Wellington residents and business owners who have to pay to use their own garages are furious at the city council’s proposal to double their fees.
However, the council says encroachment fees – for the use of road reserve under carpads, carports, cablecars and other structures – have not gone up in a decade.
They are a common sight on Wellington’s steep, winding streets – carpads and garages jutting out over cliffs, balanced on long piles.
But often the land they are on – and sometimes the airspace – belongs to the council, which is now looking to make an economic return on these valuable assets.
Wadestown local Melinda Bastow was outraged to get a letter last month announcing plans to double encroachment fees from 1 July.
“I mean they’ve just put our rates up [to] something stupid last year, it went up $500 last year, they’ve told me it’s probably going up an equal amount this time and now they’re putting up the rate on the garage to about thousand dollars.”
Bastow said Sar Street, where she lives, had scarcely any street parking and those without their own carpads or garages struggled to get access to their homes.
The footpath was often blocked by illegally parked cars.
“It becomes a nightmare. A few years ago one of the houses actually caught fire and the fire brigade couldn’t actually up get to them because of the commuter traffic blocking the road because the road is so narrow.
“They had to reverse down Sar Street and come up a different way.
“The house was a complete write-off.”
In its letter to residents, the council said the 100 percent increase (which takes the annual fee to just under $27 a square metre) will “assist with the council’s effort with reducing general rate increase outlined in the draft 2022/23 Annual Plan and also in fulfilling the council’s statutory obligation under the Local Government Act 2002 to ensure prudent stewardship and the efficient and effective use of its resources”.
Wadestown Road resident Peter Steel said in years past, the council actually encouraged people to build garages on road reserve.
“We live in a family property that was previously owned by my wife’s parents and my father-in-law was told he had to build a double garage, instead of the single garage he wanted.
“I suppose I could demolish half the garage now, but it would be a bit of a loss.”
As part of its 2024/33 long-term plan, the council is also considering changing the way it charges the fee to reflect “the value of the adjoining land”.
Steel said it was not fair to treat the encroachment leases as a commercial arrangement because that land was “no use to anyone else”.
“Then council are looking at changing the policy to reflect some kind of commercial value but the reality is it’s not commercial because there’s only one person they can lease the land to, and the person wanting to use the road reserve has only one person they can rent it off.
“So, it’s not exactly a balanced relationship.”
Steel, who is on the committee of the Thorndon Residents’ Association, was making a submission on the fee increase and was urging others to do the same.
The council said of the approximately 6900 road encroachment licences, about 1400 did not pay a fee, because they were for “access only”.
About 5000 are for parking or fencing, 319 are for airspace and another 150 are for commercial licences and pay “commercial rates”.
The average annual fee for road encroachment licences is about $300.
One commercial building owner, who did not want to be named, said he already paid $5000 to $6000 a year for encroachments on his property and the increase looked like “a money grab”.
“It was a shock [to get the letter], certainly we don’t need that right now. It just means the rents go up. [I’m] trying not to push pressure on those that rent, but if they keep putting up all those things, you don’t have a choice.”
The council said public consultation was continuing.
Meanwhile, more than 300 people have signed a petition calling on the council to reconsider an unjustified and arbitrary increase and to work with householders to find a more affordable solution.