The Eye of the Fish

August 28, 2018

Arlington – next phase

Wellington has the highest proportion of Council-provided housing in the country, and a large chunk of that housing is situated on Arlington St. You’re probably all familiar with Arlington as it is on one of the main routes through the city – but a lot of it is looking fairly run down right now. Some of it has already been replaced, with the soon to open, totally rebuilt, Novak and Middleton-designed, Hawkins-built housing that is present on Site 2. We last wrote about it here.


The whole city has been waiting to hear what is happening with sites 1 and 3. Those are the sites where the small-scale concrete block and harries houses are, in beige, looking a bit cold and sad. It’s also the site where the giant Arlington House tower is, the mad Athfield creation that is both loved and hated in equal measures. It’s iconic. It’s moronic. It’s fantastic. It doesn’t work. It’s tenants are, apparently, living in fear! It’s…. probably on its way out.


Developers have been running the numbers for various ways in which to replace the housing. None of the numbers are coming up flush. No one is talking publicly, not just yet anyway, about whether Arlington House gets toppled or not, but I think its a fair bet that it is not staying in its present form. Function has to come before iconic looks, and it just truthfully does not function well. But it could! It needs love and care and attention and a damn good replan, especially with those cantilevered skydecks poking out. They’re meant to be communal laundry spaces or something – but they overheat badly in summer and leak like a Welsh whale in winter. It’s one of Athfield’s greatest moments, as well as one of Athfield’s greatest disasters. Sorry Ath – you can’t win them all.


Anyway – there has just been an announcement over the Arlington sites – that Housing NZ is going to take them over for the rebuild, or at least, is “poised to”. The puzzling thing is that HNZ are saying these will be Kiwibuild homes, which seeing that Kiwibuild is meant to be a way for the private sector to be able to buy a home, seems to imply that HNZ are planning to sell the houses off when they have built them. I don’t think that is going to happen, so presumably the Stuff reporter has got their facts a bit twisted. Still, we (the public) don’t know who is going to build these houses – perhaps Phil Twyford does? We’re still none the wiser how any of the Kiwibuild or HNZ targets are actually going to be met. Anyone got any accurate information? Phil? Justin? Anyone? Bueller?


These houses are just the same. People I’ve spoken to say that there is no way the next phase of houses can be built the same way as the last ones. Novak + Middleton‘s medium-density blocks are built for the long term – all precast concrete slabs to provide strength and longevity as well as solid EQ performance, but they cost way too much for the Council budget I’m told, and they simply can’t build the next lot the same way. Watch this space…


In other news last week, the Council voted to cancel the SHA. The Special Housing Areas, set up by National, set up by Nick Smith if I remember correctly (incidentally – is Nick Smith the secret leaker of Simon Bridges expenses claims? Or is that too obvious? Or was it Whale Oil’s greasy spoon instead – Cameron Cockroach? Who knows? Frankly – who cares? Enough already!). The Special Housing Areas were a bit of a total train-wreck for Wellington – not wanted by the Council, not acted on by any developers, except for this very same development in Te Aro, which had its own special SHA. I think that they have now, all, at long last, been removed. We wrote about them here (an overview), and also here (on Kilbirnie) and especially here (in the central areas).

So I just went back to refresh my memory on what the SHA actually were. Greater Auckland was getting all very excited by this yesterday, with a guest writer Frank McRae getting rather excited and emotional over the axing of the Adelaide Road SHA. He was viewing the WCC action as “Wellington Councillors against Affordable housing” – and he is certainly very passionate about it. His post also appeared on the Wellington SCOOP website – no comments there yet, but over 100 on the Greater Auckland site. He’s now also posted his article on the Talk Wellington website as well.
“Wellington City Council has just voted, against the advice of their own experts, to remove eight key Special Housing Areas which were setup to help ease the city’s housing shortage. This is a move that will ultimately make it harder to build the houses needed to fix Wellington’s broken housing market, exacerbating the city’s affordability crisis and the social problems that come with it.”
Here is the SHA area he was talking about:


McRae noted that “Adelaide Road, Mount Cook and its surroundings [has] CBD proximity and an abundance of open space” – although I would note that much of that public space is out of bounds, being either schools property, hospital property, Government House, or Massey Museum. Not actually free-to-use public space. But he also referenced the voting patterns of the Councillors, where he observed that:

“Councillors Calvert, Calvi-Freeman, Foster, Free, Lee, Pannett, Sparrow, and Woolf all voted against continuing Wellington’s eight Special Housing Areas. Most hypocritically of these were the three Green Party councillors Free, Lee, and Pannet. The three Green Party representatives voted against the SHAs despite the fact that these would enable the city to grow in the most sustainable way possible, and despite the social justice issues that stem from unaffordable housing.”

Is this fair criticism? I’m inviting all those Councillors to respond if they wish, although to date only Andy Foster has responded on this platform. How about telling us, publicly, what the heck IS going on with Adelaide Road? Why so bloody slow? And if not a SHA for Adelaide, then how are you going to get it moving?

28 - 08 - 18

Is Arlington House tower block registered as a Heritage building?

28 - 08 - 18

No, it’s not heritage. Just quirky.

28 - 08 - 18

The real question that needs answering is:
Just how does a Welsh whale actually leak?

28 - 08 - 18

mate – its Made of Leeks!

Good grief – that means you actually read every word?

29 - 08 - 18

SHAs “an absolute miserable failure”…. But some local councillors argue SHAs have worsened the housing crisis, rather than improved it. Wellington city councillor Simon Woolf told Newsroom he believed SHAs were a “total failure”.

“We were sold it on the basis that it would provide affordable housing and developers avoid a little bit of red tape but it wouldn’t impinge greatly on district plan or RMA.”

But Woolf said what was eventually enacted was not at all like what was promised, leading councillors to feel “betrayed”.
He said councillors had been promised that issues such as character, height and density would be taken into account when SHA developments were consented.”

Andy Foster
29 - 08 - 18

Hi Levi

I’ve just sent Lindsay Shelton at Wellington Scoop a long response to Frank McRae’s article on SHAs. Mr McRae’s article is full of errors. In short I agree with him that population growth requires more houses. Whether (ongoing and rapid) population growth is a good thing is another matter entirely.

Where he errs is in implying SHAs are the only tool to deliver housing. In fact less than 1/3rd of the sections and dwellings consented in the last 16 months are in SHAs,
Councillors were assured that SHA status would not mean the RMA and District Plan were pushed aside. The experience says otherwise. That’s why we have the impending loss of a category one listed building at Erskine, and 27 metre high buildings consented at Shelly Bay when the height limit is 11 metres. Attending the Court of Appeal last week I heard the Court being told that SHA status means the expected height is now 27 metres – regardless of the underlying District Plan limits. That was never ever the expectation of the Council.
Have a look at the u tube coverage of the Council meeting of 8 April 2015 when the second group of SHAs including Erskine and Shelly Bay were approved (by split votes). We had been promised when Council entered into a Housing Accord with Government that there would be extensive consultation should any more SHAs be proposed. Here was the second lot (Tranche 2) – 16 SHAs proposed, but no consultation at all! You’ll see the coverage of officer presentation and responses to questions. Starting at 1 hr 31 the officer clearly states that Part 2 of the RMA would apply, the District Plan provisions would still apply and key urban design principles would still apply. At 1hr 42 he answers a question about not consulting and he says that ‘The sites that have been proposed in Tranche 2 are largely residential or areas that have been signaled for residential development so I would not expect that the public would be surprised that residential development might be considered on residential zoned land. I think in terms of consultation if we’d looked at a site for example where it wouldn’t have been the public expectation, rural zone, open space zone, you’d certainly expect extensive consultation.’
So a promise to consult when we entered into the Housing Accord in June 2014 had been discarded by April 2015. Here in April 2015 is the promise of ‘extensive consultation’ should a proposed SHA go into ‘for example’ Open Space zoned land. Just six months later that expectation (shall I say promise) was also abandoned.
Of course once an area is an SHA then there cannot be any notification beyond immediate neighbours.
I can’t talk about Arlington as this has been dealt with in public excluded session. With respect to Adelaide Road, this is what I’ve included in my Scoop article.
I agree completely with Mr McRae about Adelaide Road being an ideal area for intensified housing. He is absolutely right that ‘It is a large area, on the fringe of the CBD on a high frequency bus route that may convert to light rail in the future.’ What he has missed is that Council many years ago increased the height limits along Adelaide Road frontage to 18 metres as of right and 12 metres on a large area of properties behind the frontages. What I suspect has held Adelaide Road back is firstly that the costs of development will be more or less the same as closer to the CBD, but properties will be less valuable. Secondly long planned transport and public space development (except Drummond Street) have not happened as they were originally linked with a Basin Reserve solution. Clearly this soon will be addressed as part of Let’s Get Wellington Moving. Thirdly Council has not yet established an Urban Development Agency to advance development, so it is entirely left to the private sector.
I hope that helps Levi.
Thank you all for the great articles and great discussions.
Warmest regards


Andy Foster
29 - 08 - 18

Bit more info Levi

I’ve just got numbers on how many sections and dwellings have been consented since Council entered the Housing Accord in June 2014
The target agreed was 1000 in year 1, and 1500 per year for the next four years. (ie 7000 over 5 years) We are at the end of year 4 so target to date is 5500.
Actual achieved sections and dwellings is 4105.
Housing certificates of compliance issued is just 2083.
That suggests a lot of sections created – especially in the northern suburbs but yet to have housing on them. In a sense they are probably ‘stocked up’.
Iona and I said we wouldn’t reach that target given past numbers and proposed 1000 + 1200 per year for 5 years as a more realistic stretch target (ie still 7000) or 4600 to date.

Warmest regards


30 - 08 - 18

Thank you Councillor Foster – that’s a mammoth answer, I wasn’t expecting that much honesty from a politician! It’s really useful to know some of the background behind these decisions. We (the public) just see the end result, the headline in the paper – that sort of thing. I’m fairly sure that you have an interest in good quality development at heart – after all, you do hold the Council portfolio for Development, I think? So it is interesting to see from your second comment that in fact Wellington is not quite meeting its target.

I’d be very keen for Wellington to meet its target, but not by continual northern expansion. There is a lot more land in Te Aro, Newtown, and even out on the south coast that could – and should – be developed first. Places where people can get to work by walking or taking a bus – or light rail when it (eventually, inevitably) comes. But those planned houses in Grenada, in Stebbings Valley, on the outskirts of Tawa etc – i’m just hugely uncomfortable about encouraging that kind of thing.

Lastly: if you’re establishing an Urban Development Agency – I want to be on that panel! Is there a place for the Fish?