City planners are eyeing almost 16,000 new homes across Greater Auckland — the equivalent of a town the size of Cambridge — to attack the city's housing shortage.
But as details emerge of apartment buildings up to six storeys high, neighbours have reacted with shock. Some say they have objected to Auckland Council but several others told the Weekend Herald they had no idea that tower blocks were about to rise near their often single-level homes.
The council is planning 15,585 new dwellings (mainly terraced houses and apartments) across 22 Special Housing Areas (SHAs) under the new Auckland Housing Accord between the Government and council.
The accord aims to provide a total of 39,000 new places within three years to address the city's housing shortage and affordability problems.
But to speed up development, the Special Housing Areas will not be subject to the usual objection rights for nearby residents — to the outrage of many neighbours who were unaware of the plans when the Weekend Herald visited this week.
"If we wanted to build an apartment, I'm sure I would have to go through more," said Wen Chang, opposite Housing New Zealand's 70-unit Takapuna scheme on the corner of Lake Pupuke Drive and Killarney St. "Traffic is already so busy here."
"I'm aghast, outraged and shocked," said one resident. Another was stunned to learn of the plan for 70 units up to six levels high. Others said they liked being so close to Takapuna's heart but feared for their area. They had been notified, but because the developments are meant to go ahead quickly, people's rights to object — or sometimes even know in advance what is about to be approved — are limited.
The council makes it clear that the Special Housing Areas are a fast-track process, not envisaged to be the subject of drawn-out fights.
"For resource consents in SHAs, an applicant is incentivised to consult with adjacent owners and infrastructure providers before an application is lodged, to enable a non-notified process and avoid hearings," the council says. "Once an application is lodged, adjacent landowners may have the opportunity to have their say, but only if the council considered notification necessary."
Some Takapuna residents said they thought they had letters but did not pay them much attention, even though the Housing NZ land site was declared an SHA last year.
Housing NZ said the mixed development of state and privately owned housing would provide improved housing choice within Takapuna, because the units would be one- and two-bedroom apartments, with options for some three-bedroom places. "Within Takapuna, the location is well connected, accessible and has a very high level of amenity. The site is within an easy walk of the Takapuna centre and is well supported by public transport."
Across in Newmarket, Jim Dowd of Huntley Ave — off Khyber Pass Rd — had no idea a 65-unit block developed by Ockham would soon be rising just a few doors from his stately old Huntley House, built in 1874.
The scheme for 4-6 Huntley Ave and 246 Khyber Pass Rd will include some relatively affordable $360,000- $450,000 places and shops at street level and is near the Grafton Rail Station.
Other Huntley Ave residents said they had spent fortunes doing up their places. Though they acknowledged the need for more housing, they feared increased traffic on what is now a relatively quiet tree-lined street leading up to Carlton Gore Rd.
Most of the Special Housing Areas, especially the larger ones, are in Auckland's far-flung northern and southern outskirts, near Pukekohe, Hingaia, Hobsonville, Silverdale and East Tamaki, where older neighbourhoods are sometimes less established.
But many of the smaller ones, like Takapuna and Newmarket, will have plenty of neighbours. Ngati Whatua o Orakei's hilltop land near Bastion Pt is to provide 75 affordable places on 8,000sqm on Kupe and Takitimu Sts.
Just near the heart of New Lynn, on Clinker Place and Thom St, Housing NZ has another 130-180 units planned. Over in Onehunga's George Tce-Church St corner, where small warehouses stand side-by-side, 220 new apartments are planned. And on Avondale's Trent St, charitable trust Housing New Zealand Foundation can build 29 places to sell for $440,000 to $500,000.
In each SHA, at least 10 per cent of the places must be affordable — defined as about $500,000 — although officials are hoping for a higher count of cheap places.
This week, the council was discussing more areas, which could be larger than the 22 so far announced and include residential neighbourhoods around town centres that are expected to grow.
Housing Minister Nick Smith has welcomed the programme's progress.
Even the existing 15,585 new residences on nearly 600ha of land is a massive turnaround for Auckland, where few more than 2,000 new houses a year have been built lately.
The biggest new estate planned is 2,592 residences on 156ha at Hobsonville's Scott Pt, a separate peninsula and in private ownership, south-east of Hobsonville Pt.
The council has also revealed that it had rejected 17 applications. Councillor Cathy Casey has described some proposals as "crazy".
Ree Anderson, Auckland Council housing project director, said 10 of the applications rejected were outside the city limits and the rest were incompatible with the accord because they were in business or industrial zones, in education zones or large-lot residential.
Of the 22 properties approved, master-planning and infrastructure investigations were now going on at 15 properties. The most advanced was at Waimahia in Weymouth where houses were expected to be built from June. The first was due to be finished by the end of September.
Ms Anderson said the Weymouth Rd project would yield about 280 new houses over four years, including affordable places from $325,000 to $475,000 — a mix of housing types matched to current shortages, including smaller two-bedroom units and larger four- and five-bedroom homes and 3.7ha of parks and reserves.
She said the land was vacant, with a good outlook on to the Manukau Harbour.
Heather Harris, the council's resource consents manager, said three council divisions were co-operating to get the new houses and estates approved as fast as possible.
"The Resource Consents department expects to process 14,000 consents this year. Of that number, 80 per cent would be residential. However, resource consents generally have a life of five years, so these consents may not result in new buildings for a few years."
Aside from the Special Housing Areas, many new apartment blocks are rising throughout the city.
Ms Harris said resource consents had been granted for a 273-unit Wakefield St block, the 143-unit Urba in Howe St, 757 apartments in five new buildings on Nelson St and a 252-unit retirement home with a 79-bed hospital in Ellerslie.
Local fears for heritage area
Jim Dowd worries that a planned 65-unit block at the end of his street could be an eyesore in his historic Newmarket neighbourhood.
For 21 years, he has lived in quiet Huntley Ave. He and his wife Margaret restored their mansion, which dominates the area and was once the farmhouse. His documents reveal how their three-level stone Huntley House was built in 1874 and he remembers how corrugated iron once lined verandas. The couple's heritage passion saw them enhance old features including a number of open open fireplaces.
"Look here," he says, walking into the kitchen to swing back what appears to be a fixed crockery-lined shelf to reveal a doorway, opening into his painting studio through the secret wall.
"There's as much of this house again underneath," Mr Dowd says, indicating the basement and showing off a folder of letters and documents about the place, including one of photographs.
One of his favourite views is from a ground-floor lounge, over Khyber Pass Rd to the green relief of St Peter's College playing fields, framed by Auckland Grammar's stately mission-style domes.
The idea of seeing a multi-level apartment building instead makes him uneasy.
"Most people are starting to bring their houses back up," he says, indicating gentrification of the street, an easy stroll to the Newmarket shops. "It could be a great pity."
See detailed proposals and maps for all the Special Housing Areas here.