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Council powerless to stop ‘waste of space’ housing development

Some Wellington city councillors are aghast that what they call a ‘waste of space’ inner-city development will probably get approval, and they can do nothing to stop it.

Image: RNZ / Supplied

The developers behind The Paddington want to build about 150 upmarket terraced houses on Taranaki Street in the central city, with prices starting at $788,000.

The complex is expected to become home to about 300 people, however, the buildings are only two or three storeys high, in an area with a maximum limit of 27 metres.

The city’s expecting as many as 80,000 extra people by 2043.

The city councillor with the housing portfolio, Brian Dawson, said more people need to live on those prime, inner-city blocks.

“It’s disappointing for me because we all know we’ve got very limited amount of land, particularly in the CBD and it’s a shame we can’t maximise what we’ve got. While all new housing you could say is good housing, at the end of the day we could get a lot more in that space,” Mr Dawson said.

It’s a space which is currently home to a car yard for Mazdas and Fords.

Mr Dawson said he did not begrudge developers the right to build what they wanted, but said most of the anticipated new residents would live in the central city.

“We could [house] twice as many at least if it was high rise and that’s the issue, we’ve got limited land in the CBD and this being the part of town that most people want to live, we need to be thinking far more lofty,” he said.

At the showroom, Thames Pacific developer Stephen Sutorius said there were too many apartment blocks nearby to build another one on the site.

“You can’t have high-rise blocks all next to each other. You’ll get a city where you have no sun, you have no light throughout the developments or throughout the city,” Mr Sutorius said.

Construction was likely to start in November this year, with completion estimated for mid-2021, he said.

Despite city council unease, property owners have snapped up the townhouses planned as part of The Paddington in the Wellington CBD. Photo: Supplied

More than half of the freehold townhouses at the $125 million development sold in under a month, Mr Sutorius said. “We’d be nowhere near the amount of pre-sales that we want if we’d gone for a high-rise,” he said.

And recent headlines on insurance and body corporate difficulties had turned many buyers away from apartments, he said.

“A number of people just don’t like living in high-rise buildings, they do want to be living in town but after the Kaikōura [earthquake] events they’re too nervous to go back up in a high-rise,” Mr Sutorius said.

Mr Dawson said the council was not legally able to stop the development.

“We can only work within the limits of the law that we have in front of us at the moment, and that says: if it meets the Building Act, if it meets the resource consent guidelines, if it’s within the RMA (Resource Management Act), we have no choice but to say yes to it,” Mr Dawson said.

Central city councillor Nicola Young said that was a shame because the development was a “waste of space”.

In this case, the district plan had left the council and councillors impotent, she said. That is why the council wanted residents to have their say on how to plan for growth as it gets ready to revise its district plan, which governs requirements such as building heights and density.

“We need to have more power in the district plan. We have maximum heights but we don’t have minimum heights. We need a rule for minimum heights [in the central city],” Ms Young said.

But Mr Sutorius warned minimum heights could lead to overly intense building, unless other rules were changed to ensure good access to sunlight and open space.

Nevertheless, changing the district plan could take as long as a decade based on past experience.

“Local government moves incredibly slowly,” said Ms Young. “They say Rome wasn’t built in a day; well, you can certainly apply that to Wellington, too.”

RNZ / Michael Cropp