed via the SHA process as it stands, OR we put up with continued halting and incremental change (hoping for some improvement ot the District Plan).

    is it actually this binary? . Did the council/lors give any info on what the alternative avenues are for developing here? LGWM is based on some pretty confident sounding projections of significant population density coming quickly in Adelaide Road… What’s the Overall Plan you mention Guy? (capital letters added!)

    the Productivity commission, among others including some council officer friends of mine, is sure that restrictive (albeit well-intentioned) planning rules and enforcement are one of the things unnecessarliy holding back good quality growth. What would it take to improve the SHA process so we didn’t get density done badly? Guy you must have some views on that…

    Finally. none of the tweets are linking – dead link, or a rash of embarrassment and councillors deleted them all?

    1. Thanks.

      Its only really NIMBY groups that present this as a binary. I don’t see how there is such a threat of low quality homes under SHAs. Urban design can still be taken into account in the consenting process.

      Most of the Great North Road apartments in Auckland were developed under an SHA and they are of a high quality design.

      The tweets are screenshots not links.

    2. Really? To me the Productivity Commission report is ideological nonsense aimed at promoting a right-wing property rights perspective over one grounded in a sense of how to create sustainable communities. As I said below there is ample land for housing in the CBD that is currently used for car storage. More generally, you don’t create strong vibrant communities by destroying people’s ability to have a say over development.

      1. Roland, so what’s the way forward? I agree that developing inner city carparks is absolutely the right place to start. I truly believe a public education campaign is required to engage communities on the rather dry subject of parking, and the traffic and sprawl it creates. But that’s a long term project. What can happen quickly to get those carparks under the spotlight?

        1. Thanks Heidi. Wellington is complex and at a political level much more wedded to car dependency than Auckland is now; without going completely off topic you can see that with the bus shambles and Get Welly Moving. Add to that the fact that central government lives here and so local government gets much less attention. It is also tiny and there are a lot of informal decision-making circles. All of this means that its hard to get traction on issues that seem obvious. Some of this is very perplexing to outsiders 🙂 So with that preamble, how to “shine that spotlight”?

          One thing is getting people together who are interested in highlighting and solving the problem. There are a worryingly large proportion of professionals who have bought the whole NIMBY arguments without thinking it through. I’d love to be part of conversation with people who are interested in the mechanisms needed to fix this. Its 25 years since me and others put together the living city manifesto which focussed on heritage protection, affordable housing, urban villages with a strong heart, and high quality public transport..

          Another thing is actually getting good quality specific examples together; I’d love it if there was a group of people here who had both the technical skills to put together good maps and the passion for cities to make a coherent argument. Getting this out through the DomPost, various FB groups and to councillors would make this tangible. I did this manually while working on urban issues for the PCE in 1999, but its a big job and I am time poor 🙂

          This is a great conversation. Thanks for asking.

        2. Thanks Roland. That all sounds very interesting. I’ve googled your PCE housing example work and the Living City Manifesto… can you provide me with links? I’ve found other really interesting stuff you’ve worked on but not either of those.

          I’m wanting a few good regenerative design examples myself to illustrate an idea I have for a local underdeveloped spot.

        3. Thanks Heidi. Google isn’t much help for stuff from the 1990s 🙂 The PCE work is either contained in their urban report or the Transport and Environment Committee report on the effects of land transport, both of which probably only exists in hard copy now. I’ll see what I can find – it was two weeks work with acetates and tracing paper for one line! The Living City Manifesto came out of my engagement with the New Urbanist Charter. Campaign for a Better City was huge in its day but being an NGO run by a bunch of Gen Xers, there isn’t much by way of archive. I’ll again see what I can find…..

          As an aside – I was amazed at how much vacant land I saw when I walked from Onehunga to Greenlane a few months ago – enough for medium density for several hundred people. I’ve seen this over near the Eastern line too. Do you know what is happening with these piecemeal patches of land?

        4. Thanks Roland. Don’t go to too much hassle, but if something pops out, it would be very interesting.

          For the eastern line, does this article explain anything:

          For Onehunga to Greenlane, there is lots of vacant land. Not sure of your route, of course. Pt Chevalier where I am is horribly expensive, yet people are still landbanking, often with no tenants or very shoddy rentals.

        5. Lanbanking appears to be a major issue in Auckland. I don’t know Auckland that well. but I am concerned at the attacks on the RMA. New Zealand has a relatvely simple and permissive planning system (and I say that as an RMA hearings commissioner) and yet people seem to blame it for all manner of ills. In Auckland for example. I struggle to see specific examples, as opposed to theoretical arguments, about the problems created. In Mt Eden for example people cite NIMBYism as a barrier to infill, yet when I walk around there I see a lot of low quality high site coverage town house developments. To me the main issue in Auckland (and Wellington) seems to be a lack of entrepreneurial interest in medium-density (snout houses are easier to sell) . Please tell me how I am wrong 🙂

        6. You’re not wrong, and please write an article for us about how it is not the RMA that needs changing. The raft of ills in our housing policy and practice always seem to be blamed on the RMA, which comes across to me as a way to undermine the RMA.

          My belief is that Auckland has covered too much area and we must halt all greenfields development. I think developers would quickly upskill on brownfields, quality medium-dense housing if that was their only option, and many of the issues around infrastructure upgrade and maintenance would suddenly find solutions.

      2. Completely agree that car parking is oversupplied. But you can’t dismiss their report wholesale like that.
        And remember “communities” includes plenty of awful NIMBY attitudes too. Frankly I’m terrified by the prosoect of some of my local communities having the dominant say over development (if that’s what “grounded in” implies?)

        The local attitudes are often exclusionary, bigoted and defensive of their own private rights and bugger the greater good (and bugger what i suspect you and I would both call “community diversity”). No, we need the right combination of communities’ views (note plural), healthy market forces, and parameters for both the above provided by a healthy approach to govt’s role.

        Is anyone getting that right?

        1. “And remember “communities” includes plenty of awful NIMBY attitudes too”

          Yep. Although not housing related, there a particularly toxic example in Island Bay. A bunch of anti-cyclist bigots claiming to represent the community and peddling their scare mongering fake news in an attempt to whip up more support for their hatred.

          (Not helped by council doing a half-arsed job on the cheap.)

        2. I guess I am more optimistic that constructive engagement can work through people’s fears but then I do live in a highly diverse and welcoming part of the city.

  7. “Wellington can’t accommodate endless people.” As I say to my retrosuburbia friends – It’s not enough to say that I’m OK in my retrofitted suburban house and all I have to do is cycle to the shops and grow my veges and I’m a greenie. Making a living in the city involves understanding how the city functions and what is preventing equity.

    If living elsewhere is a good option – because it is after all cheaper to grow veges on cheaper land – then live elsewhere. If you choose to live in the city – with all the economic, agglomeration and crosscultural advantages of that, then you need to wake up to city issues, and the fact that other people want to live in the city as well. Not everyone bought into suburbia when you did. Preventing intensification means committing younger generations to long commutes. That’s not reasonable or humane.

    1. Well said. Mike Lee could always leave and free up a house for someone. With him gone they may even be allowed to develop it into multiple dwellings

        1. He should retire there & stop trying to muck up Auckland’s public transport. I know he did valuable work earlier, but IMO his modal fanaticism is damaging these days.

          If he must tinker with transport, he should sort out Fullers …

  8. I still reckon it should become legal to fill the parks in all the rich areas tiny houses and tents, so that “the housing crisis for those it affects” starts to affect some more people.

  9. The cynic in me wonders whether Wellington City is less keen on developments that may have infrastructure upgrade requirements within its’ area, in favour of sprawl that one of the other TAs have to deal with? Possibly more so given that Transmission Gully is supposed to cut travel times from Porirua/Kapiti (well make the trip to the merges at Tawa and Ngauranga quicker)

    1. Yes, good point. And of course confirms that the costs developers need to pay for sprawl development should include extra for the privilege of taking the easy – rather than regenerative and progressive – development option.

      1. there are a few car dependant burbs planned unfortunately, one near takapu rd & another in the hills around plimmerton somewhere. Token bus and large parknrides instead of TOD no doubt. The region is very backward thinking.

        1. There’s Lincolnshire Farms area behind Newlands too.

          Sick of the great great park and ride piss up: GW pisses away lotsa $$$ on ever expanding carparks, refuses to charge for them and runs useless frequency buses that STILL don’t have proper integrated fares.


        2. gwrc = grow wellintons road congestion, lgwm = lets grow wellingtons motorways. 50s thinking nimbys are a choke on the regions economic potential.

        3. As a Wellingtonian I’d like to object to that snide and cynical attitude to our local bodies and planning groups. . .

          Unfortunately it is deserved. These groups have been a massive disappointment of late and to a large degree they still appear to be firmly rooted in the philosophies of the former National government. Perhaps it is time for the new coalition government to step in and jolt them into the changed reality.

    1. Thanks Brendon. Agree that a more general solution is needed – a much broader presumption that intense housing will be built across inner suburbs.

  10. A Labour led government won’t help the situation.
    Today’s announcement by them will only result in higher rents.

    1. That’s funny because Germany has a very regulated rental market and low rents. I wonder what’s different?

    2. We know National can’t help the situation, so that pretty much leaves us with hoping for an NZ First or Green led governments.

  11. This article is frustrating nonsense. The SHAs were all about undermining input and freeing up land for inappropriate development. Affordability was very much spin. Development on Adelaide Rd is already permitted under the District Plan for example.

    I don’t have time or energy to spell everything out in detail but the situation in Auckland and Wellington is very different. Wellington has much morr public green space and the average lot size in inner-city suburbs such as Mt Cook or Aro Valley is less than half the size of say Mt Eden. These areas are already ‘medium density’. Wellington has two (2) residential zones – inner and outer – not the multiplicity that prevail in Auckland. There is sufficient bare land used as car storage in the CBD in Wellington to provide housing for 1500-2000 people but our Council lacks the political will to act. I could go on but as a passionate advocate for livable cities with affordable housing, great access, a strong sense of commuity and heritage and ample green space, I utterly reject the analysis in the article.

    1. City centre residential:
      Kent & Cambridge car yards would be good places to start. Also Ford in Taranaki St (think that’s already been sold to developers).

      1. The Ford site in Taranaki St has been sold to developers? Any proof of that? No one has told me! But mind you, it would be a good thing. I just think that my spies should have heard of it before you did, whoever you are! I live just about next door to it!

        1. Thanks gk – very interesting. Seems to be saying that a supermarket may be aimed for – which of course would just screw up traffic even more so, with massive car movements – and Mike Cole is more well known for doing apartments, I would have thought that would be more his thing. Perhaps both on the same site? They planned for that nearby in Ghuznee St a few years ago, before that project died.

    2. “I utterly reject the analysis in the article.”

      Cool but you haven’t really said what’s wrong with the analysis.

      Do you acknowledge that more housing supply will improve affordability relative to what would happen with less housing supply? Do you acknowledge that it is easier to expand housing supply when objections and appeals are limited?

      If not then I would reject your analysis.

      Yes these areas are already zoned “medium density” but they have a three storey height limit and any development can easily be held up by objections and appeals. This makes it harder to develop meaning the owners are more likely to leave it as an automotive repair shop or as car storage.

      1. Heh. Well in my view arguing objections are the problem is just arguing against democracy. A better solution is for the developer to put in the effort, build a quality development and respect people’s interests. If property developers want the state to remove people’s democratic rights in order to improve their return then the problem is not with the rules in my view 🙂

        It could help if the state set a good example here. In my experience, private developers are risk averse and not temperamentally suited to this sort of engagement but that does not make getting rid of objections the solution. Less ego, and more constructive engagement is the solution.

        Do you have a specific example of a development not proceeding on Adelaide Rd for these reasons? If so I’d love to see the details because my instinct is that the underlying problem will be the attitude of the developer not the rules.

        Increasing the supply of housing can occur without undermining community sustainability, but developers need to see themselves as working in the public realm.

        1. The thing is that we don’t live in the eighteenth century any more, and so the views of the landed gentry should not be accorded more weight than the basic right not to live in a car.

        2. Umm that’s an interesting binary. So by landed gentry you mean anyone who lives in an area?

          If I was adopting your style I could say, the only way to generate housing is to destroy communities for developers to make quick profits? Its interesting to equate increasing profits for developers with getting people out of cars. You are aware that SHAs do not require affordable housing development?

        3. Er, yes. People who own residential property in Wellington, particularly if they have owned it for some time, are pretty well-off in the grand scheme of things. This is an awkward realisation for a certain sort of middle-aged person but is nevertheless true.

          The proposition that the views of the comfortably middle-class about how they might like their neighbourhood to look must be accorded equal weight to the very uncomfortably homeless about how they might like to live in doors is frankly repulsive.

          You place rather a lot of emphasis on developer profits, assuming it is axiomatic that these are bad. It goes without saying that it is rather difficult to make a profit on anything unless you are selling something that people want. Quite frankly I couldn’t care less whether the builder of a townhouse block that houses two dozen families makes one dollar or a million from the deal. You will find, oddly enough, that the inhabitants care even less.

        4. Adelaide Road is a good example. My familiarity extends to having perused the length of the SHA area on streetview. This is not a residential area. By allowing SHA development we are not talking about ruining a residential neighbourhood. Rather, we are giving opportunity to create a denser one than the existing plan would allow, and thus giving developers more impetus to develop.

          If this is not a good place to use SHA rules to nudge the balance towards the rights of the homeless and those suffering from lack of affordability over the rights of property owners living in security nearby, could someone please explain why?

          In this location, the existing plan has not enabled or encouraged development. Therefore the existing plan has not supported the rights of the vulnerable to achieve a home. If thoughtful development under the existing plan was the right way forward, where were the people doing it? If we do care about the vulnerable without homes, but just want it to be done well – why didn’t we before now?

        5. The issue as far as I am aware with Adelaide Road is not the plan. I am not in favour of an approach that says keep removing rules until someone builds something 🙂 Rather the issue is a first mover one. What Adelaide Rd needs is an anchor housing development. This could be an entrepreneur (as Ian Cassels was for apartments in the CBD) but will probably need to be a public housing agency. If Housing NZ were to build a high quality medium density development and it was a success I think you’d see a flood of private investment. That won’t guarantee affordable housing however. To get that you’d need ongoing public engagement. As a colleague (from Auckland) observed to get proper affordable housing investment you need ongoing public sector involvment and or strong support for cooperative housing and co-housing. Private developers will always try and circumvent affordable housing rules.

        6. Heidi – my office used to be on Adelaide Road, so I know it reasonably well. It’s a bit of a nowhere place, between the hospital (a big deal) and the Basin (i’m sure you’ve heard enough about that). One block back from Adelaide on the west side is actually one of the most densely packed parts of Wellington – mainly student / nurse housing in Tasman / Wallace St – other side is the Governor General’s huge mansion, lived in by two people and their spoodle. I could think of a simple way to house many of the local people right there….

          But you’re right – there is something wrong with the process. The latest thing I can find on Adelaide Road on the WCC website is from 2012, about the roading, while the latest re development on Adelaide is 2007…. someone is dragging the chain on this.

        7. Thanks Guy and Roland, all that makes sense. In Pt Chev on Great North Rd (commercial) the first movers into apartments were private – although some at least are waiting until the market’s better. On Pt Chev Rd (residential) the first movers are HNZ. My thoughts from that were that residential areas (where there’s usually more kick-back) needs government intervention more than commercial areas. Adelaide Rd has me doubting this, and thinking that Roland is right, both areas need government to just do it.

          I suspect that if Wellington has set back and recession plane rules, plus only a 3 storey limit in the area, that this has been a major reason for delay from developers with just one or two sites. Given the complete change of building form that will happen, this is an ideal are for a perimeter housing block, with internal courtyard / garden – a much nicer urban form than the sausage development the recession plane rules would create. If changing the district plan is the best way to go – or alternatively using community-led Master Planned Block development as Brendon suggests – then I hope someone has the oversight to recommend this better form.

    3. “There is sufficient bare land used as car storage in the CBD in Wellington to provide housing for 1500-2000 people”

      Much of the land in the Adelaide Road, and CBD south (Te Aro) SHAs are at grade carparks. Removing the SHAs has just made it harder to develop those carparks.

      How can you say the solution is to develop CBD car parks and yet also want to make it more difficult to do so?

      1. Developing those at grade carparks would be pretty easy right now. The only thing is that developers might have to put a bit more effort into their proposal. You haven’t really addressed my point around democracy 🙂

        What specific proposals have not proceeded in Adelaide Rd because of the absence of an SHA? My understanding is that there is a huge first mover problem in Adelaide Rd – ie no-one wants to risk investing there and getting it wrong.

        1. I’m not sure being able to restrict what someone else does with their property is really one of the foundations of democracy. I thought it was more about voting for lawmakers, providing feedback on laws and protesting.

        2. Those are the mechanisms of democratic functioning but the underlying model is around collective decision-making rather transactional interaction. More generally I’d say one can distinguish between an ownership and a stewardship model for property. We lean a long way towards ownership but impose some limited stewardship duties.

          In practical terms, “property rights” are a social construct, while development can have very real impacts on others. One of they key functions of a democracy is to limit the ability of people to externalise costs while internalising revenue.

        3. Well put Jezza. Objection rights are not a straight forward democratic principle. They conflict with other democratic rights and democracy produces different outcomes depending on the level it is pitched at. It is not clear that hyper-localised participation produces the best results. Policy areas like education and tax are made at a higher level because the outcomes would be bad if they were decided at a hyper-local level.

          “while development can have very real impacts on others”

          What are the specific impacts of development you are talking about? You keep talking about new development ‘destroying communities’ but what is the effect you are actually concerned with? Also you don’t seem to acknowledge that not developing has extremely bad impacts on others through the affordability problems it creates.

        4. “You haven’t really addressed my point around democracy”

          You might want to read the article comrade:

          “Another common refrain of the councillors was that the SHAs were “undemocratic” in that they provide reduced means of objecting to and appealing development. As far as objection rights against development are a democratic right, they are one that conflicts with other democratic rights, like the right to adequate housing, and the rights of landowners to use their land as the see fit. Further, there would be nothing “undemocratic” about special housing areas established by a democratically elected central government and the vote of a democratically elected city council.”

          Also we have no idea what developments are not happening because of planning rules. When people decide not to do something they usually do it quietly.

        5. Its an interesting argument that to create affordable housing you have to remove people’s right to have a say about what goes on in their community. This sounds somewhat feudal to me 🙂

          And the argument about what gets deterred is a great piece of rhetoric but doesn’t create a case for anything. What we do see is the way permissive rules around subdivision have created sprawl and car dependence for decades.

          You appear to equate easier private development with affordable housing but that hasn’t happened up to now has it? Affordable housing internationally is driven by public sector agencies and the promotion of cooperatives and co-housing.

          Developments are not automatically good, You asked about adverse effects – you might like to read some of the material on enabling sustainable communities; key features are green space, walkability, diversity, a sense of connection and continuity through heritage protection, and a sense of agency in relation to community. Countries with low levels of homelessness (eg Denmark) generally don’t have laizze faire systems of the sort you advocate. Rather they have a strong sense of how to create a quality urban realm through engaged communities and public private partnerships.

          If we want to see Adelaide Rd develop into a thriving community lets start by slowing down traffic and creating a more pleasant street environment. Then let’s see some quality public investment in medium density housing, with a strong affordable housing component which includes the restoration of landmark buildings. Do that. and private investment will follow, even if the planning rules require them to dance naked in front of council 🙂

        6. I did read your article several times. This statement is possibly the most telling in the entire piece:

          “the rights of landowners to use their land as the see fit”

          This is not a human right – this is a libertarian shibboleth which denies any duty of stewardship to land and at its most extreme any notion of collective wellbeing.

          The idea that giving people the right to use their land as they see fit will end homelessness is nonsense. By all means run your argument but please don’t claim to care about the homeless or affordable housing.

        7. Roland your comments on heritage and sustainability, I can only conclude that you already own a home and so have little skin in the game in getting housing built.

          Not all new housing has to be affordable. That is a red herring. As more housing is built the supply will increase and meet demand – regardless of the price point.

  12. “Coolest little capital in the world” creates the impression of a southern hemisphere equivalent of Portland OR, but we’re reminded pretty regularly that this is a thin veneer that’s easily scratched away

  13. One more point 🙂 The article says:

    “Pannett also claimed that the SHAs would somehow present issues for climate change. It is unclear whether she is referring to the environmental impact of the developments themselves or their vulnerability to sea level rise. Neither are valid concerns.”

    This comment was specifically in relation to Kilbirnie. The Lyall Bay / Kilbirnie area on the flat is a former marsh, prone to flooding, only one or two metres above mean high water, prone to liquefaction in places and in the direct path of a tsunami, It is not a particularly affluent area either, possibly because people implicitly price in these issues.

    This is not an area where you can sustainably build medium density affordable housing. Along with St Kilda / St Claire in Dunedin it is one of the areas in New Zealand where hydrology and climate change will first combine to create real challenges. Managed retreat is a real possibility in our lifetimes.

        1. The Kilbirnie SHA had already lapsed. It was not one of the eight SHAs the council just voted against.


  14. tort law talks about reasonable enjoyment of one’s property that may not impinge on others’ reasonable enjoyment of theirs… and yet has frustrating things like “coming to the nuisance”. Fundamentally the RMA is trying to provide a mechanism for balancing people’s different rights, yet isn’t very helpful for finding the sweet spot … Reckon we absolutely need some of Brendon’s reciprocal rights / responsibilities structures. We could bash this one about amongst ourselves indefinitely whereas that provides a way forward…

    1. The right to build notion from Germany would also help.

      However, the strong renting laws in Germany also mean it has the lowest property ownership in Europe. This would be seen as a disaster in NZ but that may need to change.

      1. Can I have an “AMEN”!

        That was actually one of the main points in the Eaqubs’ Generation Rent, well made.

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