Almost a third of the carbon emissions in Wellington come from stationary energy, for example, for heating offices, cooking at home, or pumping our water supply. The design of the city could have huge impacts as cosier houses nearer to amenities result in less carbon emissions. Additionally, every time sod is turned for a new building is a new chance to move closer to zero carbon with a higher performance building. To round out - facilitating and enabling high quality development in key areas with tools like an urban development agency has many benefits. The Council must collaborate to make gains in this area.
Planning for Growth is a multi-year project that involves the review of the Wellington Urban Growth Plan and a full review of the District Plan. The Urban Growth Plan guides where people will live, while the District Plan guides how we build in each area of the city. The fundamentals behind Planning for Growth are that we will have to welcome a growing number of people who recognise that Wellington is a great place to live and want to make it their home - about 50,000 to 80,000 more people by 2043. That’s a big increase (up to almost 40%) for a city of 215,000.
From a sustainability perspective, the more residents the better. Wellington is the lowest carbon city per capita in New Zealand, so the more people choosing a low-carbon lifestyle here from elsewhere in the region or the country, the better it is for overall greenhouse emissions. But there are some potential barriers to providing for this growth within our current plan settings.
The planning for growth process really represents a once in a lifetime chance to direct growth to the right places and set our planning rules to promote a compact Wellington City that embraces those who wish to make the city their home.
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Inviting more people to live in Wellington has social, economic and cultural benefits. It also has environmental benefits given our lower carbon lifestyle compared to many places. But it will remain true only if those newcomers live in central or inner suburban areas, where travel distances are short and walking and cycling are easy ways to get around, or if they locate in more distant areas but use zero carbon transport and we use natural resources carefully. Whatever the case, growth in Wellington is more helpful from a carbon perspective than growth elsewhere in the region or elsewhere nationally.
Compact, liveable urban forms result in lower carbon emissions. When shops, jobs and entertainment are nearby there is far less need to travel long distances using transport modes that are unsustainable. Denser housing forms also use less energy.
Currently the District Plan requires a minimum number of parking spaces for new dwellings except in the CBD and suburban centres. This can make houses more expensive, more difficult to build, occupies useful private land that could be dedicated to more housing or amenities, and encourages driving. Removing the minimum parking requirement has been successful for developments there in the CBD, and the Council will investigate means to further this concept, given it no longer aligns with Council’s strategic transport approach.
The character areas in the inner suburbs cover the lowest-carbon areas of the city to live in. These areas are close to many key services and employment opportunities, so sustainable transport is convenient. Many households in these areas don’t own cars. These areas are subject to character rules in the District Plan which impede prospects for welcoming more neighbours. Re-evaluating these areas and understanding what needs to be preserved and where there may be opportunities for more Wellingtonians to enjoy the low-carbon, liveable, walkable lifestyle these areas offer is a critical goal of Planning for Growth.
As part of the Planning for Growth process, the Council will evaluate a number of potential enhancements to the District Plan. High performance building requirements, minimum car share parking requirements, minimum bike parking requirements for work and home, and other aspects will all be evaluated for their potential to influence outcomes. The review is also an opportunity to better understand how the rules are performing in relation to creating a lower carbon, higher amenity, and more liveable city. Examples of the rules in the District Plan that will be reviewed are height limits, controls on infill development, recession planes and site coverage requirements.
To support planning for growth, the Council will explore in detail what areas of the city are suitable for minimum parking restrictions. In doing so it makes sense to explore which zones might benefit from a maximum parking restriction to preserve land availability and focus use on easily available alternatives.
An Urban Development Agency is proposed to address marginal development prospects in areas like Adelaide Road. A UDA would enable more brownfields development, at higher densities, with more liveability and zero carbon outcomes integrated into its remit. A UDA could also deliver outcomes more quickly than the district plan review. Such an initiative is also being considered by the Government and would be subject to wide public consultation.
The Council’s most popular programme for supporting community climate action for almost a decade has been the Home Energy Saver programme. Each year, 500 Wellington households invite Sustainability Trust auditors into their homes to learn about the key changes they can make to lower their energy use and save both money and cut emissions. Currently the Council is reviewing this programme to see how we can best help households understand what they can do to lower their impact. The Council will investigate how to reach 50% of the City’s households with this programme by 2029.
Currently the Council offers a 50% reduction in development contributions to some buildings that meet specific certification standards set by organizations like the New Zealand Green Building Council or LEED. We will review these incentives to ensure they align well with the outcomes sought, what level of certification is required, and what kind of payment could be needed to encourage all commercial buildings to perform as well as they can whether they are new or being retrofitted to a higher standard.
Insulation is the most important element of an energy retrofit for older homes. Warmer Kiwi Homes is targeted at homeowners with a Community Services Card or living in high deprivation areas. EECA provides a two thirds subsidy with additional support from local stakeholders, such as the Council, to further reduce the costs to homeowners.
Household improvements related to energy efficiency deliver tremendous outcomes, ranging from the reduction in carbon to improvements in health. At scale, it could even save infrastructure costs. As Greater Wellington Regional Council already offers this for insulation, we will explore retrofit support options that allow ratepayers to realise their and the Council’s low-carbon aspirations using rates as a financing mechanism.
Building on the positive early experiences of the Neighbourhood Grids project with Contact Energy and Wellington Electricity, the Council will aim to get involved in a number of solar installations in different community contexts – e.g. community centres, or Council facilities. Solar, particularly with battery systems, offers the opportunity to create not just sustainability gains but also resilience benefits.
Council owns a tremendous variety of parks supporting our resident’s desires to live an exciting and active lifestyle. Ranging from playgrounds to sports pitches and beaches – and hundreds of buildings around the city – all have their own role to play in promoting Zero Carbon Parks. We will explore the materials we can use when parks are rehabilitated to have the least emissions impact, and on an ongoing basis explore adjustments that can be made to existing buildings and materials.
The Council continues to support the neighbourhood grids programme we are running with Contact Energy and Wellington Electricity. This programme saw 23 Wellington City households in areas with vulnerable substations outfitted with solar + battery power systems and a resilience package that included water tanks, LPG and an energy assessment. In an outage it also provides a base for neighbours to come charge phones and connect. With another year left on the trial we are monitoring the success of the programme, as well as other solar opportunities.
The Council is significantly involved in every new building that goes up and major renovation in Wellington, and could use this opportunity to provide advice or enhancements to support better decision making.