News | 26 March 2024
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101: Understanding the District Plan

For the first time since 2000, Wellington City Council is halfway through completely rewriting its District Plan – the rulebook on how land-use and housing is managed in Pōneke.

Wellington City from Tinakori Hill on a sunny day

It’s been a complicated process, and it’s a big deal, as it determines how we want our city to look and feel going forward. Find out the District Plan details in our explainer below. 

So, what is the District Plan anyway?

The District Plan sets the direction for new housing for the capital. It spells out the guidelines in terms of housing, vibrant local centres, space, light, noise, views and more, all of which impacts your quality of life as a Wellington resident.

The District Plan is our ‘rulebook’ on how the city grows and changes, taking direction from the Spatial Plan (though it isn’t bound by it).

The Spatial Plan is a growth strategy outlining the ‘where’ and ‘how’ we will grow – a 'blueprint’ for the Wellington of the future. 

The current population of Wellington is around 212,000. Another 50,000 to 80,000 people are expected to be living here in the next 30 years. The city cannot meet this future demand unless it plans and provides for more housing. The District Plan enables more housing and more housing variety to help meet this demand.

A bit of background

Back in 2017, the Council consulted with our communities about their aspirations for Wellington’s future. They told us they wanted a city that was compact, inclusive and connected, resilient, greener, vibrant and prosperous. This was captured in our 2021 Spatial Plan. We also consulted on a Draft District Plan in 2021.

The current District Plan came into effect in 2000. Due to the Resource Management Act 1991, we have a legal requirement to review the District Plan every 10 years. This is so we can make sure that we enable all the latest national policies and regulations. Despite ongoing revisions and changes, it needed to be updated to include the communities’ aspirations and new direction and law changes by central government, such as the National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS-UD).

We notified the Proposed District Plan in July 2022 for formal submissions under the Resource Management Act so that the community and stakeholders could have their say. We received 497 submissions plus 138 further submissions.

A new direction: The Proposed District Plan

The Proposed District Plan was a big shift from the city’s current planning rules. Bringing the aspirations the community has to life, it proposed:

  • Greater recognition of mana whenua values and promotion of an active partnership in resource management processes. 
  • Allowing for taller and denser development in and around the city centre, suburban centres, and train stations, to enable more housing capacity and housing choice.
  • Increasing intensification and mixed-use spaces (blending residential, commercial, cultural, institutional, or entertainment spaces into one space within the existing urban area) to support Wellington's goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.
  • Focused character protections in higher quality character precincts in our inner suburbs.
  • A risk-based approach for natural hazards, impacts of sea level rise, and climate change that balances intensification with adaptation.
  • Heritage listing of new areas, buildings, objects, archaeological sites, and notable trees to protect them from inappropriate use and development, while enabling their sustainable long-term use.
  • Guides to ensure buildings have sustainable long-term use and proposing reducing barriers for earthquake strengthening.
  • Implementing new controls and design guides to ensure high quality urban development.
Birdseye view of Wharewaka and Te Papa area on waterfront

The Proposed District Plan was split into two parts

Due to a law change by central government, parts of the Proposed District Plan relating to intensification and the National Policy Statement on Urban Development 2020 (NPS-UD) had to be separated from other parts of the plan. 

Parts relating to intensification were progressed under the intensification streamlined planning process (the ISPP), with no option for appeals. 

Parts of the plan that don’t specifically relate to densification, like notable trees, temporary activities and sites and areas of significance to Māori, were progressed under the standard planning process. Submitters have the option to appeal Council decisions on these parts to the Environment Court.

Following the formal consultation process…

Submitters were able to speak to their submissions at public hearings. The first of two sets of hearings ran between February and September 2023. 144 submitters took the opportunity to do this. Experts also presented evidence including planning, urban design, transport, heritage, economics, natural hazards, noise and wind.

These hearings took place before an Independent Hearings Panel, which then put forward recommendations to the Council.

The first set of decisions were hot topics

The first set of decisions on the Proposed District Plan were made on 14 March 2024. These mainly focused on the Panel’s recommendations relating to intensification under the ISPP.

Some other parts of the plan under the standard planning process were considered at the same time. 

The first set of decisions formed about 60 percent of the overall plan and covered most of the plan’s submission points.

Councillors debated their views on whether the Panel had found an appropriate balance between enabling growth and change alongside protecting values, such as character, special views and heritage.

The Councillors were able to accept or reject the Panel’s recommendations on the ISPP parts. Where rejected, they could submit alternative recommendations and reasons. The Environment Minister then makes the final decisions between the Panel’s options and the Council’s options. Any alternatives had to reflect submissions or evidence that the Panel had already considered.

Wellington birds eye view at night

So, what did the Council decide? 

On 14 March 2024, Wellington City Council’s Kōrau Tūāpapa Environment and Infrastructure Committee agreed to adopt and approve most of the recommendations of the Panel.

The Committee also rejected a number of the Panel’s recommendations and have referred its alternative recommendations to Minister Chris Bishop to make a final determination.

The Minister can either accept the Council’s alternative recommendations or the one which the Panel made.

Find out how the Council voted and see the list of amendments here.

But wait, the process doesn’t stop there

The second set of District Plan decisions that aren’t related to densification – such as open space zones and rural areas – also need to be considered. 

The Council asked the Panel to provide recommendations on this part of the plan too, to ensure we’re taking a comprehensive approach to Wellington’s built environment. 

These hearings started again in February 2024 and continue over the course of this year. Panel recommendations on these parts will be presented to the Council in 2025.

What’s next then?

So, when do the bits of the plan that have been decided take effect? The Council’s decisions on ISPP matters were publicly notified on 20 March. These parts of the plan are being ‘treated as operative’. The parts referred to the Minister will become operative when he makes a decision. 

The Council’s decisions on related standard planning process parts will be publicly notified in early April 2024. Submitters have 30 days to lodge an appeal to the Council’s decisions. After the 30 days, any of these standard planning process parts that aren’t under appeal can be treated as operative. 

In short, it’s a bit complicated!