The council is about to decide on density rules that will define Wellington housing for decades to come, writes Catherine McGregor in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.
Introducing the War for Wellington
For the second time in its history, The Spinoff is declaring war. Seven and a half years ago we launched the War for Auckland to advocate for increased density in the city. Today we’re doing it again with the War for Wellington. As Wellington editor Joel MacManus explains, the impetus for the campaign is the new District Plan, currently being rewritten for the first time since 2000. Like Auckland’s Unitary Plan in 2016, the District Plan will decide the shape of the capital for decades to come – and The Spinoff is again lining up on the side of greater residential intensification. “We are unapologetic about our perspective: we believe that density is absolutely necessary for the future of Wellington,” writes MacManus. “If you care about Wellington and want it to be a thriving, liveable and equitable city, this matters to you.”
Decision day looming for new zoning rules
While the District Plan has been under review for more than two years, things are starting to move quickly. A series of hearings on the proposed new plan were held throughout 2023 and next week a panel of independent commissioners starts releasing its findings in a series of public briefings. On March 14, councillors hold a “mega-meeting” to vote on changes and decide the ultimate form of the District Plan. What about the MDRS? Over the weekend the government confirmed it will change the Medium Density Residential Standards – the rules requiring certain councils, in certain zones, to automatically approve the building of three homes, three storeys tall on a single site – into an opt-in system for councils. However Wellington will move ahead under the MDRS, which has already been incorporated into the District Plan.
Mayor says LTP could be changed to find money for pipes
At the same time as the zoning-focused District Plan is being finalised, the city’s Long-Term Plan (LTP) is also under review. The LTP is redrafted every three years and sets out council’s priorities for the following decade. Following a meeting on Monday with local government minister Simeon Brown, mayor Tory Whanau told Midday Report she was open to putting some parts of the draft LTP on hold to help address the water crisis. “We will be looking at projects and seeing what might be able to be delayed,” she said, adding that she was keen to work with the government on third party financing tools to shift the cost off the books and allow the council to focus on other priorities as well.
The remarkable results of Auckland’s own zoning fight
It seems like a good time to look back at what Unitary Plan achieved after it was passed by Auckland Council in August 2016. Under the plan, around 75% of the city’s total residential area was “upzoned” – ie, changed to increase the amount of development allowed in the future. According to a Works in Progress report, the “upzoning stimulated construction immediately: permits for new housing approximately doubled within five years”. Australian research economist Matthew Maltman told the ABC he had seen “very few economic phenomena like it”. Contrary to many homeowners’ fears in 2016, house prices in Auckland did not “[fall] off a cliff” in real terms, Maltman said. However, “they have grown more slowly than the rest of the country and they’ve been less sensitive to changes in interest rates.”