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Chris Bishop makes way for more housing in Wellington but keeps controversial heritage listings

Author
Georgina Campbell,
Publish Date
Wed, 8 May 2024, 1:21pm
 Chris Bishop. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Chris Bishop. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Chris Bishop makes way for more housing in Wellington but keeps controversial heritage listings

Author
Georgina Campbell,
Publish Date
Wed, 8 May 2024, 1:21pm

Resource Management Act Reform Minister Chris Bishop has sided with Wellington’s left-leaning council on most of its alternative proposals to intensify housing in the city.

Bishop disagreed with Wellington City Council on a proposal to remove controversial heritage listings from 10 buildings, including the derelict Gordon Wilson Flats.

Earlier this year, city councillors voted through an ambitious new district plan enabling the construction of tens of thousands of new homes, including apartments and townhouses in suburbs where they are effectively banned.

In doing so, they rejected recommendations by an independent hearings panel around intensification, character and heritage protection, putting their own alternatives forward instead.

The matter was then referred to Bishop as the final decision-maker. His decisions cannot be appealed against.

Bishop announced today that he agreed with nine of the council’s alternative plans including reducing the city’s protected character areas from 206 hectares to 85 hectares and classifying the Johnsonville railway line as rapid transit to enable developments of up to six storeys close to stations along this route.

“The reasons for accepting these recommendations vary depending on the precise issue but, in general, the council’s recommendations give better effect to the National Policy Statement on Urban Development in that they provide additional capacity for housing and business land, will better achieve a well-functioning urban environment, will better provide for a competitive development market and provide for a more efficient use of land,” Bishop said.

Bishop did not side with the council on the proposal to remove 10 heritage listings from buildings including Gordon Wilson Flats, the Miramar Gas Tank and Star of the Sea Chapel.

The Gordon Wilson flats have become a prominent symbol of the contentious heritage debate in the capital. The building has sat empty at 320 The Terrace since 2012 after social housing tenants were kicked out following findings it was unsafe in the event of an earthquake or strong winds.

The Gordon Wilson Flats on The Terrace. Photo / Mark Mitchell
The Gordon Wilson Flats on The Terrace. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Demolition of these listed buildings is nearly impossible given their heritage status.

In the original District Plan put out for public consultation, the council’s position was that the 10 buildings in question should be on the heritage schedule, Bishop said.

“The council’s own heritage expert and planning officer supported this and provided evidence to this effect to the Hearings Panel. The Hearings Panel therefore recommended the 10 buildings be listed or retained on the heritage schedule.

“The council has not pointed to any evidence to support its reasons for rejecting the Hearing Panel’s recommendations. No expert heritage evidence was lodged by building owners.”

Bishop said that given the evidence before him, and without the ability to seek further evidence in this particular process, he agreed with the independent panel to keep the heritage listings.

He also said that he understood the council’s position and that he has received separate correspondence from Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau about making it easier to delist heritage buildings.

“I have already asked for advice on this matter and I look forward to conversations with her and other councils regarding the issue of heritage and how it impedes development,” Bishop said.

Bishop has also not accepted the council’s request against upzoning the Kilbirnie centre.

Georgina Campbell is a Wellington-based reporter who has a particular interest in local government, transport, and seismic issues. She joined the Herald in 2019 after working as a broadcast journalist.

This article was originally published on the NZ Herald here. 

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