Encroachments Policy under Scrutiny at City Council

8 June 2010

Consultation on a draft policy about road encroachments and sales of Council road reserve land begins today (Tuesday 8 June), including options for changes to fees.

The Council owns more than 660 kilometres of legal road around the city, made up of actual formed road, footpaths and unformed legal road. Around 6,000 Wellingtonians currently have encroachment licences or leases to use legal road, mostly for private parking, access or outdoor living. Often this land remains Council-owned because it might be needed for future roading projects, or in some cases it's a protected area of significant vegetation.

The Council is seeking public feedback on the principles and criteria under which it will be decided whether applications for encroachments will be granted or not, and the basis for how encroachment fees should be set. Three options are included for how the fees could be set:

  • the preferred option where rental fees would be set in proportion to the value of land in a given area or suburb; or
  • a system where every homeowner is required to negotiate with the Council based on the market value of their property; or
  • maintain the status quo where everyone in Wellington pays a flat rate of $11.25 per square metre regardless of the value of the land.

If agreed, the preferred option would remove the inequities between homeowners citywide. Residents in some areas of the city such as Tawa, Newlands, Johnsonville, Mornington and Owhiro Bay would be expected to pay less for their licences. At the same time, suburbs with high market value such as Seatoun, Mt Victoria, Thorndon, Roseneath and Oriental Bay would be likely to see an increase in their encroachment fees under the preferred option.

The Council's Urban Development Portfolio Leader, Cr Andy Foster, says a lot of issues need to be addressed such as ensuring protection for significant vegetation, fairness between property owners and the balance between public and private benefit. "These are important issues because there are road encroachments in most of Wellington's streets, so I would encourage people, even if you don't have an encroachment, to have a quick look at the policy."

"All this will happen before we so much as look at setting actual fees. Fees resulting from the new policy would not be considered until next year's draft Annual Plan," says Cr Foster.

If the preferred option is given the go-ahead by Councillors, a further decision will be needed on when the new fees structure would commence. The preferred option is that the changes would begin from July 2011. However there is also the possibility that the changes might not come into effect on each individual property until a new licence is issued - for example, when a property is sold or changes are made to an existing encroachment licence. This would mean it would take many years for the new fees structure to be in place across the city.

There has also been confusion over the years about the definition of a 'structure' in the existing policy. Until now, fences and hedges, which prevent public access to road reserve land, have not been included as a structure and therefore if a property owner has built such a structure around land enclosing less than 50 square metres, they pay no rental fees. Under this draft policy, someone who has fenced any road reserve land which would prevent public access would pay a yearly rental fee for the land they are using. This would be a significant change for some property owners. Cr Foster says "again we want to hear from people about this proposal."

If a homeowner encroaches onto Council land but does not build a structure, then the current policy of allowing landowners the first 50 square metres free would continue. Landowners who simply tend or beautify unformed legal road land and don't have any structures on the land pay no fees and do not need a licence.

Also included in the draft policy is the issue of airspace encroachment fees for structures like balconies - usually in the central business district. The Council has found that people who buy an apartment are sometimes surprised to find they have to pay a yearly encroachment fee for their balcony when, for example, it overhangs a public footpath or roadway. Rather than charge apartment owners a yearly licence, it's recommended that the Council moves to charging a one-off fee up front to cover the life of the building. This fee can then be incorporated into the market value of each individual unit and result in no surprises for individual apartment buyers.

Cr Foster says the Council also intends to start discussions with the Government on making it easier for homeowners or commercial property owners to buy Council land outright should the Council determine that the land is no longer required for future roading purposes or is significant to the look and feel of the area.

"At the moment, it's an intensely drawn-out, bureaucratic process for property owners and the Council - and it's very expensive too."

The deadline for feedback on the proposed changes to the Road Encroachment and Sale Policy is 5.00pm on Thursday 8 July and can be made online. Information is available on this website in the Public Input section, and from libraries. The draft policy will be considered by Councillors in August.