“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.
Cr Andy Foster
Urban Development Leader
Wellington City Council