Wellington’s Future Development Strategy: your submission guide (quick!)

Our region’s Future Development Strategy will say what big, important stuff goes where, setting the course for our towns and cities for decades. A Talk Wellington reader lays out why it matters, and how to submit – ASAP!

This post contains some introductory information, and then a submission guide based on the Talk Wellington kaupapa.

As always, if you’re short on time, jump down to the typing cat. 

What’s this about and why should you bother submitting? 

Wellington’s urban area has been spreading outwards, too thinly, for decades and this trend looks set to continue unabated. Put simply, we cannot afford greenfield infrastructure costs given the existing deficits we must address in existing urban areas, and we cannot afford the consequential emissions from forcing people to live further and further from jobs, education and existing amenities. 

We need to reverse this by concentrating growth within existing urban areas – and in some locations we need to start planning retreat from areas that have already been urbanised. This is a fundamental paradigm shift and a profoundly important one.

A “future development strategy”[PDF 20KB] or FDS is the central tool for this. Around the country, these are being developed by urban growth partnerships (like the Wellington Regional Leadership Committee). Urban growth partnerships exist solely to significantly reduce parochial incentives on councils and enable leaders to make decisions that were far more future focused and in the overall public good.

By being a platform for greater-good, collective decision-making and collective responsibility in products like regional plans for infrastructure and food security, the Urban Growth Partnership’s FDS is currently the strongest lever we have for overcoming councils’ perverse incentives. 

Unfortunately, the Wellington Region’s FDS, as it is proposed, will do little that meaningfully moves the dial. It is a great exercise in coordination, bringing all councils’ leadership to look at the same set of data, and agreeing about relatively non-controversial things like avoiding the worst hazards and the highest-quality soils. But it has failed entirely to establish any commitment on what is essential in the mid 2020s: aparadigm shift in how we manage urban growth.

Its headline achievement – that we need to be more compact and concentrate growth around transit stations and try to avoid growing into hazardous areas – is already old news.  

What we have been hoping for is that this FDS will pull the biggest lever (or at least set the stage for the pulling of that lever) that will bring growth into existing urban areas and simultaneously make them better.  Increased population density supports greater amenity and access to daily needs, while also being more efficient and affordable for government. The single biggest lever New Zealand has to do this (short of reforming everything about local government) is investment in infrastructure. This FDS misses the mark on this.

It’s a huge opportunity lost. 

What is good about the proposed FDS?

The statement of Mana Whenua values and aspirations is a great part, being far bolder and stronger than the rest of the document. But its influence on the region’s development, relative to the rest of the document, is wholly unknown. 

The part about providing for industrial land is alright.  

The hazards work is a good basis. But again, because the FDS plans to let existing greenfield areas go ahead with major public subsidy just for their establishment infrastructure (let alone its ongoing maintenance), and there’s no provision for assessing whether these are going to be a net gain to the region, it is only step 0.5 of 5. 

What should the FDS do, to be what we need?

For the short term (i.e. the next 30 years), a useful starting point is the following three initiatives: 

  1. A hard moratorium on any greenfield development until after local government and infrastructure funding reform has passed. (Alternative: remove all public subsidy for infrastructure and services in greenfield development.  Developers are, of course, free to bring great propositions to the table.)
  2. A hard prioritisation of infrastructure upgrades for intensification, based on a “decide and provide” approach rather than a “predict and provide” approach. This should use a variety of thresholds or trigger points: 
    • where do we not want any population growth to occur, because we absolutely can’t provide infrastructure in a sustainable way long-term (including: places where an upgrade to infrastructure is doable, but they will effectively be the foreshore in a couple of decades). This will likely include where the upfront costs of infrastructure connection are in the order of $200,000 per home, regardless of their long-term prospect.
    • where we do want growth to go, given the science of cities. Key considerations include the science around wellbeing and the urban fabric; the science of agglomeration; where revenue comes from in cities (essentially: taxing productive activity happening on the land); elementary materials efficiency and energy efficiency for the day-to-day operation of an urban area.
    • where do we really want growth to go: the best of the best, the blindingly obvious places. For those blindingly obvious areas, strongly putting in place the base zoning and policy settings to enable proper provision of housing and amenities in those areas, and concentrating investment into the necessary infrastructure upgrades.  (No, this hasn’t yet been done).  
    • All this assessment should be done by some highly qualified and independent third party, such as a region-wide experts’ group accountable to the infrastructure Commission or some other non-council body
  3. For all areas we do want growth (intensification, remember) but that aren’t entirely blindingly obvious, a two-prong approach. 
    1. Investigate towns’ and cities’ network capacity really well, to find exactly where you do have headroom for some incremental development. 
    2. In the short term, allow intensification wherever it can occur with minimal expense in infrastructure upgrade, especially with new development designed to reduce loading on your networks (e.g. making active travel the first-best choice for all daily trips by residents, having smart wastewater systems, and intelligent stormwater management.  At the same time, accelerate really good assessments of infrastructure upgrade costs for areas we want growth (intensification) to go, and then decide how we will ensure it’s yielding the highest value to communities and the highest return on investment. [*footnote] 

Note: All potential growth in the region must be on the table for this assessment process including all areas which have not had comprehensive infrastructure cost assessment yet have been progressively “signalled” in successive sketches and structure planning, and gentlemen’s understandings with land-bankers.  This includes areas such as Lincolnshire Farms and Stebbings Valley, the Northern Growth Area, east Carterton.

This combination 1-3 will, in the short term, remove the bulk of the uncertainty about where scarce public investment will go.  Simply removing this uncertainty will galvanise shorter-term development activity by the private as well as public sector.  Medium term, this combination will enable more clear-eyed assessments about what is worth doing and what’s not. 

Major reform is coming, of the machinery of government that plans, delivers, funds and maintains major infrastructure in urban areas.

An FDS that prioritises growth with an objective lens will enable new arrangements to readily fund the kinds of urban change that is needed.

We can’t let this opportunity pass us by to get the FDS right. 


New Zealand has a poor track record of accurately assessing costs for infrastructure, including in greenfield where it is relatively more straightforward than in brownfield (see for example: Drury). But we box ourselves into a corner by rezoning land and raising expectations before understanding just how much it will cost to provide infrastructure and maintain it (see for example: Plimmerton Farm)

Some areas where we would want to grow which have points against them (e.g. coastal settlements) may be such good places for more people to live that if we ensure lots and lots more valuable (taxable) activity starts happening there, we may decide it’s worth the perpetual cost of coastal defences and mitigation of sea-level rise.  But this calculation needs to be independent and very well informed.

Quick-submission guide

The following is some advice pursuant to the Talk Wellington kaupapa. PIck and choose, and make it your own.

The WRLC ideally want you to submit in their online portal, but if you just want a cut-and-paste for a sub-5-minute submission you can use email. Remember; last day is Thursday 9th November!



subject line: 

Submission on FDS

Body text: 

[name email postal address (note you can request that’s kept private)]

Submitting only as myself 

Overall note: as there is no option for “support and want it to go harder” or “do not support because it’s not strong enough”, I have been forced to tick “support” throughout. 

Q1: vision and strategic direction 

I support the vision and strategic direction but especially the Mana Whenua statement of values and aspirations because it’s a very basic start.  The direction should have prioritised or weighted objectives, particularly equity and emissions reduction, so it was able to start inducing a paradigm shift in how we manage urban development. 

Q2: Our plan for where we develop housing…

 I do not support the proposal because it is not strong enough. I wish to see the FDS apply the three initiatives (1-3) in the Talk Wellington post.    

Q3: [you pick – over to you]

Q4: key infrastructure… 

 I do not support the proposal because it is not strong enough. I wish to see the FDS apply the three initiatives (1-3) in the Talk Wellington post.    

Q5: limit or avoid development…

I do not support this proposal as it seems unlikely that public subsidy will be withdrawn for slated greenfield areas.  If it were to be, I would support this proposal. 

Q6: iwi and hapu values and aspirations

I support these and the FDS would do well to take on their ambition. 

Q7: what else is important: 

[Whatever you like – about how important it is to move the dial on how we manage urban environments, or how urban space is the biggest opportunity New Zealand has to lower emissions, or…]

 Go you good thing! 

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