Wellington councillors told they face 'painful decisions' over affordable housing plan

Wellington City Council chief executive Kevin Lavery warned councillors a new housing agenda would require them to make ...
ROSS GIBLIN/STUFF

Wellington City Council chief executive Kevin Lavery warned councillors a new housing agenda would require them to make tough decisions on developments, often in the face of opposition.

Wellington city councillors need to toughen up and face some hard decisions if they want to carry out their ambitious affordable housing plans, their chief executive has warned them.

"We all want high-quality and affordable housing, but that is not going to be plain sailing," Kevin Lavery told councillors at a meeting on Tuesday. "It's going to be really hard."

They might find themselves having to support developers in the face of opposition from residents and voters, but that was the price of achieving their goals, he warned.

Lavery said councillors would not be able to deliver their affordable housing agenda without streamlined resource ...
MAARTEN HOLL/STUFF

Lavery said councillors would not be able to deliver their affordable housing agenda without streamlined resource consenting, which might make them unpopular with voters.

If they failed to make the tough decisions, they could find developers pulling their money out.  

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He told the meeting his council officers were ready to deliver the "game-changing" agenda councillors said they wanted, but he questioned whether the councillors were ready for the challenge.

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester, centre, with deputy Paul Eagle, left, announced in February that the city would build ...
ROBERT KITCHIN/STUFF

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester, centre, with deputy Paul Eagle, left, announced in February that the city would build 750 social or affordable housing units.

"It's going to require hard work and painful decisions. We [officers] hope you are up for it, and we are prepared to align the organisation to deliver against it.

"But it's not going to be easy, and I think it is important to remember that."

There is an estimated shortfall of about 3900 homes in Wellington, and an extra 37,000 will be required to meet a population growth of between 50,000 and 80,000 by 2043.

Councillors were meeting to discuss the mayor's housing taskforce recommendations, on which they will vote this week.

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The recommendations include increasing building heights and allowing more site coverage, stepping up council-led development, and a partnership agreement with the Government.

Lavery stepped to the podium in the middle of the meeting to tell councillors: "You are going to have to make some tough decisions, often in the face of opposition from local neighbours to developments."

Most of the developments would be in urban areas such as the CBD and, if Wellington was going to be a high-growth city, change was the only way it would work, he said.

To deliver the housing agenda, the resource consenting processes needed to be streamlined, and that would mean adopting a new version of the Housing Accord and Special Housing Areas Act (HASHA).

The accord allows fast- tracking of certain residential developments as a quicker alternative to the Resource Management Act, and gives developers the ability to push through applications without the need for public notification.

Wellington Deputy Mayor Paul Eagle, who led the housing taskforce, agreed with Lavery, saying this was the start of a new norm for the city.

"If the council is going to be pulling parts of the city and different owners together to develop housing, it's going to be very complex and there will be difficult issues. There will be tough conversations if the council is serious about delivering expectations."

But Sarah Webb, from the Inner City Wellington group, said residents were concerned that councillors would be at the beck and call of developers. 

"We feel they might let developers do what they like, and that the only way of getting things done will be agreeing with developers."

 The group worried that more apartment blocks such as Soho on Taranaki St would be erected. "They are tiny, and not a good example of community living."

Mayor Justin Lester said in a statement after the meeting: "It's really good to see the whole organisation putting housing at the top of the agenda. Wellingtonians have been really clear they see this as a top priority.

"We want to be a city where housing is affordable and accessible, and that is going to mean major reform. The strong message is that our council is up for this, and we will leave no stone unturned."

 - Stuff

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