Transport and Urban Development – Setting the Stage for Making our Great City Even Better

Transport is undoubtedly the most controversial area of Council’s business. We all walk, drive, bike, use public transport. We all have opinions, often strongly held, and passionately argued. It is a place where completely different world views clash.

Council has just published the Wellington Urban Growth Plan (Transport and Urban Development Strategy) with a 30 plus year horizon, and a funded Implementation Plan to deliver its first decade. It will be a living Plan. Everyone will agree with some elements and not with others. What is important is considering it as a whole.

The Plan builds on previous strategies. Today our City is greatly admired internationally, regularly receiving significant accolades, and always tops New Zealand’s major cities’ Quality of Life survey. Council’s strategic consistency over some 20 years has been pivotal in that transformation.

The core planning philosophies remain – a compact walkable city and suburbs. A fabulous Outer Green Belt, largely acquired through the 1990s and early 2000s, reinforces that compactness and is a cornerstone of ecological recovery. Wellington is unquestionably New Zealand’s best central city, and we plan to make it a whole lot better.

Its health is essential to the whole region. 66% of the metropolitan region’s GDP is generated in the CBD. In 1994 removing restrictive zoning, opened it up for mixed-use residential and commercial activity. Not requiring carparking made residential conversion and development more viable. We’ve invested heavily in street amenity and events.

Wellington City is growing. Wellington’s population in 1991 was 150,000, it’s just ticked over 200,000, and is expected to reach 250,000 by 2043.

Between 2001 and 2013 census the CBD population grew 93.4%. Within that, Te Aro’s population grew from 3000 to 7300, a spectacular 143%. The rest of the city grew 13.3% and the rest of the region 7.8%.

Wellington City employment grew 22.7% between 2000 and 2014 (from 124,800 to 153,100). The national average was 22.8% excluding Auckland (26.1% including Auckland). The rest of Wellington Region grew 15.2%. Central City Employment grew from 58,000 in 1996 to 80,000 in 2013 fuelled by creative industries, events, tourism and tertiary education moving downtown.

We’ve invested in many suburban areas, and even facilitated a new one (Churton Park). Strong suburban centres are the hearts of our communities. We changed planning rules to reduce problematic widespread infill of the early 2000s. New rules encourage more intensive development close to major suburban retail centres and public transport. We’re also thinking about housing needs of an ageing population, where people want to remain in their own communities. We have discussed with the Productivity Commission the role an Urban Renewal Agency might play, perhaps through facilitating quality demonstration projects.

We’ve been working hard on city resilience with over 20 years work on infrastructure – pipes, reservoirs, bridges, tunnels, key access roads. Wellington is light years ahead of the rest of the country on building resilience too, and we’re putting more support behind strengthening heritage buildings.

In transport some people accuse Council of being ‘anti-car’, others think we’re road building zealots! Both wrong ! The Plan maintains the philosophy of improving the state highway ring route. That will reduce traffic through the city centre which should be principally about people. We are actively working with NZTA and GWRC on a Basin/Tunnel solution, on city and Port access, and the Petone – Grenada road. However we absolutely want more people using public transport, walking and cycling for health, environmental, de-congestion, and economic reasons. We’ve been succeeding too, probably significantly due to urban form policy, but could achieve so much more with greater commitment to transport initiatives themselves.

The proportion of Wellingtonians walking, running, cycling and taking public transport to work or study has risen consistently since 1991, and from levels already easily the highest in the country. The proportion driving, or car passengers, continues to fall. For every 100 Wellingtonians in a car in 2001, 65 used public transport, walked or biked. In 2013 that had risen to 90. By contrast the rest of Wellington region is static on 28, Christchurch static on 20, Auckland’s risen from 15 to 18 and New Zealand as a whole from 16 to 17.

The Implementation Plan also includes:

  • Working with GWRC and NZTA to support bus priority. GWRC’s new bus network plan, off-peak pricing and integrated ticketing are expected to lift bus patronage by 10-15% when introduced from 2017.
  • A transformational rise in cycling investment, supported by Government’s new Urban Cycling fund.
  • Improving the pedestrian environment including ongoing work adjusting traffic light phasing to reduce pedestrian delay, undertaking ‘pedestrian audits’ and improving walking and cycling to schools.
  • Creating attractive boulevards on Kent-Cambridge Terrace and Adelaide Road. These must be integrated with a Basin solution and provide for bus priority, walking, and cycling. We’d like to restore parts of Waitangi Stream if possible.
  • Rates relief and $1 million a year for three years to support strengthening heritage buildings
  • Completing the waterfront
  • Suburban centre upgrades.
  • Supporting CBD living by providing street enhancements and an additional park or parks. We’ve upgraded Victoria Street and plan improvements to Lombard Lane/Denton Park, Eva /Leeds and Garrett Streets, and North Lambton Quay. Aro Park / Dixon Street is a ‘must take’ opportunity with Cordon Bleu and Whitirea – Weltec in Cuba St, and redevelopment of the Town Hall/Civic Square.
  • A heritage park on Watts Peninsula and development of Shelly Bay
  • Continuing upgrading Council’s social housing
  • Seeking car share operations.
  • Expanding smart parking technology and considering provision of short stay off street parking.

Wellington City is increasingly recognised internationally as one of the best cities on the planet to live in, work in and visit, a far cry from the grey civil service city of a few decades ago. That obviously has huge economic, social and environmental benefits. Much has been achieved and great opportunities lie ahead if we have the vision and courage to achieve them. I encourage people to read the Wellington Urban Growth Plan, and always welcome constructive feedback.