We want Wellington City Council to make the city affordable again by making it easier to build new homes, in the right places.
Right now there is high demand for homes in Wellington because it’s a great place and more people want to live here. But the supply of new homes is not keeping up with demand because the current planning rules make it too difficult to build. This means more and more people are competing for too few homes and bidding up prices – both to buy, and to rent. For many of us, Wellington has become a severely unaffordable place to live.
We can make Wellington a city for people. We just need to make it easier to build more homes by changing the zoning rules in the District Plan.
Here’s what the council needs to do:
1. Raise building height limits in the city centre or remove them all together.
Exciting cities like New York, Amsterdam, and Singapore have vibrant city centres because lots of people are able to choose to live close to each other. Many of us would be happy to live in an apartment if it means we can be close to the action. More apartments would help the centre of Wellington thrive, but right now the height limits in this zone are too low – often only six storeys in the heart of the city. This needs to change.
2. Increase what’s considered “walkable” from 10 minutes to 15 minutes.
In 2020, the central government introduced a new policy – the National Policy Statement on Urban Development 2020 (NPS-UD) – that directs local councils to allow for more housing in their District Plans. Wellington City Council must apply these new rules (they’re not optional) but they do have some flexibility on how they apply the rules.
The NPS-UD says councils must allow buildings of at least six-storeys within “walkable catchments” of city centres, town centres, and any “mass-rapid transit” stops (public transport stops serviced by frequent services, like train stations). But Wellington City Council can decide for itself what a “walkable catchment” is. We think allowing denser development near rapid transport, commercial centres (like Kilbirnie and Johnsonville), and the city centre is a great idea, because it means we can build more homes in the places that are easy to access, where people want to live. So, we want the council to make these denser areas bigger by setting the radius of “walkable catchments” as at least 15 minutes, not 10 minutes.
3. Recognise that the Johnsonville train line and the Newtown bus route are “mass-rapid transit” routes
The National Policy Statement on Urban Development 2020 also sets out what kinds of transport are “mass-rapid transit”. Wellington City Council needs to recognise that the Johnsonville train line and the main Newtown bus stops both meet this criteria, and apply the six-storey “walkable catchment” zones along these routes in the new District Plan. When more people live near public transport, we can invest more in improving the services – a virtuous cycle!
4. Apply the Medium Density Residential Standards consistently across the whole city.
In 2021, the Labour-government introduced the Medium Density Residential Standards which directed local councils to allow at least three homes of up to three-storeys on every section across the whole city (except in places where there is a good reason for an exemption to be applied). People would be able to re-develop their sites and build more homes if they wanted, or even just build a wee granny flat in the backyard.
The current National-government has said they will make these new standards optional for councils – we think it is a good idea for Wellington City to apply them.
We desperately need more homes to be built across our city, especially in the existing suburbs that are already well-connected to good transport options and serviced by existing infrastructure. The Medium Density Residential Standards are great because they’re fair. Applying them everywhere means that new homes can be distributed across the city instead of being concentrated into just a few places. The council invests more in the parts of the city where more people live – suburbs that welcome more new neighbours are likely to get more investment in public transport upgrades, for example.
These standards will help make housing affordable because they apply broad up-zoning that raises building height limits across a large area. Targeted up-zoning, that only raises building height limits in small areas, adds value to the sections in those areas because the owners get permission to do more with their land. Developers will pay more for these permissions when the permissions are rare. So, while targeted up-zoning does enable more housing-supply, it also makes the price of land (and the houses on it) spike, which is not great for affordability. But if we up-zone all the land, the sections that have permission to build at higher densities won't be scarce and there’ll be less competition to buy them. So we’ll get more housing supply (great for affordability!) and the price of land won't spike as much.
We’ve seen this kind of broad up-zoning work in Auckland. Since the Auckland Unitary Plan up-zoned almost 75% of the city in 2016, house prices and rents have increased at a much slower rate than in the rest of the country. Recent research has found that six years on from the Auckland Unitary Plan, rents for three-bedroom dwellings were 26–33 percent lower than they would have been without the plan. We can match Auckland’s success in Wellington if we’re willing to use the same approach to zoning. It’s not a silver bullet solution to the affordability crisis, but it definitely helps.
5. Keep special character areas the same size agreed to in the Spatial Plan.
Wellington City Council can choose to exempt some areas from the new density rules if they have a good reason. For instance, high risk of flooding would be considered a “qualifying matter” and the areas affected could be exempt from enabling higher-density development.
But the council can also apply “qualifying matters” to areas they deem to have “special character” and restrict new development in these places too. We agree that parts of some of the older suburbs in Wellington have value and are important to preserve, but we want these protected areas to be the right size. These older suburbs are close to the city centre, where lots of people want to live – they’re the perfect places to build the homes our city desperately needs. Which is why we support retaining the special character areas agreed to in the Spatial Plan the council passed in 2021.
Lots of people would be delighted to live in smaller homes if it meant they could live closer to the centre of the city – close to the places they work, study, and socialise. But in large parts of the city it’s impossible for people to make this choice because the current rules don’t allow terrace houses, or apartment buildings. The new District Plan needs to be sensible and change these rules.
This kind of density done well would help the city achieve its climate goals. Compact urban form helps us all to live low-carbon lifestyles because we can access everything we need quickly and easily in our immediate surroundings, we don’t need to rely on private vehicles to get around, and we don’t need to use so much energy heating really big homes. When homes are closer together, the city can invest in low-carbon transport infrastructure like light rail, more frequent and reliable bus routes, cycle paths, and footpaths.
Want to know more? Check out our frequently asked questions.
The council consulted with the public on the draft District Plan twice already – at the end of 2021 and in the middle of 2022. They’ve read all the submissions, and held hearings so that members of the public could share their thoughts. Read our original submission, our further submission, or watch City for People present at the hearings (01:54).
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Art by Erin Daily.