Wellington going up, not out. Will it work and can mixed use activate suburbs?

Wellington going up, not out. Will it work and can mixed use activate suburbs?

Harrison Grierson’s Wellington Planning Team Leader, Glen Cooper, discusses the Draft Spatial Plan to grow New Zealand's compact capital city and poses some thought-provoking questions.

Spatial planning is a hot topic in Wellington as district plans are criticised for being siloed, slow and unresponsive under the embattled Resource Management Act (RMA). All sides are calling for the RMA and its planning framework to be replaced. In the meantime and more immediately, councils must quickly embrace and enable the development drive of the new National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS-UD 2020) that took effect on 20 August 2020. This replaced the NPS on Urban Development Capacity 2016.

Recently Wellington City Council released its much anticipated Draft Spatial Plan. It’s no surprise our compact, contained and cool little capital city is looking to build up, not out, over the next 30 years. Even with a potential slowdown in housing capacity demand as the fallout from COVID-19 bites, Council is planning for considerable population growth of 50,000 – 80,000 more people over the next 30 years.

What is the 'Our City Tomorrow: A Draft Spatial Plan for Wellington City?'

The Draft Spatial Plan is a vision and “blueprint” about how our capital city will grow and develop over the next 30 years. It aims to meet the goals of ensuring a compact, resilient, vibrant and prosperous, inclusive and connected, and greener city. A range of topics including land use, transport, three waters infrastructure, natural hazards, heritage, and natural environment values are considered. Once finalised, it will provide the key policy direction needed to influence the city's planning controls as they are developed for the next generation Wellington City District Plan (with engagement kicking off early 2021).

Key proposals in the Draft Spatial Plan include:

1. Enabling an increase in the maximum building height in Te Aro to at least 10 storeys, and introducing a minimum building height of six storeys elsewhere in the Central City zone (this zone would also expand into the inner city fringes by rezoning parts of Adelaide Road & Thorndon).

2. Developing with nature in mind and ‘greening’ the central city to support our goal of being carbon neutral by 2050; identify anchors of resilience (ie safe places) across the central city, and areas where comprehensive redevelopment, investment in infrastructure, and public space will be encouraged.

3. Ensuring density is done well and new development considers water sensitive urban design; housing quality, choice and affordability; public transport and open space.

4. Removal of the requirement for on-site car parking for new developments, allowing a more efficient use of land and to support the city’s carbon zero goals.

5. Amending specific residential controls to enable sites to be more efficiently developed.

6. Encouraging medium density up to six stories in the Inner Residential zone, re-focusing pre 1930’s demolition controls, and proposing Character Sub-Area zoning.

7. In Mount Cook, Newtown and Berhampore, enabling development along key transport routes to support the Let’s Get Wellington Moving programme.

8. Investing in infrastructure and open space improvements in Mount Cook and Newtown town centres to service future residential needs within these areas.

9. In 15 outer suburbs, proposing medium density housing to be located around existing suburban centres and along key transit routes, and opportunities for mixed use.

10. In the Johnsonville and Kilbirnie suburban centres, buildings up to eight storeys are proposed.

11. Enabling at least six- storey buildings within a 10-minute walk of the Johnsonville railway station and edge of the centre as well as the Tawa centre; and at least six- storey buildings within a five minute walk of all other railway stations in the city.

Will it work and can mixed use activate the suburbs?

The Spatial Plan will generate much interest over the next few years and lay the foundation for zoning and rule changes in the capital. It is fair to say the NPS-UD 2020, despite only just being released, has highly influenced the Draft Spatial Plan. It requires the removal of minimum carparking standards, encourages quality urban development and responsiveness, and infill especially around existing and future public transport infrastructure. However, the national policy direction is inspired by and drawn on heavily by the Auckland Unitary Plan process - is it feasible for Wellington?

It will be the subsequent District Plan review that may ultimately affect communities and future development projects by altering the planning zones and controls that manage land use, development and subdivision. However, the Draft Spatial Plan will guide the review process, so it is important the strategic city “blueprint” is both workable and well informed.

The success of realising the full potential of the Draft Spatial Plan is closely tied to other external factors, including:

· Building higher than three-four storeys in Wellington is generally associated with much higher seismic, structural and foundation costs. Will this leave a big hole in meeting the aspirations of the Draft Spatial Plan of enabling at least six- storey developments, especially in Johnsonville, Tawa and the Central City?

· Insurance costs have increased in Wellington and many apartment owners are facing higher insurance premiums or challenges getting insurance though their body corporate. Will the cost and difficulty of getting insurance be prohibitive for development?

· With 50,000 – 80,000 more people there will be increased demand on the city's ageing three waters infrastructure and worsening traffic congestion. Will the Draft Spatial Plan adequately address this or exacerbate the current crisis? Let's Get Wellington Moving will go some ways but will its current pace be enough to transform the city?

· Looking at the primary area marked for vertical intensification - Johnsonville - and its growing commercial vacancy rate. How can this be turned around by the Draft Spatial Plan to activate mixed use; where people can live, work, play, and shop?

Ultimately the different opportunities for land use, development and subdivision are up to the market to deliver on the capital aspirations. Council can enable (or restrict) development through its planning tools. It can (and should) also facilitate growth by fixing and building infrastructure. But to lead the way and avoid bottlenecks, a broad and deep understanding of market drivers and disruptors is critical to realising the Draft Spatial Plan.

Wellington City Council is calling for feedback on the Draft Spatial Plan by Monday 5 October 2020, 5pm. This means that the opportunity to influence and inform the Draft Spatial Plan is now. What do you think?

HG will be pleased to assist you with your submission if required. Please get in touch.

Glen Cooper
Team Leader Planning
+64 21 198 2085

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