Housing Minister Nick Smith was today taken on a tour of the Western Bay District Council's first Special Housing Area at Omokoroa.
His visit coincided with morning rush hour queues that stretched from Bethlehem to well past Te Puna, with the tail ending about 300 metres short of Quarry Rd.
The highly visible reminder of the need to progress the Northern Link motorway bypassing Te Puna and Bethlehem was not lost on the gathering of MPs, councillors, Mayor Ross Paterson and senior council staff.
Mr Smith was shown around the 17-hectares that the Government has agreed would become part of its Housing Accord Strategy to fast track the opening up of more land for development in order to ease pressure on house prices.
The first stage of the development by Tauranga developer Peter Cooney will involve up to 165 houses, with the total subdivision due to reach 255 homes - including some higher density housing. Earthworks will start once the last crop of kiwifruit was harvested.
A total of 4000 sq m of the area under orchards has been set aside for an affordable housing area to be developed in accordance with design principles of Smart Growth's Housing Affordability Forum.
It joins an 8500 sq m block of Tauranga City Council-owned land in Papamoa's Opal Drive that could become the testing ground for the forum's pilot project to build a village-style development.
Mr Cooney indicated to Mr Smith that the rising costs of building a house meant it was extremely unlikely that the Western Bay council would be able to meet its objective of a quarter of the houses in the Special Housing Area being priced at under $350,000.
With Omokoroa's population planned to more than double to 12,000, the need to begin planning for a new high school was raised at today's meeting. Otherwise pupils driving to colleges in Tauranga or Katikati would worsen the growing peak-time congestion on SH2, with Mr Smith told it took 40 minutes for commuters to get to work in Tauranga and 20 minutes to reach Katikati.