Hutt at Heart
Fairfield Waters 3 bedroom townhouses along Waiwhetu Stream, Lower Hutt.
Fairfield Waters 3 bedroom townhouses along Waiwhetu Stream, Lower Hutt.

Planning ahead for our growing city

Lower Hutt is growing, as more people choose to make our city their home.

Following more than a decade of static population growth, the last two years has seen Lower Hutt’s population increase by 2.6% to 106,000, making it the seventh largest city in New Zealand. That population growth is expected to continue.

Price is a drawcard for some looking to buy, especially those relocating from Wellington City. Many are also attracted by the good primary and secondary schools, and the closeness to a wide range of amenities including health services, shops, cafes, and our recreational areas, and access to the great outdoors.

In 2012 Hutt City Council began rolling out a rejuvenation plan that has seen the civic centre transformed, the refurbishment of key facilities and the development of a new events centre, community hubs in Taita and Stokes Valley and sports facilities including the soon to be opened Ricoh Sports Centre at Fraser Park.

Lower Hutt also rates well in surveys on quality of life – 89% of residents say the quality of life here is good or extremely good, up from 82% two years ago.

So it’s vital that we think carefully about the future shape of our city and the way people live and move around. This will be key to retaining that great quality of life our residents value, and to supporting our city’s future economic, social and cultural development.

Thinking differently

We have to think differently about the type of housing needed to both accommodate population growth, and meet the changing needs of current and future residents.

We need a range of quality housing that’s integrated with existing infrastructure, or if new infrastructure such as roading is needed, that it’s planned in a way that supports future growth. And it needs to be designed to support the wellbeing of both residents and our environment. That means homes that are warm, dry, safe and energy efficient, and communities that are well-connected to public and active transport networks.

General Manager of the City Transformation Team Kim Kelly says Council has set out a broad plan to increase the number of dwellings in the city with a goal of building 6000 new dwellings between 2012 and 2032. Council will do this through a combination of greenfield development – expanding housing into areas that aren’t currently developed – and intensification, which involves building housing in existing areas.

“Modern lifestyles and people’s expectations for housing and the affordability of that housing are changing. You see this reflected all over New Zealand with new housing developments in places like Hobsonville Point, Ta-maki and in Porirua with the recently announced housing regeneration project.

“It’s important for us to understand our community’s future housing needs and plan for them. But many people are involved in bringing it to life – developers, businesses, residents and central government – so it’s important that we’re all on the same page in terms of what we’re trying to achieve.”

Council is currently developing a new Housing Strategy which will include an assessment of future housing need in Lower Hutt including supply and affordability, access to public (or social) housing and homelessness.

Focus on wellbeing

Ensuring we have access to good-quality affordable housing is also key to Council’s social development work which focuses on improving outcomes for children growing up in the North East suburbs.

General Manager of City and Community Services Matt Reid says with New Zealand’s housing affordability currently rated one of the worst in the OECD, it’s heartening that housing is a top priority for this Government.

“We want to actively support this Government’s broad aim to eradicate poverty and ensure that every New Zealander has access to a warm, dry, safe home. We’re already contributing through our Empowering Tamariki work, but much more can be done and housing is a critical lever.”

“We’re interested in working with Government on a ‘masterplan’ for Lower Hutt that will ensure longer term equality across the City, ensuring public housing isn’t concentrated in just some parts of the City and that it’s well-located for support and services.”

Matt Reid says to that end, Council initiated discussions with Government Ministers this year on how Council can help them achieve their wider social objectives faster and more effectively, through partnering.

“Local leadership will be key. Councils have a natural advantage in knowing and understanding the unique strengths, needs and resources of our own communities.”

Homelessness is another area where housing is a critical lever. In Lower Hutt the number of homeless families and individuals is on the rise and people are homeless for extended periods of time. There isn’t enough public housing, with an 85% increase in the number of households on the housing register between June 2017 and June 2018, while private rental costs in the city have increased significantly over the past few years.

Incentive a huge success

Another way Hutt City Council has encouraged housing and other development is through its Development Charges and Rates Remission Policy which finishes this month.

Developments that qualified were remitted the usual resource consent and building consent fees, development contributions, reserves contributions and in some cases, rates they would normally pay.

The initiative has been hugely successful with 55 applications in the 2017-2018 financial year for 405 new dwellings and 9 commercial developments. Since July this year a further 50 new applications have been received and we are expecting a number of large commercial and residential developments soon.

All up, that means it’s likely an additional 1600 new dwellings will be built within the next 2-3 years.

Medium-density living

An increasing number of councils have strategies around medium-density housing to shape their future growth. Auckland started in the 1980s, and more recently Wellington has seen an increase of intensification through both suburban infill and apartments in the central city. Intensification has also been a feature of some development in post-quake Christchurch.

In Lower Hutt, Council is proposing an amendment to the District Plan to enable higher-density development in nine areas – Stokes Valley, Taita, Naenae, Avalon/Park Ave, Epuni, Waterloo, Alicetown, Waiwhetu/Woburn and Wainuiomata – all areas with good access to transport and services.

As well as making better use of our land medium-density housing is more affordable, meets a wide range of needs, is lower-maintenance for those with busy lifestyles, and because it’s compact it can be more energy efficient. Its proximity to services and transport also reduces dependency on cars, which saves people money and lowers carbon emissions. If people opt for active transport, it can improve their health as well.

Urban Plus helping meet demand

Another part of the solution is Council’s unique development and subsidised housing arm, Urban Plus Limited (UPL). As well as developing affordable, high quality housing to help address demand, UPL owns and manages its own portfolio of subsidised housing, targeted at low-income elderly.

Four bedroom house at the Fairfield Waters development by Urban Plus
Four bedroom house at the Fairfield Waters development by Urban Plus

Projects to date include Fairfield Waters, a medium-density development of 20 two-storey townhouses, single-storey homes and two-storey terraced housing, which opened earlier this year. One third of the homes were released to market below $400k, making home ownership a possibility to buyers who had previously been shut out of buying a property.

Urban Plus Chief Executive Craig Walton says Fairfield Waters is a pioneer of medium-density residential development for Lower Hutt and attracted healthy buyer interest.

“People’s taste in housing is evolving. Fairfield Waters is an example of how high-quality, architecturally designed housing can be built on a relatively modest area of land and still offer a very high quality of life for residents.”

UPL has a fully committed building programme for the next four years.

Making homes healthy

A regional approach is being taken to improving the quality of existing housing. Hutt City Council is part of the Wellington Healthy Housing Regional Response Group which has a goal of everyone in the region living in warm, dry and safe housing by 2025.

The group is made up of central government departments, local councils and district health boards, as well as research, health, social outreach and community organisations, and aims to deliver practical interventions to improve housing quality, reduce energy hardship, and increase healthy housing literacy for tenants, landlords and homeowners.

Divisional Manager for Environmental Consents Helen Oram says one of the first projects for the group is a stocktake of regional housing quality, interventions, programmes and needs, to provide a baseline for measuring the Group’s impact over the next seven years.

Urban Plus – building communities

Urban Plus is embarking on a new type of housing initiative which will see 52 rental apartments built in Petone’s Jackson Street for elderly residents on a low income, with a focus on building a community.

Proposed apartments at 126 Jackson Street, Petone.
Proposed apartments at 126 Jackson Street, Petone.

UPL Chief Executive Craig Walton says the project at 126 Jackson Street will enable elderly residents to enjoy apartment-style living in a central location, with a ground floor of commercial premises adding to the already vibrant and unique Jackson Street precinct.

“We’ve been careful to design for the age group who’ll be living there. A communal area with lounges and a covered deck will enable residents to socialise and build a community, which hopefully means they won’t suffer from loneliness as so many elderly residents do.”

“We’re building on our experience in places like Bell Road in Waiwhetu where we have 26 houses for elderly residents. The houses are well maintained and residents tell us they’re very satisfied with their properties. There’s a real sense of community. Residents look out for one another. If someone hasn’t pulled their curtains in the morning, their neighbours will check on them to make sure everything’s ok. It’s like a family with residents supporting one another. That’s what we want to achieve in Jackson Street.”

Construction is due to start early next year.

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