The Eye of the Fish

August 24, 2010

Whither Johnsonville

There’s some big news from the Council this week, as they debate whether or not to adopt District Plan Change 72 and 73. Councillors will vote on this on Wednesday, in what is probably going to be a massive meeting. More on DPC 72 and 73 later – but first: Johnsonville.

Scoop Wellington (aka Lindsay Shelton) has been hosting a discussion about Johnsonville which seems to take the whole DPC 72 / 73 thing very personally. Have a look at the article “Johnsonville “doomed” by withheld report, claim residents” which has got me a bit staggered as to what they’re smoking up there at the Top o’ the Gorge. A media release by the Johnsonville Progressive Association (well there’s an oxymoron!):

“Wellington City Council Commissioners for District Plan Change 72 have signed off on their report, which is expected to doom a popular northern Wellington suburb to a future of high density, low rent housing, and herald the destruction in over $ 200million in property values.
The Council is expected to rubber-stamp the report next week, but whether or not its contents reflect the massive popular opposition to Johnsonville becoming a “high-density only” housing zone, is being withheld from the public at a critical stage of the electoral cycle. After initially promising to release the report to the public yesterday, it is understood that council officials have closed ranks to keep the report secret until after nominations for forthcoming Wellington City Council elections close at noon this Friday.
“The Council has cynically withheld the report to help save the hides of three incumbent Northern Ward councilors from the fallout. A huge community backlash will erupt when the report findings are made public” says Graeme Sawyer, spokesperson for the Johnsonville Progressive Association.”

Pretty serious allegations – I personally don’t think that our Council is capable of being quite so Machiavellian – but I really don’t understand their (outrageous? mis-guided?) claim that the changes will “herald the destruction in over $ 200million in property values.” Huh? Why? A commenter to the article on Scoop, named Graeme Sawyer, goes on to make even more outrageous claims:

“We don’t want you to rip the guts out of our community and destroy the value of our homes to encourage carpetbagger developers to buy ‘em cheap and put up high-density state houses and cheek-by-jowl “units” that will attract the dregs of humanity. What you don’t seem to understand is that even if no development occurs soon under “Area of Change” (quite likely if the economy remains slow to recover), Johnsonville will crumble, as reduced property rights for homeowners (and the threat of development) will stop families buying homes here to raise their kids, and landlords won’t maintain their rentals (why should they bother, when they might be knocked down in a few years?).
The decline of our neighborhoods has already started, with two muggings (coincidentally, both on the highest density streets of J/ville) in the last two weeks. The blood of those victims – and all the others that occur as J/ville citizens get more transient, rougher, and more desperate over coming years – will be on your head. Unless you front up and do your job (rather than just drawing a salary for keeping a seat warm), and advocate at council for DPC-72 to be thrown out. And if you reply that you are “sworn to act in the interests of all of Wellington” when you vote on DPC72 next week, then please explain to me how making Johnsonville the excrement-pit that it will become, will be good for Wellington?”

The “dregs of humanity”? The “blood of those victims will be on your head”? Oh come on Graeme, stop being such a Drama Queen. Johnsonville is hardly a paragon of virtue at present – and as the DPC hasn’t even been passed yet, then the blood of these particular victims has absolutely nothing to do with city living density. Quite extraordinary. Councillors Ngaire Best and Helene Ritchie have been providing rebuttal to these hysterical rantings – I pity anyone wanting to stand for Council and having to put up with this level of nutty abuse. At least the Fish has well-informed and polite debate. And all of this is because of an expressed desire that another 3000 people can be housed in J’ville. And property prices would probably go up. And there would be more life on the streets. And businesses would grow. And jobs would be available. And good, honest, hard-working people who can’t afford to live in the central Wellington CBD would have a place to live, and make their home.

Kent Duston
24 - 08 - 10

Well, I know it isn’t as exciting as the red-in-tooth-and-claw issues facing Johnsonville, but I’m slightly encouraged by the changed heritage provisions in DPC72. It’s not ideal, but the balance does seem a bit more weighted towards preserving some of the built heritage of the city, and the rationalisation of the rules across all the inner-city neighbourhoods is a definite step forward.

But we did have a couple of noisy drunks in the street last night – should I be blaming them on DPC72 … ?

24 - 08 - 10

Aren’t you worried about your property values being destroyed? Lost your $200million yet? Have you too become the “excrement pit” of Wellington? (well, with the traffic plans for the Basin, perhaps you have).

But yes, I would have thought these protests were just a weeeee bit over the top? » Councilors should vote against plan change, says Johnsonville residents’ group
24 - 08 - 10

[…] Read also JPA claims are “outrageous,” writes Maximus […]

24 - 08 - 10

Scoop have helpfully linked in their article on J’ville to this blog, (for the Scoop on this go to : ) where it says:

“The association is concerned that the new plan “will condemn Johnsonville to a future of high-density, low-quality rental and state housing, in place of existing quality owner-occupier family homes.”

And perhaps there is the rub: that they’re automatically associating High Density with Low Quality.

Those two are not necessarily the same in my books: in fact, one thing stands firmly between them. Yes, the Urban Design Group, at Council. Famed defenders of the urban and the urbane. Stalwarts against a tide of mediocrity. Perhaps someone from the UDG would like to comment on how the J’ville resident’s fears will / will not be realised?

24 - 08 - 10

We moved to Johnsonville in January this year. There were a number of reasons, but among them was the expectation that this intensification bill would be passed and that J’ville would get more high-density housing. I’m expecting the increase in housing density to have knock-on effects for increased local amenities, better public transport, etc. Basically, I think that an increase in housing density will translate to better services and higher property values. I’m absolutely mystified at the attitude of the progressive association.

24 - 08 - 10

I’ve never actually been to Johnsonville. I’ve driven through it a couple of times. Is it worth stopping and walking around?

24 - 08 - 10

Surely the ability to sub-divide properties and thus ‘densify’ the suburb, adds value to properties not the other way around. Are the JPA just another pack of NIMBY’s? : I reckon!

24 - 08 - 10

Someone might usefully ask the main proponent of the inflammatory blather reproduced above whether his own Johnsonville house is divided into more than one residence…

Watch out for references to pot and kettle, and the colour black!

24 - 08 - 10

I don’t usually rise to the bite for people too cowardly to use their own name, Maximus, (or are you really the Dwarf from Onslow, or the Queen B. from Oriental Bay in drag, perhaps?) …but just this once I’ll make an exception!

I’ll admit it was frustrating addressing a report you could’t read (that was held secret for so long). But we have it now, so we can deal with the facts, and they are oh so much better to pick over…

From what I see, your “debate” is quite UNinformed, and no amount of politeness can compensate for that, I’m afraid….

Have you read the design guides? Are you aware of how the DPC 72 Commissioners reports effectively agreed with JPA that they were indeed inadequate? That means, council knows that the “low cost” housing will not in any way be required to be “high quality”. And if a Unit” was goung up next to your ancestral home, would you trust Alex or his mates to build quality over “profitable?” If so, your a better man than I, Gunga Din!

The risk of loss of value of existing housing stock is one of the two biggest risks to J/ville revealled in the reports that WCC themselves commissioned. Have you read them? I think not…(Jack certainly didn’t!). We have though.

Sid is perhaps the most fundamentally mistaken. If you think that “Area of Change” is about encouraging infill housing, then I’m afraid you really do need to do some homework. Its designed to stop it (by using a sledgehammer to crack a nut..).

I suggest you go to the most recent link above, read it, and have another try if you think any of that is wrong with those arguments.

And as for the WCC UDG, well…. they’ve all gone, haven’t they? A chocolate fish for the person that can name a single member of the group that created the “Area of Change” concept who has not been purged or has voluntarily abandoned WCC – and that’s a real shame, as they were nice people with the best of intentions and good knowledge of recent efforts & issue4s. I’d have thought that institutional knowledge would be pretty important if J/ville were to be protected from the carpetbaggers… but, alas, they were expendable…

Reg D
24 - 08 - 10

I’m one of the dregs of humanity and I’ve been wanting to move to Johnsonville for a long time. At least I’ll be able to do it affordably now. I plan to move in to a favela located just across the road from Graeme Sawyer’s home. I’ll build my own shanty from second hand corrugated iron and bits of timber found at the tip. And then I’ll sell drugs, play loud heavy metal music at 2am, and fire my AK47 in to the air whenever I’m excited or drunk. Or both.

24 - 08 - 10

its great that you felt able to trust us and comment – and no, I’m def not the Queen Bee from O Bay ! I’m most amused at the concept – not sure that Kerry would be. No idea who the Dwarf from Onslow is – never mind. We’ve debated the whole privacy / coward thing before – I see this more as a forum for discussion, rather than a place for hating ranting – but am keen for the discussion to be as informed as possible. We’ve generally not had any problems with people being anonymous – and honestly, the dialogue is normally fairly informed.

Yes, I have tried to read the Design Guides – both of them – and yes, I confess that they got me lost, and put me to sleep. Even printing them out was a mammoth task – my sympathies for your trawl through them. And no, I haven’t been to the hearings either – but, I did discuss matters in them with one Council officer – I think it may have been Jeremy Blake – and I’d agree that it is a total shame that all the good, hard-working, knowledgable staff at WCC seem to be being driven away. No idea why that is happening. Clay, Jan, or Tina might know.

Anyway: regardless of that, I still think that the key to getting good neighbouring housing is to work with, and trust, the Urban Design Group. There is absolutely no way that they should be letting through any crap – but I agree that there will be some pressure on them to do so. Push for the highest possible design standards for any new development.

But I do take umbrage at – and total disagreement with you over the loss of property value and the “scum of the earth” and “dregs of humanity” type comments. People who do not earn a huge amount of money, and who might be unable to buy a detached house in the inner suburbs do not in any way automatically equal the sort of degrading comments you are making of them. Goodness man, I think you’ll be regretting those comments when you look back – hugely inflammatory. I’ve rented places for years, always looked after the property, and never had any problems with landlords, whether they were slum lords or not.

The only type of people who I can think of that might fit in that category would be gangs like the Mongrel Mob – none of whom are ever to be seen in infill housing, medium density housing, apartment buildings etc. Methinks, Sir, you do protest too much. But I’ll do as you say, and go and read these reports, and see you tomorrow at the Council meeting no doubt !

24 - 08 - 10

Reg D – didn’t they make a song about you – District 9 ?
How’s the cat food?

24 - 08 - 10

Lets be honest – J’ville is already an urban planning disaster zone. It’s not like they can make it any worse?

24 - 08 - 10

If the claim about loss of value is proportional to density, perhaps he should be proposing demolition of everybody else’s property. . .

25 - 08 - 10

Graeme, well, much against my inclinations for a quiet and uninterrupted night, I spent a good part of the last 8 hours having a read of the first 100 pages of DPC 72 and a decent read also of DPC 73. Exhausting! But well worth it.

I have to say, I am astonished at your campaign of hysteria you have been whipping up amongst the good burghers of J’ville. It is really interesting to note the difference in reception of the report between Kilbirnie and J’ville. The same report, covering the same subject – Areas of Change – while in K town there has been little opposition, in J town there have been several hundred submissions, I suspect whipped up into action by the appallingly mis-named Johnsonville Progressive Association.

Come on G, be honest: you don’t want to be Progressive at all. The changes are trying to make way for a co-ordinated method of infill housing rather than the current incoherent system of back yard infilling, and yet you read into this a system for instigating slums or ghettos (you even try to argue that you meant ghetto when the council said slum. Whatever). You are, in effect, most scared of Housing New Zealand coming in and building State Housing, by which we can mostly infer that you are anti poor people.

Possibly there is an unstated equating of poor = maori or pacifika, and so therefore there is a real possibility that your stance is basically a racist one. No doubt you will deny that, but I don’t think there is any real doubt about that in the dark recesses of the minds of some in (the currently rather white) J town. The simple answer is that there is less opposition in Kilbirnie as it is already a quite racially mixed suburb, with a local mosque, a hindu temple, etc, as well as a lot of infilling already underway (and the large retirement home population).

But the problem is that you’re not going to get much sympathy here in the bigger city. The changes proposed are not really that large – the height limit was going to be raised to 10m, but you’ve got that reduced back to 8m. Living in the inner city, where building height limits are meant to be 27m, or 48m, or even taller in the CBD, the building heights are meant to be a limit at around 6 stories, but developers routinely pressure the Council to try to get 10-11 floors squeezed in. So therefore our sympathy for you having a neighbour who is 2 floors, going on 3 with an attic room, has shot right out the window. Oooh, what a luxury to live in an area that has guaranteed sunlight access planes.

The one area I do have some sympathy for your suburb for is the question of the Public Transport facilities. You’re bang on the money there, and you need to keep hounding the GWRC to install the Kiss and Ride facility for the train station in J town. The WCC should be more supportive of this as well, and should force the Mall owners to make allowance for their carpark to be used in this way. It’s shoddy not to.

And finally, in case you weren’t aware, we’ve commented on the J’ville matters before, including discussing the J’ville Mall before:

25 - 08 - 10

Of all people complaining about literary hyperbole maximus, really?

andy foster
25 - 08 - 10

Hi Maximus

If you want to use this as the start of another blog given it’s length I suspect that would be a better bet. Up to you. I’ve also sent it to Lindsay Shelton at Wellington Scoop.

Warmest regards

Andy Foster

“There’s been a lot of angst from some people in Johnsonville about Plan Changes 72 and 73.

Let’s look at the big picture first. Wellington City’s population is growing, relatively fast in historical terms. The Council is not, repeat not, promoting population growth. I personally believe that all countries should have a population strategy (ie have half a clue where it’s going) because population affects everything, but that’s another matter for now. Anyway Statistics NZ’s medium projection for Wellington City has population rising from 187,000 in 2006 (last census) to 231,000 in 2031. Of those extra 44,000 people the highest numbers are expected to be accommodated in the Central City (12,200), Greenfields (Northern Growth area – 8,200), and infill/dispersed across the city (10,400). Johnsonville suburban centre and area of change are expected to take 3,000.

The question is how to accommodate growth as sustainably as possible – especially important as awareness of Climate Change, and likely long term increases in energy prices. The approach we’ve take is to build further on the compact city approach which the 1994 District Plan reinforced – flexible use in the CBD and suburban centres – result has been a much more vibrant CBD with a fast growing population – and a ‘green fence’ around the city, most of which we’ve bought as the Outer Green Belt in the period since 1992. Ask anyone what Wellington’s great strengths are and even before events and arts probably the fundamental shape of the city will top the bill. Compact, walkable, hills, harbour. That’s us. The one substantial area of greenfields growth provided for was in the northern growth area, its benefit being it is closer to the Central City than Upper Hutt or Kapiti.

The 2006 Urban Development and Transport Strategies are inextricably linked. They responded to relatively rapid population growth since 2001 (September 11 effect ?). We instituted the concept of a multi centre growth spine, so not all the growth would be concentrated in the CBD. That’s about offering choice. The growth spine focussed on key nodes with excellent facilities or the capability to have excellent facilities along the major road and PT transport corridor Johnsonville – CBD – Adelaide Road – Kilbirnie.

We wanted to refine the urban containment approach and differentiate between those areas which are close to public transport, shops, services, and those more car dependent at the top of hills more distant from those services. We also faced if you remember a lot of well founded concern about poor infill being shoehorned in all round the city. We responded in May 2007 with Plan Change 56 which has effectively dealt with that poor quality out of character infill. At the same time we also began a consultation process which ran until the notification of Plan Changes 72 and 73 in September 2009. In that almost 2 1/2 years there were several rounds of consultation, public meetings, a pre draft of the eventual plan changes, and finally the plan changes notification. The philosophy has remained consistent but refinements were made along the way. One important one was that originally we had 10 proposed suburban ‘areas of change’. In the end, because we wanted to focus on a couple at a time and do them well, we opted just for Johnsonville, Adelaide Road and Kilbirnie. All three have also had focus from place based planning exercises and specific budgets provided for community facilities and infrastructure.

Plan Changes 72 and 73 cover the entire residential and suburban centre areas of the city – that is everything that isn’t Central Area, Rural or Open Space, so they are big and affect all of us.They are the biggest single changes to the City District Plan since 1994.

Plan Change 72’s main features include provision for ‘Areas of Change’ to allow medium density housing (not high) in areas close to major suburban centres. That is currently Johnsonville and Kilbirnie but other smaller centres are likely to follow to a smaller degree. To put in context these areas of change have height limits of 8 metres with discretion of 20% (Johnsonville), and 10 metres (Kilbirnie). Site coverage is 50% and there are front yard etc rules. Essentially the bulk and location are not ;high density’ as some have emotionally described them. They are essentially the same as in the inner residential areas which most people think are pretty special (although I acknowledge that the detailing, materials etc of 100 years ago won’t be replicated these days!) It also includes retrofitting the inner city suburban planning rules (Thorndon, Mt Victoria, Aro Valley) so they are in line with the more recent Newtown, Mt Cook, Berhampore rules. There is also prtoection for the coastal escarpment around the eastern and southern bays. A residential design guide is included.

Plan Change 73’s main feature is splitting suburban centres into (1) Centres (like Johnsonville, Karori, Seatoun, Tawa, etc). These obvious vary in size but they are recongised as the hearts of communities – the places we shop, meet, go to libraries and community facilities etc. The design standards across the board have been lifted particularly in centres (active edges – not blank walls, verandahs, not having carparks fronting the street etc). This is also where we want complex shopping centres and supermarkets because they are such big repeat traffic draws. The idea is that in one trip you are likely to do several things – meaning less traffic, less resource use, stronger communities. (2 and 3) Business zones 1 and 2 – one of the things we’ve recongised is the danger of having cheaper industrial and service activities (engineering, couriers, office services etc) squeezed out by higher value activities – notably residential so there are restrictions on residential in Business 2.
As I said another key feature is lifting the design standards – a lot. A blank box used to be permitted. Thankfully not too many were built but we want to do better, and there is absolutely clear evidence that the rules and their predecessor (Plan Change 52) are having an impact. Instead of all suburban centres having the same 12 metre height limits, some suburban centre heights go up (parts of Adelaide Road and Johnsonville) while a lot of the smaller neighbourhood centres heights go down mostly to 9 metres.

The hearings commissioners endorsed the general direction, making a number of refinements around the edges. They did recommend a more detailed design guide for Johnsonville to address things like site specific topography and sublight orientation. Contrary to submitters fears, their view, and logic would suggest this will be the case, was that property values will increase in areas of change.

The intention is absolutely that we see a quality outcome. Let’s be honest there are areas of existing stand alone, or duplex type housing it would be hard not to improve on, but we want to see a really good job done. That;s why all the design guides and rules. I’m also keen to see some demonstration projects – a ‘this is how things could be done’, probably Council working with the private sector, maybe HNZ. I do agree with the Johnsonville Residents Association that we should not be concentrating large areas of social housing all in one place – just as I have concerns about too many small units all in one place in the CBD. The melting pot as the song goes is better than segmentation !

Finally investment and ongoing focus must follow with population increases. In my view these areas need to be great places to live, possibly work and certainly play. In terms of Council facilities, in Johnsonville the Community Facilities Policy confirms the biggest suburban library in the city will be built, we are planning a signficant extension to Keith Spry Pool to be delivered over the next three years, Alex Moore Park needs parking sorted out but it is an obvious candidate for an artificial turf (we need more of these as soon as possible !). We have $5 million for roading improvements budgeted, and the timing will be adjusted to respond to the Mall development. That ball is in DNZ’s court now they have listed on the stock exchange and are obviously in a better space. Johnsonville also already has the best community centre in the city.
Kilbirnie already has fantastic community facilities. We’ve budgeted an upgrade to the community centre. The indoor sports centre is under construction (yeh wrong place – undermines the walkable objective, wrong model and overriced but ..). We’ve budgeted money for street improvements too, and look forward to working with the private sector to deliver on Kilbirnie’s potential.
Adelaide Road has the Drummond Street beautification and we are working towards the boulevard along Adelaide Road itself. Two supermarkets have been consented at either end. Community facilities need to be further considered but Council is repsonding to the request from Mount Cook Mobilised for a community coordinator.
We’ve also developed a plan for Newlands, which was really well received. The Newlands Town Centre has really struggled in Johnsonville’s shadow. Following on from its new community centre, it will get the anchor it needs soon with a brand new supermarket, and associated beautification and layout improvements. I hope we will use Batchelor St flats as an urban renewal demonstration project.
Place based planning is now starting in Miramar, and you’re about to see the next stage of public engagement around planning for the central city (Wellington 2040) which is absolutely crucial.

I know some people will want to preserve the ‘status quo’ (albeit the city has never stopped changing), but that isn’t an option. The city faces challenges. Our responsibility is to look at the big picture, think long term and try to ensure the city develops is as sustainable way as possible, preserving what is important and continuing to make it an even better city to live, work, and play in and to visit.

Warmest regards

Cr Andy Foster
Urban Development Leader
Wellington City Council

25 - 08 - 10

Yep, quite a lot to digest there, so I’ve given it its own post. Thanks for the input. Enjoy that meeting tonight!

26 - 08 - 10


I live in JVille and agree with much of what you’ve said, I think the area would benefit from some intensification if done well.

However, I do take issue with the comment “(the currently rather white) J town.” Rather white in comparison to what? I realise this is a blog and we can expect some off the cuff remarks but this one is simply wrong. Plenty of stats out there – we’re not even that rather white compared to Kilbirnie (west :-)). I would suggest you were too lazy to check but I’m still impressed with your claimed 8 hr effort going through the council docs.

There aren’t any stats available on the JPA (who certainly don’t represent me) – so let’s just direct the rather white comment at them eh?

27 - 08 - 10

a – point taken, and I feel suitably chastised. I was thinking more white in comparison to K town – ie because they have a Mosque, a Hindu temple etc, and from my (limited) personal experience of J town – but I am quite happy to be proved wrong. Any idea where one finds ethnic breakdown of Wellington suburbs?

You are probably also quite right re the makeup of the JPA – I have a feeling it is definitely just like our national soccer team’s name….

27 - 08 - 10

Hit the “place search” tab and have fun with statistics.

Ethnicity breakdown doesn’t go very far, there is quite a variety within the second biggest group “Asian”. We got hit with targetted National campaign leaflets in two different ethnic scripts at the last election – and they still didn’t get it right.

27 - 08 - 10

Checking a’s link above, we find that J’ville is mostly 69% pakeha – except South J’ville, on 62%. Wellington as a whole is also 69%. So J’ville is “averagely white”. Compare this to, say, Karori North, which clocks in at 82% honky. J’ville isn’t all that white, really. While J’ville doesn’t have a mosque, there is a Hindu temple just over the hill in Newlands. The Northern suburbs are a lot more mixed than people think.