12 Jun 2017

Wellington builds on hold due to 'illogical' court ruling

6:22 pm on 12 June 2017

A 'farcical' court ruling has put residential projects across Wellington on hold, because some residential height limits are now below ground level.

The view towards the Hutt Valley from the Wellington suburb of Roseneath.

Wellington's topography is causing difficulties for building consents in the city. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The High Court ruling which came out last week determines the ground level, and therefore height limits, for properties with a retaining wall at the boundary.

In simple terms, Wellinton's residential properties must be built within an imaginary "tent" that ensures neighbouring properties have sunlight and privacy.

The tent has 'walls' 2.5m high and a sloping 'roof' (the angle of the roof is determined according to the orientation of the site and house).

It also decided ground level was at the bottom of a retaining wall.

It has major implications for properties in the hilly city, making an unknown number of buildings and structures non-compliant.

The Wellington City Council is reviewing its options and is likely to amend its district plan, which could take a minimum of six months.

Patchwork Architecture's Sally Ogle said the ruling "doesn't make sense ... it's led to potentially illogical outcomes for any Wellington section that has a retaining wall on the boundary".

"I think it's farcical when you have a rule that suddenly means an imaginary line that is supposed to protect your neighbours' sunlight and privacy is now underground."

"I think everyone can agree that makes no sense and is not the intention of the district plan," she said.

She drew two cartoons to illustrate the ruling.

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Sally Ogle's drawing depicts how the ruling works Photo: Sally Ogle

She said one of her clients was now unable to build on their section unless they applied for a resource consent, because the retaining wall at the boundary was more than 2.5m high.

"We are working on a project that has a retaining wall of at least 3m on the boundary," she said.

"There is now no permitted building that our clients can build on their section."

"We've talked to a number of architects who are having very similar issues to us who effectively have projects stalled and aren't quite sure how those are going to move forward."

People could apply for resource consent to gain an exemption, but resource consents add time and money when building a house, with the deposit required by council being $1650, Ms Ogle said.

"The council is helping us work through the implications of the court ruling on a case by case basis," she said.

The court case came about after a children's fort, and a high fence, was put up between warring neighbours, the Aitchisons and Walmsleys, in the well-heeled suburb of Roseneath.

It obscured the Aitchison's million-dollar harbour views. It was taken down last year after an Environment Court order.

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