District Plan Rewrite under Scrutiny this Week

23 August 2010

A major rewrite and expansion of Wellington's town-planning rule book - the District Plan - is to be considered by the City Council at its full meeting this Wednesday 25 August.

The proposed changes to the Residential Area and Suburban Centre zones of the District Plan are the result of four years' work and consultation with Wellingtonians.

The proposed rules aim to cater for predicted population growth in Wellington by encouraging medium-density housing in some parts of the city and the development of suburban centres - but they also aim to protect other important aspects such as our coastal scenery, heritage and our 'quieter' residential areas.

The rules, known as Plan Changes 72 and 73, cover most of the built-up area of the city - everything except the central business district and our rural areas - so most Wellingtonians will potentially be directly affected.

The Council will be asked to vote on whether to approve Plan changes 72 and 73. If they vote in favour, the new rules will apply from 28 September 2010.

The vote will confirm the proposed changes which follow a marathon seven week hearing from the end of April to mid-June that was presided over by commissioners Alick Shaw, David McMahon, and City Councillors Leonie Gill and Ray Ahipene-Mercer.

It also follows an at-times controversial process of consultation since the review of the residential and suburban centre rules began in 2007. Meetings were held all over the city and often involved heated debate as residents and business people challenged and discussed issues as varied as infill housing and whether developers should have the right to build shopping centres wherever they like.

City Councillor Andy Foster, the Council's Urban Development Portfolio Leader, says the commissioners have clearly listened to the concerns of submitters because they have made some "important tweaks" to the proposed rules.

He also paid tribute to the commissioners, the many council officers, and submitters "who have thrown a huge amount of effort at this long-running, epic, planning initiative".

Cr Foster says the proposed Plan Changes won't alter the appearance or makeup of the suburbs overnight - but in some areas, especially the likes of Johnsonville and Kilbirnie, the new rules and zones mean locals can expect more medium density development close to the suburban centres in the next few years.

"This city's population is growing steadily. That isn't something Council is deliberately pushing, but we do need to make sure that population growth is accommodated as sustainably as possible. While a lot of it is in the central business district, we've targeted big commercial hubs like Johnsonville and Kilbirnie to be areas where housing will be more intensive. This could mean more apartments, in marginally taller buildings than are currently typical of these areas."

Population growth has to be accommodated efficiently and sustainably, Cr Foster says. "We want to avoid urban sprawl around the city and region - and Wellingtonians have already shown that not all of us are still wedded to the house in the suburbs with the big section and the compulsory lawnmowing. Providing choice of housing is really important too."

"Wellington is growing - much faster than anywhere else in the Wellington Region. The bulk of this growth is in apartments and multi unit developments. The Council believes it is critical to plan for growth and change in a way that is sustainable, minimises pressure on transport, infrastructure, and energy use, ensures good provision of the range of services needed in a modern city, and maintains and enhances the things that we most value about our city - our 'sense of place'. Our thinking has been constantly refined as a result of feedback and research.

Cr Foster says Plan Changes 72 and 73 constitute the biggest review of the District Plan since it was introduced in 1994.

And he says that, to a certain extent, the review waves farewell to the laissez-faire planning policies in vogue in the early 1990s following the introduction of the Resource Management Act - which in turn spawned the 1994 District Plan.

"We have progressively moved away from the more laissez faire rules of the 1990s - which allowed medium-density infill housing anywhere in the suburbs and which caused much anguish for neighbours. We're also giving more teeth to requirements that development in residential areas and suburban centres be well designed and relate well to surrounding areas."

"But now, with Plan Changes 72 and 73, we've moved back to a certain amount of zoning," says Cr Foster.

Cr Foster says the Plan Changes are the basis of a coherent urban development strategy for our city and its future development.

The key philosophies remain - encouraging intensification of residential development close to services and passenger transport to increase sustainability in its widest sense, ensuring robust vital suburban centres with a range of services as hearts of our suburban communities, providing for large format retail and commercial activity, and improving the quality of future development - residential and suburban commercial.

Key Elements in the Plan Changes

In suburban centres (Plan Change 73)

  • We currently have some 43 suburban centres, all with essentially the same planning rules. The Plan Change proposes 67 centres or business areas. A number of small neighbourhood centres are proposed to be 'up-zoned' from their current residential zoning to a commercial zoning. Boundaries of many centres are also tweaked.
  • Plan Change 73 also differentiates between true suburban centres like Johnsonville, Karori, Ngaio, Seatoun, and more 'industrial' areas like Ngauranga Gorge and Grenada North.
  • We want to ensure traditional suburban centres thrive because they are the hearts of communities, have a lot of investment in public facilities - libraries, community centres etc, are served by public transport and are places where people can do a lot of things in one visit, reducing transport requirements.  They are places for small retail, and high repeat visit destinations like malls and supermarkets. Higher quality design, active frontages (not blank walls), verandahs, are all important and will be required,. Above ground floor residential is encouraged. Importantly, the Adelaide Road area which has been the subject of extensive and detailed consultation now becomes the Mount Cook Centre. We see this being progressively transformed into a high quality, higher density, genuine mixed use area.  Already supermarkets are proposed at either end.
  • Business 1 Zones are proposed as areas for mixed use including residential. Urban design is important, but the triggers are higher. Importantly there are restrictions on mall type developments or large supermarkets, because of their potential to draw people away from traditional town centres and undermine them. Essentially Business 1 areas are likely to be for large format retail of the sort we tend to visit occasionally.
  • Business 2 Zones have much lower urban design requirements, and aren't seen as appropriate for residential activity. They are essentially for more industrial activities, building suppliers, distribution and service type activities. Think courier bases, office supplies, panelbeaters, engineering workshops, distribution warehousing. Retail activities are likely to be large yard based ones - garden centres, hardware, etc being allowed as of right. Analysis indicated a risk that these kinds of activities are being squeezed out of Wellington by activities able to pay higher prices for land.  

'Tweaks' proposed by the commissioners:

  • rezoning of the ex service station and adjoining sites at 68-82 Aro Street from Inner Residential to 'Centre' to better reflect the past use of the site and to ensure high quality urban design outcomes for future development of the sites.. A more restrictive maximum permitted height of 9 metres has been imposed to reflect the existing scale and character of the Aro Valley Centre. 
  • increased permitted building heights for the southern end of Rongotai South
  • up to 16m for a small area of properties adjacent to Lyall Bay Parade. The commissioners tagged this increased height with new standards to ensure mixed use development of a high standard with active street frontages.
  • tweaks to a few of the urban design standards relating to verandahs, display windows, active street edges etc
  • strengthening the policy regarding urban design and noise issues.

In residential areas (Plan change 72):

  • Allowing implementation of the extensively consulted on policy of encouraging more development areas of change - medium density housing around key suburban centres. This is an important step in allowing more people to live closer to services and public transport, and to a more sustainable city better equipped to adjust to the threats of climate change and peak oil. The first two are around the Johnsonville and Kilbirnie Town Centres. While the central business district is easily the fastest residential growth area it's important to provide for choice. We have some greenfields development provided for, but it is also important that we don't rely on sprawl as so many cities have with all the transport problems that brings. 
  • Special focus on coastal character protection around the eastern and southern bays. The current pattern of development is largely of a single line of dwellings at the foot of escarpments, undeveloped green escarpments and then other development at the tops of those escarpments. The proposed rules give Council ability to restrict development into those escarpments which are seen as an important part of Wellington's sense of place.
  • Reflecting that Oriental Bay is the city's great promenade Plane Change 72 proposes support for ground floor commercial activity there where it supports public use of Oriental Bay.
  • Our inner suburbs like Thorndon, Mt Victoria, Aro Valley, Newtown, Mt Cook, are also critical to our sense of place, with their highly coherent streets of pre 1930 housing stock. They are already governed by a range of planning rules developed over the last decade. Plan Change 72 brings the earlier plan changes up to the level of the later ones.
  • Urban design quality for multi unit development is enhanced under a new Residential Design Guide. Important principles include respecting the character of the surrounding area, provision of positive open space, sunlight access, privacy, carparking provision, and relationship to the street. There are special guidelines for the above character inner suburbs.

'Tweaks' proposed by the commissioners:

  • The Johnsonville Area of Control 2 has been renamed the Johnsonville Medium Density Area 2 (JMDA) as this name better reflects the objective of increasing intensification around the Johnsonville Town Centre.
  • The maximum permitted height for residential development in the JMDA has been reduced from 10 metres to 8 metres.  Additional infill controls have also been introduced in the JMDA to protect existing character and amenity.
  • The pre-1930s demolition rule has been extended to residential properties in Holloway Road, so that no dwelling can be demolished without a resource consent.
  • All private schools not covered by a school designation are permitted to undertake minor building works up to a maximum of 100 sq m, without needing a resource consent.
  • A number of minor changes have been made to noise insulation, vehicle access, and bulk and location requirements for residential development.

Check the Council's website to view the proposed Plan change documents.