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  • Darcy Lawrey

Gordon Wilson is Dead, Long Live Affordable Housing

DARCY LAWREY (he/him)


Last Thursday, Wellington City Council passed what Councillor Nīkau Wi Neera described as “the most pro-housing, ambitious set of amendments that we could”, as the council voted on changes to the District Plan.

 

The meeting saw the council’s biggest break from the NIMBY-ism which has defined housing policy in the city for decades. W after W for affordable housing flashed onto the council’s voting screens.

 

So overwhelming were the wins for affordable housing that Councillor Nicola Young may have been left with a mild case of amnesia, saying “I’m so numb about the district plan I can barely remember what [the amendments] are.”

 

Notably, the council has defined the Johnsonville rail line as mass rapid transit, ending speculation on whether a train is indeed a train, and allowing for countless new homes to be built along the line. Some opposition to the decision came from Young, who said she thinks the line is like the Thomas the Tank Engine books she used to read to her son. Young: “It’s a little chugalug-chugalug”. She was, however, quick to clarify that she “loves trains”.

If carried through by Minister of Housing Chris Bishop, the changes to the plan are going to redefine Wellington’s housing situation.

 

Despite this long list of transformational changes for housing, it was a smaller change that will have caught many Wellingtonians’ eyes. At last, a long-abandoned former social housing development—the Gordon Wilson Flats—has had its heritage protection revoked.

 

Thanks to a lawsuit brought by Wellington Architectural Centre against VUW and WCC in the Environment Court, since 2017 only graffiti artists have been able to touch the building, which stands on ideal land for the University.

 

At the council meeting, Councillor Ben McNulty put forward an amendment to remove heritage protection for a variety of properties, including Gordon Wilson, which passed 16-2. Tina Wakefield, the University’s chief operating officer said that VUW was “delighted” with the council’s decision, pending minister Bishop’s approval.

 

A neighbour of the flats on The Terrace described the news as “the best thing to ever happen”, and suggested that the University should “tear them down”.

 

While the University is currently pretty far from being able to afford a massive teardown and redevelopment of the site, a previous proposal, Te Huanui, looked at transforming it into the University’s ‘front door’ to the city, with new teaching facilities and easier access to the Kelburn campus.

 

Although Te Huanui would not include any student housing, Wakefield says that VUW is intending to provide more accommodation, and a more diverse range of options, in the future.


There is much more work to be done when it comes to affordable housing in Te Whanganui-a-Tara, but things might be looking up. Mayor Tory Whanau, at last week’s council meeting: “Give us a bit of time, and we’ll get some affordable homes for you all”


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