Reddell on housing in Wellington

A great blog post by Michael Reddell who for his sins attended a consultation meeting by . He writes:

Question 1 on the WCC consultation form says “Where should medium-density housing development happen in your suburb?”, which on the one hand presumes that people agree that such development should happen at all, and on the other leaves me scratching my head thinking “well, surely on any site where someone finds it worthwhile to do so”.   And then “what standards of design should the medium-density housing meet?”, and I’m thinking “whatever works best for developers and willing buyers”.   But I’m pretty sure I was the only person in the room last night thinking anything remotely along those lines. 

Alas such views will be unknown in any Council housing department.

Instead of a focus on facilitating landowner rights, consumer choice, and competition, the whole thing flow from a central planner’s identification that Island Bay is one of those places with a strong “town centre” and hence a candidate to promote medium-density dwelling.  I was trying to work out why Island Bay is identified and not, say Seatoun –  similar public transport, similar vintage houses –  and I can only conclude that it is because the latter lacks a supermarket, an anchor of the “town centre”.  It puzzles me what happens to the Council’s logic if the(small by modern standards) supermarket were to close

Maybe they’d then knock all the new houses and apartments down!

But part of the consultation is about preparing a “plan to guide development in Island Bay town centre”.  The so-called “town centre” is perhaps 15 private shops, in a higgledy-piggledy variety of styles, several of which are threatened by the Council/government earthquake-strengthening requirements.  But why do we need bureaucrats “planning” a “town centre” to “ensure coherency across different developments and help contribute to a more attractive and vibrant centre”?    At the meeting, the bureaucrats talked of checking to ensure that “we have located the town centre in  the right place” –  to which one response might be that the market already resolved that one more than 100 years ago. 

There’s a few shops down at the Esplanade end also. If over the next 20 years it becomes a seaside resort and ends up with 20 cafes and shops, then that’s great. We don’t need to plan where town centres and shops go.

Just like the IMF the other day, the Council is keen on only “high quality” housing, but why is that something for them to decide, rather than willing buyers and sellers?


So the Council staff were bad, but they met their match in the residents.  There was a strongly negative reaction to the notion that anyone outside Island Bay should have any say on the proposed changes – forcing staff to downplay the very suggestion.  There was a great deal of concern about protecting people’s house prices (up), but no apparent sense that allowing land to be used more intensively would, all else equal, make it more valuable not less.  There was concern about what sort of socially-undesirable people might move into these new dwellings (and this is one of the more left wing suburbs around), and so many demands for controls and restrictions that –  briefly – the Council staff were forced to defend the ideas of choice and private property rights.  One person was appalled at the idea of three storey dwellings – this is a suburb surrounded by, and partly built on, high hills.

Almost funny, if not so sad.

But the pressures to do so, and the sorts of vocal clashes I witnessed last night, arise largely because Councils are reluctant to see the physical size of the city grow.  Wellington might not have much flat land –  although most people probably don’t live on flat land in Wellington anyway –  but any time I fly in or out of the place I’m reminded that it is not short of land. 

Our city has huge amounts of land, and still close to the city centre.

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