Can an Eco-City solve Wellington’s housing crisis? Part One.

Guest poster Brendon Harre is taking a close look at the ‘Eco-City’ plans for our hills north of Welly. In part one of three, he introduces why we have a housing problem and what we currently (and have previously) planned to do about it – with an excellent retro video for your viewing pleasure!

This was published in Harre’s collection of essays on Medium,”New Zealand needs an urbanisation project, and is republished here with permission.

If New Zealand embraces innovative and new urban development processes Wellington could build 10,000 houses at about $400,000 each, in a location that can access the region’s major employment markets with 30 minutes or less travel time using rapid transit.

The infrastructure that this development needs, including the rapid transit links, could be paid by the development itself so there is no additional cost to existing rate or taxpayers.

This development could be an exemplar urban development model that could achieve similar beneficial outcomes elsewhere in New Zealand.

In my opinion if this model was repeated ten or more times in Auckland and a similar number in New Zealand’s other high growth urban areas this would break the back of the nation-wide housing crisis.

The question is does this coalition government have the political will to change Wellington’s house building model?

Background

Wellington’s Major Justin Lester in 2018 stated that a Eco-City between Porirua, Lower Hutt and Wellington in the Lincolnshire farm area is a long term possibility that could gain traction when the Government sets up a national Urban Development Agency.

Earlier in 2017, in response to growing housing affordability concerns Justin Lester said the Wellington City Council was looking at ways to “encourage” development on 490 hectares of privately owned city fringe land in the residentially zoned Lincolnshire Farm area. The majority of the land is owned by Rodney Callender, who developed the Wellington suburb of Churton Park.


Rodney Callender – the ‘godfather’ of Churton Park.

Wellington land owners and property developers in 2017 denied the implication they were land banking and instead blamed long consenting timesfor the slowness of house building.

Yet two years later public concerns about Wellington’s housing crisis are still being voiced, with increasing comments on social media and informal blog sites -such as Michael Reddell’s Wellington based Croaking Cassandra website here and here. Main stream media have reported that Wellington house prices have increased 13.5% in the last year.

There is good reason for concern, as the above tweet explains Wellington’s house building rate has not kept pace with population growth since 2014, which has led to large increases in rent.

Median rent figures confirm this pattern and indicate that rents have increased by approximately $100 a week or $5000 a year for 2-bedroom flats in Wellington since 2014/15.

These rent increases mean Jacinda Ardern’s government has not yet delivered on her 2017 Speech from the Throne promise that her government will make life better for renters.

For tenants such rent increases are likely to be the most significant financial factor they have experienced in the last five years.

Wellington rent increases will have eliminated most, if not all, of the benefits from private sector pay increases and government grants -like free tertiary education fees, winter energy payments and working for family tax credits i.e. instead of these private and public payments going to their intended recipients they are going to landlords.

Rampant rental inflation is quite common around the world -it has led to an increase in anti-landlord sentiment that is not present when rents are stable and landlords are seen as providing fair accommodation services for fair prices.

In Christchurch an increased rate of house building between 2014 and 2016 stopped it’s painful post earthquake rent increases. I am sure the same effect would occur in Wellington.

Wellington’s Eco-City plan needs to be shifted from long term possibility to fast tracked actuality. This is due to the financial pain the housing crisis is causing rental households.

What plans are there for Lincolnshire Farm?

Proposed Petone to Grenada Link Road.

Lincolnshire farm is at the heart of a proposed transport corridor connecting Petone with Grenada i.e a short cut route between Lower Hutt and Porirua.

This makes Lincolnshire Farm a strategic location that is not only 15 minutes to Wellington’s commercial business district (when traffic is free flowing) while also being close to Porirua and Lower Hutt Cities.

The Petone to Grenada transport link is being reassessed because previous proposals were not as resilient to earthquakes and landslides as hoped. Also there are concerns it would cost more than the initially projected budget of $270m.

I would suggest the project urgently needs to be reassessed from an integrating housing with rapid transit perspective.

Lincolnshire Farm is not only a strategic transport location, it is one of the most important locations in Wellington for its ability to respond to housing demand.

If Lincolnshire Farm is developed as another typical Wellington suburb it is estimated that 4,500 people will live there in the future. This indicates Wellington City Council planners are expecting about 1800 houses to be built in this location.

Wellington City Council’s Senior Spatial Planner describing in the Let’s Get Wellington Moving -Baseline report: Land use and urban form document the opportunity being:

Lincolnshire Farm is a 400 hectare greenfield site zoned for future urban growth. It is located between Woodridge and Grenada North, on the eastern side of SH1. Lincolnshire Farm is Wellington City’s largest opportunity for residential and business development and one of the largest and most strategically located development sites in the whole Wellington region.

A Porirua to Hutt Valley public transport link is discussed from the 32.30 minute mark in the documentary Notes on a New Zealand City, below (hat tip Chris Harris -Urban Historian, author of Lost City: Forgotten Plans for an Alternative Auckland).

The documentary, after explaining the need for the transport link, presciently discusses ‘status quo bias’ by talking about the then political difficulties of implementing innovative urban development projects.

A NZ Ministry of Works planned electric rail loop between the Porirua Basin and the central Hutt Valley, would have linked downtown Wellington, Porirua and the coastal suburbs with the central Hutt Valley and then back to downtown Wellington again.

In part two, Harre looks at the details of the Eco-City proposal,
how the Eco-City proposal would work in practice and successfully integrating housing with rapid transit.

What do you think?

What do you hope the Eco City proposal will bring to Wellington?

What would you prioritise in a new suburban centre?

How about we drop the Lincolnshire name to start – and try something a little more 21st century Aotearoa modern? How about Horokiwi ki Runga?

Further reading

  • Follow Harre’s tweets, for insights on urban design and better ways of doing suburbs.
  • Harre prompted Talk Welly to delve into residential intensification here.
  • A few years back the Eye of the Fish explored the hills and views of Horokiwi and reckon:“NZTA – just use the Lincolnshire Drive roads! Saves lots of dosh!”

Side note on the retro gems hiding in that 1971 film!

We loved the gems found in that film. Including wisdom from community-minded architects of the 70s, including a young [Sir] Ian Athfield: with strong views that housing developments should be built with a variety of sizes to suit a variety of people, and with the aim of building community.

Look for Architect P. Martin Hill around 26 minutes in: “I think it’s a question of making a balanced community.. bringing old people with the younger people, putting in various types of housing… balancing the types of developments so that there are flats, or perhaps courtyard houses. Houses backed on to green areas, or community grass areas, community living spaces – it doesn’t matter what they are… small communities growing.”

Images:

Main image, Horokiwi on Google maps

Rodney Callender – DomPost, February 2011

Rents chart – Interest.co.nz

Land Lords cartoon – unknown artist, sourced on Twitter

Petone to Grenada Link Road – NZTA

One comment on “Can an Eco-City solve Wellington’s housing crisis? Part One.”

  • Brendon Harre says:

    To put into context how radical the 1971 documentary discussion at about creating a more people oriented city was, at the same time in Auckland the motorway noose around its CBD was being constructed. Patrick Reynolds discusses it here.
    https://www.greaterauckland.org.nz/2019/04/02/off-ramp-city/

    Because the public and politicians failed to embraced innovative urban planning concepts NZ lost 50 years of positive incremental city building development. Unthinking we have taken the easy options that has had the unintended consequences of drowning us in motorway induced externalities (car congested cities) and a lack of quality urban spaces for affordable housing….

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