Sparks fly over hill location for proposed Bethlehem substation

By Michele McPherson

A Tauranga City Council urban designer says electricity lines company PowerCo has chosen the wrong place to build a substation in Bethlehem.
Strongly worded reports by Lucy Ullrich and council landscape architect Tim Lander were to be considered when the council's hearings panel met today to consider a "notice of requirement" from PowerCo to build another hotly-disputed substation in a residential area of Tauranga.
PowerCo has run into community flak with a separate application to build a substation off a cul-de-sac in Papamoa and last year encountered huge opposition to its ultimately successful application to build a substation on Maunganui Rd.
For the most recent application, the company has bought an 1760sq m site on undeveloped Te Paeroa Rd, an area of Bethlehem zoned for residential development over the next 10 years.
The road will run into the roundabout currently under construction at the western end of the township.
PowerCo has extra powers as a utility company to build substations provided it owns the site, can show that it adequately considered alternative sites and that the substation would not affect the environment.
Ms Ullrich argued the substation was being built on a knoll with wide views and was not a good fit with a developing residential zone.
"It is not an element that will contribute to neighbourhood coherence."
Ms Ullrich said the fake house disrupted people's perceptions of what was real in their environment.
"The site is not appropriate. In the right setting, the substation could be designed and recognised for what it is - a utility building."
She said it would be preferable for the substation to be built on a less elevated site, close to the Bethlehem Town Centre or to the south of the shopping centre.
Tauranga City Council environmental planner Emma Hilderink has recommended that the hearings panel confirm, with conditions, PowerCo's notice requiring the council to designate the land for a substation.
Her assessment was that the designation would not have a significant adverse effect on the environment if the conditions were accepted, and that the notice was reasonably consistent with planning objectives.
Mr Lander said PowerCo's proposal would impose significant landscape effects on residential character and amenity.
He acknowledged that PowerCo intended to mitigate the impact of the substation by setting back the building on the site, retaining established trees and using plantings to screen the building.
However he said the site's elevation was a "distinguishing aspect" of the character of the landscape.
"An important aspect of a residential neighbourhood involved the coming and going of people in daily activity.
"While non-residential activities can be located in residential environments, the combination of an uninhabited building and prominent positioning results in unnecessary fragmentation of the neighbourhood."
Mr Lander said the proposal to fake a house contributed little to the character and amenity of a neighbourhood.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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