Spatial Mistake

How the Council’s Draft Spatial Plan
could affect you.

Commentary by Friends of Oamaru Harbour

Queen’s Reserve – one of 4 public open spaces targeted for sale to housing developers in Council’s Draft Spatial Plan

Draft Spatial Plan accepting public feedback until 19 November – it’s a master plan to control future development

How to give your feedback – see below


Public reserves & open spaces opened
to housing developers

For 173 years, residents have cherished the open space at Queen’s Reserve, Glen Eden Reserve, Glen Warren Reserve, and the section just below Lookout Point (“Forrester Heights”). But the Council’s Draft Spatial Plan targets all of them as “reserves identified for potential redevelopment” (p. 53).

In the “Delivery” actions on p. 89, the plan calls for Council to “Undertake a master planning exercise of Queen’s, Glen Eden and Glen Warren Reserves to understand potential residential capacity for improved reserve utilisation.” And then, “Undertake reserve transfer process and undertake residential development in alignment with Spatial Plan.”

Glen Eden Reserve-targeted for housing developers

Since the consultants knew this could raise a firestorm of citizen opposition, they admit that “community feedback” must first be tested. So Question 3 on the Council’s online consultation form is “Do you support potential alternative uses on Council reserve land?"

But the online consultation form doesn’t reveal that the only “alternative use” proposed is housing subdivisions. 

Spatial Plan admits public reserves aren’t needed for housing.
Chart on p. 61 shows that all 5,870 additional houses could be provided elsewhere. Using public reserves doesn’t even appear on the chart!

Curiously, the plan shows that building on the reserves isn’t necessary to meet even the ultra-high growth projection that the plan is based on, because the plan proposes residential expansion to the south and west of Oamaru, infill on vacant land within the town, and increased density in some areas. The chart on p. 61 shows how these measures would allow up to 5,870 new houses without invading any of the Council open space.

See for yourself
If you’re ready to wade through 133 pages of consultant buzzwords, you can read the Draft Spatial Plan at

Green Spaces promote mental and physical health – read more here

Nowhere does the plan discuss that the public reserves are valued by residents as one of the things that makes Oamaru a great place to live…..or that the Oamaru Walkway crosses all of the reserves, along with bike paths, and volunteer planting of native trees. Or that the quiet open space of the reserves will be even more important when population grows.

So why target the reserves? Deep in the bowels of the plan on p. 129, there’s a note that someone at a workshop said that using the reserves would be a “catalyst project.” Probably what this means is that a “stakeholder” with some influence wants to buy some reserve land on the cheap from Council.

So it all sounds like a “trial balloon” to test how much support exists for public land. Those of us who treasure the public open spaces need to speak up now or face the consequences. 

Recommended feedback: “Remove any mention of selling Council open space from the Spatial Plan.”


3-storey apartments coming to South Hill & downtown

Everyone agrees that one of the best ways to provide reasonably-priced housing is to allow more dense development near downtown.
Government has required some measure of “intensification” through the recent National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPSUD).

Orange shaded area shows proposed medium-density zone on South Hill [from p. 53 of Spatial Plan available at]

Accordingly, the Spatial Plan zones 100 hectares of central Oamaru, including more than half of South Hill, for “medium density” housing such as duplexes, townhouses, attached units, and….multi-storey apartments (map p. 53 and “medium density” definition p. 99).

While some intensification is good, the plan goes too far by proposing an increase in Oamaru’s height limit, which is currently 8 metres or two storeys along with a “recession” rule that limits how much a tall building can overshadow a neighbour. The plan proposes an unspecified increase in the height limit for apartments. They could go to at least 3 storeys, and potentially more if a developer could persuade planners.

What this means for homeowners on South Hill and elsewhere is that their sunlight and views could be extinguished by multi-storey apartments. Yet like so much of the Spatial Plan, this isn’t necessary. Substantial intensification can take place with low-rise attached units that stay within the existing height limit.

The Spatial Plan incorrectly implies that the NPSUD forces the height limit to increase. There is no such requirement for “tier 3” towns such as Oamaru in the NPSUD. While Section 3.2(1) of the NPSUD does require sufficient “standalone dwellings and attached dwellings,” there is no requirement for a raised height limit in tier 3, provided that other low-rise intensification is allowed in significant amounts. 

Recommended feedback: “Don’t increase height limits.”


Smell the overflowing
septic systems

Oamaru is surrounded by areas of rural residential zoning, with a 1 hectare minimum section size. Admittedly, this is a troublesome kind of development. It gobbles up productive farmland and allows few residences. Since rural residential is outside the municipal sewer system, the 1 hectare minimum was imposed to make sure that on-site septic systems would have enough land for proper effluent disposal.

The Draft Spatial Plan proposes what amounts to abolishing 505 hectares of rural residential zoning around Oamaru. The minimum section size would be reduced to “large lot,” which isn’t defined (pp. 61 & 85). This rezoning could cause an epidemic of “spot” subdividing where some landowners would split up their sections, take the money and run. While road access and water supply could become a problem, the biggest concern would be sewage disposal.

Eventually the District would get pressure to extend the public sewer system to serve the undersized sections. This is very expensive. The usual approach of local government is to declare a public health hazard and force all sections in the area to pay the cost of the new pipes, pumps and maybe even a sewer plant expansion. This isn’t small change. Longtime rural residential residents could be forced out altogether, or pressured to join the ranks of the subdividers. It could be the worst kind of ad-hoc, piecemeal, unfair and troublesome development.

Is this an unavoidable future for close-in rural residential? Maybe. But the Spatial Plan wants to
make it a done deal now. It calls for a “Quick Win” or “Short Term” action to “review minimum
lot size in rural residential zone” and “Investigate the feasibility of transitioning from on-site servicing to reticulated servicing for rural residential areas.” (p. 85)

A more responsible approach for rezoning would be to keep lots large enough to head off any sewage problems….for example, allowing splits only down to ½ hectare, with suitability first proven for on-site disposal. Beyond that, conversion to regular residential zoning should be available only along the border of existing residential areas where sewers are close at hand. The whole infrastructure package—road, sewer and water—should be settled up front, together with costs, before the small lots are created. If landowners don’t want it to happen, they should be left alone. 

Recommended feedback: “Go slow and don’t make a mess of rural residential.”


Do you want moderate growth or extreme growth?

Nobody can predict what the Waitaki District’s population will be in 10 years, let alone 30 years. It’s all guess work, and recent estimates have varied widely. Just last April, the Council finalized a “Waitaki District Council Infrastructure Strategy” that predicted only 8% growth to 2043 (, p. 89)

The Draft Spatial Plan ignores the previous estimate and instead bases itself on a “high growth” population of 27% by 2051 (p. 31).

The problem is that a “high growth” population projection can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. That’s because the Government’s National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPSUD) requires districts to change their zoning to match their population projections. Accordingly, the Spatial Plan demands the rezoning of a massive 1300 hectares (chart, p. 61). And it wants it done NOW! A series of drastic rezoning measures are listed on p. 85, each labeled “Quick Win” or “Short Term” for implementation.

So, what the plan is advocating is that enough new (or intensified) sections be created now to accommodate a 27% increase in population! This wouldn’t be so much as a growth-accommodating policy as a growth-promoting strategy. It would be like hanging out a big sign to the rest of New Zealand, “Lots of cheap sections for sale here!”

Such a radical pro-growth policy would destroy the moderate, thoughtful zoning provisions in the current District Plan…..which isn’t a no-growth policy by any means, as shown by the vigorous new housing construction underway throughout the Oamaru-Weston area.

The bureaucrats, developers and consultants behind the Spatial Plan will tell you that the Government’s NPSUD forces us into extreme growth. That’s completely false. You can see for yourself by picking through the 31 pages of the NPSUD at You’ll find that “tier 3” districts like Waitaki are free to make their own growth projections and stage their rezoning over time to occur only when justified.

It’s worth asking why this Draft Spatial Plan is being pushed on us in the first place. The plan itself admits that Government doesn’t require a spatial plan (p. 19). Our district plan revision process was put on hold so that the Spatial Plan could be created as a master plan to make all the important choices about the future. Why not throw out the Draft Spatial Plan altogether and resume the District Plan preparation with more reasonable policies that reflect the overwhelming consensus of Waitaki residents that growth should be moderate and respect the quality of life that we enjoy? 

Recommended feedback: “Bin the Spatial Plan and write the new District Plan with a lower population projection and rezoning to take place only when justified.”


Want to be able to park?

While the NPSUD mostly doesn’t dictate specific actions to “tier 3 towns,” it does force one policy: a ban on requiring developers to provide off-street car parking for new dwellings. (Developers can still provide car parks if they choose to do so).

While well-intentioned, this is another “one size fits all” command from the Wellington politicians who don’t seem to have a clue about rural New Zealand. It may make sense to build apartments in a big city without car parking when good public transportation is close by. But in a town like Oamaru, with no public transportation at all, everyone wants and needs a car. Sometimes two or three per household. 

If a residence has no car parking, the cars must park on the street….or on the footpath….or in the park…or somewhere. Yet another quality-of-life indicator will plunge as the curbs become choked with cars.

The Waitaki District can’t defy outright this no-car-parks command from Wellington. But there are ways that the planning department can reward developers who choose to provide car parks. Development rules could be eased if car parks are provided. There are also permit fees that might be set at different amounts depending on whether there are car parks. Our planners could find a way. 

Recommended feedback: “If car parks can’t be mandated, they should be encouraged by incentives.”

Speak up now, or don’t ever complain about what the Waitaki District might become

Here’s how to participate in the public consultation
which ends 19 November:

  1. Send an email to (preferred method).
  2. Use the Council’s online consultation form at (warning: watch out for trick questions) 

Having been a resident in and around Oamaru for more than 50 years, I feel very strongly that our public reserves should be protected in perpetuity for both present and future generations.

When we were farming, and surrounded by green space, I realise that I pretty much took it for granted. Since living in an urbanised environment, I’ve become much more aware of just how important it is to have green space nearby, for both physical and mental wellbeing.

So it was with some disquiet that I read the Council’s Draft Spatial Plan and realised that some of our reserve lands had been designated as “areas of potential redevelopment” - in other words, housing.

The Plan describes these areas as “underutilised” reserve or council land but I am very aware that many people enjoy these reserve areas for walking, exercising dogs - and just enjoying the ungroomed green spaces. This Council would, I think, be very shortsighted if it were to reduce or remove any of these areas from public access. If the town is going to grow, then we will need them even more in future than we do today.

Cath Harvey
Former District Councillor 

"I was born and bred in Oamaru and I have fond memories of playing in various wilderness areas as a kid, some of which have now gone. As an adult I appreciate the areas we still have. They serve a vital purpose, whether it be to ‘escape’ for a while on a walk, provide great photo opportunities of the magnificent scenery, and best of all, for taking my grandsons on ‘adventures’ to imprint on their childhood. I consider green spaces, even in an undeveloped state, to be just as important parts of our urban infrastructure as water pipes, power lines, and roading. Long may it remain that way." Ray Henderson 

Green space is valuable. The number of studies that show how natural areas improve mental wellbeing is astounding. Our reserves in Glen Eden and Glen Warren are truly unique in that it is open green space. There are no trees. There are no sports fields. They are simply open. Oamaru Gardens is great, but it is very sterile and confined. You walk on the paths and that’s it. With Glen Eden and Glen Warren, you could take the path or you could run up and down the hills to your heart’s content. You can have a pick-up soccer game or practice yoga. There are no defined activities. People are simply free. That is amazing. That freedom would be compromised by development of any kind. In conclusion, do not sell the reserves. Do not sell pieces of the reserves. Do not build on the reserves. Leave the reserves as they are. Leave it alone. Do not suggest it again.

Alissa Andersen 

Friends of Oamaru Harbour