Intensification target re-think

By John Cousins

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Medium-density housing developments in Tauranga's older suburbs look unlikely to become the panacea to save farmland from being lost to growth.

The ability for intensification to soak up nearly 20 per cent of the city's population growth over the next 40 years now faces the prospect of being downgraded in the Western Bay's growth planning strategy.

A review has been ordered of SmartGrowth, partly as a result of the slowdown in development since the global credit crunch sent the western economies into recession.

The Tauranga City Council this week delivered its verdict on the intensification provisions of SmartGrowth after seeing how projections since 1996 had ended up being three to four times higher than what had actually happened.

Instead of medium-density multi-unit housing clusters soaking up 19 per cent of the city's growth, the trend over the past 14 years was 5 to 6 per cent - once holiday homes and visitor accommodation were taken out of the equation. Community opposition to intensification was highlighted when the council tried to introduce intensification nodes into Greerton and Arataki in 2008.

It was overwhelmingly rejected by the two communities who wanted the character of their areas to remain intact.

And although the council has recommended to the joint-councils SmartGrowth committee that it remained committed in principle to a "more compact urban form", there were strong hints in the documents and advice it received that the 19 per cent target would be reviewed downwards.

The council supported intensification if it was viable from a development point of view, saying it would need political leadership and a big buy-in from the community to succeed.

And although current targets would remain in the updated SmartGrowth document for the short-term, they would be reviewed to reflect a more realistic and achievable goal.

Councillors feared they could be buying a fight with the community from the alternative to intensification nodes - to pepper pot or scatter medium density housing throughout older residential areas.

Newer subdivisions were protected by covenants.

There were concerns that pepper potting medium density developments of two to four storeys would strike a lot of opposition from neighbours.

A report highlighted that rather than deliver more affordable higher density living to Tauranga's older suburbs, a three-bedroom 100sq m apartment cost in the mid $500,000s to low $600,000s.

"This is a high cost relative to the existing housing stock and new houses in greenfield subdivisions."

And it was not a large market because 83 per cent of Tauranga house sales from 2006-09 were below $500,000, the report said.

Cost meant that multi-unit intensification was more likely to appeal to people able to afford to live in more desirable areas, like around the city centre, near the beach or on sites with the best views. This was already happening.

Intensification differed from infill which was mainly building a house on a back section measuring 325sq m or larger. The council supported sticking with SmartGrowth's projection that infill would soak up 6 per cent of growth.

After receiving feedback from the three member councils, the SmartGrowth Implementation Committee will call for public submissions on the new document.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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