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  • Ethan Rogacion

Debate Over Housing Intensification ... Intensifies

ETHAN ROGACION (HE/HIM)


The debate over the future of Wellington’s housing rages on, as Council continues to grapple with the 220 pages of bullshittery brought to it by the Independent Hearings Panel (IHP)


The most recent report brought to council by the IHP contains all of its recommendations for Wellington’s District Plan—the rulebook for urban planning in Te Whanganui-a-Tara—developed via a public consultation process that it has been undergoing since February of last year. However, as pointed out by a number of commentators, many of the recommendations made by the IHP are, frankly, bonkers. 


The Panel’s recommendations on transport and density have come under fire, in particular. For example, the Panel recommended against classifying the Johnsonville line—a train which operates every 15 minutes during peak hours and seats over 1000 people per service—as a mass rapid transit service. This is despite the Panel defining the Kapiti and Hutt lines—which are also trains—as such. In doing so, the Panel’s recommendations skirt around the requirement for areas around mass rapid transit stops to be zoned for increased density.


In addition, the Panel made a number of recommendations about character protections, extending character zones across the city. This would greatly restrict the ability for property developers to increase housing stock and allow for greater affordability in some of the more… unique areas of the city. Devon Street in Aro Valley for instance—one of Wellington’s most infamous shitholes—has been granted character protections by the IHP. This is despite this street being home to The Ditch, a row of rotting houses built in a hole in the ground.


Luke Somervell, from City for People, told Salient that the current recommendations are “bad news for renters.” He is critical of the IHP’s recommendations on character protections, noting that “when the IHP recommends we set aside the equivalent of 200 rugby fields of land in Wellington for character protection, they’re strangling the ability of our city to grow—and [renters] are paying the price.”


“The council only votes on the District Plan every 20 decades. Historically, they get swamped with requests from homeowners pleading to keep things the way they are. And they usually succeed, because there’s next to no input from anyone else”, he said, “so even though there’s a huge demand in Pōneke for townhouses and apartments, it’s really hard to build them.


“If the council doesn’t front up to this crisis, it’ll be harder and harder for us to see a future in the city.” Somervell calls on Council to “ignore the report, face up to the crisis, and make it easier for people to live here. The best way to do that is to sign off on a better District Plan that’ll make it easier for developers to build townhouses and apartments.”


Criticism of the IHP report has also come out of Parliament. Wellington Central MP Tamatha Paul told Salient that “[t]he recommendations fail to address the core drivers of housing insecurity and instability whilst serving to maintain a status quo that has failed so many in the Wellington community.”


“We deserve better, and we can have a District Plan that provides the housing we need into the future … We can have a city where students live in modern, accessible, affordable homes close to campus, where young families can afford to buy a place of their own, and where we welcome people moving to the capital to explore new opportunities.”


Minister for Housing and RMA Reform Chris Bishop—who has previously been critical of the IHP reports—announced last week that he “will be the decision-maker on relevant district plan changes relating to housing where councils and Independent Hearings Panels do not agree.” 


Council will vote on whether to accept or amend the IHP’s recommendations in a meeting on the 14th of March.


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