John is a senior reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Tauranga risks becoming mini-Auckland

Tauranga has reached a turning point architectural designer Phil Green says. Photo/File
Tauranga has reached a turning point architectural designer Phil Green says. Photo/File

Tauranga has reached the turning point needed to stop it turning into a sprawling, impersonal, traffic congested mini-Auckland, experts say.

''We are right at the turning point,'' architectural designer Phil Green told the Bay of Plenty Times.

All the studies had been done on what Tauranga should be doing and now was the time to act on them, he said.

Mr Green was commenting on the growth issues facing the city. ''The hardest thing for people to get their heads around is realising that we are going to have to stop this urban sprawl. We have a chance to learn from bigger cities.''

The solution needed to include looking at the city's suburban commercial centres and even the prospect of parking buildings outside the CBD. Commuters' cars were spilling into fringe residential streets in areas like the Avenues, Gate Pa and Greerton.

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''We need to sit down and do a really good plan of attack for the whole city.''

Mr Green said the Western Bay's urban growth planning study SmartGrowth was starting to look more inwardly at the city, particularly around what he called the fringes.

All that the Government's Special Housing Areas had so far achieved for Tauranga was smaller sections and same sized houses, resulting in more dense subdivisions. He described Papamoa as one big roof line with no space for trees.

Mr Green advocated clustering of more intensive and mixed housing styles to take the pressure off urban sprawl. Where the city did spread into the countryside, subdivisions needed to reflect a cross-section of society to get a community feel back into new suburbs.

Mayor Stuart Crosby, who is not running for re-election, agreed with Mr Green that Tauranga was at a turning point. Traditional greenfield housing had served the city well but the new thrust to a compact city meant it was critical to provide more housing options.

This required a user-friendly regulatory environment. He said the council had got the high level ideas right but it had choked the concept with an overly regulated planning process.

He also called for community facilities like halls and libraries to be at the front end of developments. ''We are not as sophisticated as we think. We like to sit around camp fires talking to each other.''

Driving around subdivisions, the first thing people put up were fences. ''Fences break down neighbourhoods.''

Mr Crosby supported building an array of housing for different demographics, with more affordable houses and more social housing. Demand was also growing for new long-term rental housing as a consequence of fewer younger people owning their own homes.

Green Party member and chairman of the council's toxic agri-chemical advisory forum Ron Lopert said growth was good as long as it enhanced quality of life, but beyond a certain point it became counter-productive.

''It starts to degrade the environment, eroding the capacity to sustain ongoing growth.''

He said the mantra of growth was being questioned in Tauranga, with noticeable impacts on waterways and other negative environmental effects. Retaining productive land was not only important for humans but other animals that shared the region.

''It all has to do with proper planning and public transport - sustainable growth.''

He said rapid growth was increasing the number of people chasing limited resources like houses, resulting in the housing crisis. ''If there is a mismatch, then we have to question growth.''

The head of the Greerton-based Te Tuinga Whanau Support Service, Tommy Wilson, said that as the city grew, so had the housing and housing affordability gap.

Tauranga meant safe anchorage, and he wanted to know what the mayoral candidates would do to cater for the growing numbers seeking a safe place to call home.

''We need the civic leaders to come on board. Who is asking the questions about what the homeless need and what people that have nothing need. That is what I want to know and that is the person I will vote for,'' he said.

What Tauranga's mayoral candidates said about growth

Hori Bop: ''Roading is the noose around Tauranga's neck, threatening to strangle our whole economic viability. I advocated building the Hairini tunnel. Now we need to finish what we started by immediately four-laning Turret Rd and 15th Avenue. Some current councillors and the council's own roading department have already tried to push this out to 10 years, which is just another half-arsed Tauranga solution, to go with our half-swimming pool and our half-rugby stadium. My vision is to do things once, and do them properly - but we have to do it now. No-one could ever accuse me of being half-arsed.''

Doug Owens: ''For many years the council has struggled with debt that has put real limits on how infrastructure for development can be funded. Rating for such growth is undesirable and development levies have effectively been scrapped by central government and are historically punitive. In the good times, such as we are experiencing now, better cash flow enables a more fluid approach, but it is in the down times that infrastructure becomes difficult to realise and development is less sustainable and a drag on growth. It could be that Local Body Bonds are reinvented and used to stimulate and support local investment.''

Graeme Purches: ''Traffic congestion. The complete failure of Tauranga's public transport to meet the needs of its residents, despite reasonable pricing, is reflected in appalling patronage. The solution is a complete revision of timetables and routes undertaken by people who actually understand what is required, and the introduction of hubs offering park and ride to and from strategic locations, with smaller, faster, reliable and regular bus shuttles to get people into the central city and back. Reintroduce free bus transport from those hubs for the 3400 students requiring transport to and from our two central city colleges which are currently a driver of peak congestion.''

Steve Morris: ''The main issue is the cost of growth which is enormous. The Chapel St sewage treatment plant is at capacity and raw sewage is discharged into the harbour during peak flows. That's why the $100m Southern Pipeline Project is underway. Without a new $60m water treatment plant the city is forecast to lose water pressure in 2021. Councillors pre-2010 put the burden on ratepayers. They borrowed money to build infrastructure for developers' subdivisions and then charged the interest not back to the developers who were making the profit, but to existing ratepayers. We still live with this legacy today, every time you pay your rates bill.''

Greg Brownless: ''All the growth related pressures facing Tauranga are major because they are costly to solve. Infrastructure such as roading and water supply become inadequate and require significant upgrades. Additional pressure also falls on our parks and reserves, libraries, and sports and recreation facilities. The funding of new infrastructure should come from a mix of sources including fees from new land, housing and business area developments, users, government infrastructure grants, the regional council and lastly rates. We could also look at things like park and ride and better public transport to assist with traffic congestion pressure.''

Kelvin Clout: ''While we grapple with four-laning Turret Rd and 15th Ave, I will undertake a business case and trial, running free buses during peak hours to and from Welcome Bay into the major schools and the CBD. I will also explore the more cost-effective and pragmatic possibility of a 'tidal flow three-lane' solution. We must bring forward the Papamoa East Interchange with the TEL and I will allow multi-passenger vehicles and electric vehicles to travel in bus lanes on Hewletts Road. Fast track the compact city initiative which will enable intensification in the central city, downtown Mount Maunganui and designated zones around our city.''

Larry Baldock: ''The greatest growth related pressure is the cost of dealing with increased traffic. Doing all we can to improve public transport is necessary but will not avoid the need to finish the four-laning of SH 29 and grade separation of intersections like Takitimu Drive/Elizabeth St, Barkes Corner, and Hewletts Rd/Totara St, along with connecting 15th Ave to Route K. The fulfilment of the Prime Minister's promise to four-lane 15th Ave and Hairini Bridge/Turret Rd is essential. We must get our fair share of the government's $1 million loan fund to assist high growth areas to assist with projects like the new Waiari water plant needed to service the new growth areas of Papamoa East and Te Tumu.''

Noel Peterson: ''The major growth related pressure faced by Tauranga is transportation. My method of dealing with this was to lead the community in the right direction, phasing in restructuring, maintenance, and improvement of the current infrastructure, and council process and policy to accommodate new technology. This will involve education and buy-in from the community to accept clean technology becoming an everyday way of travel. I envision the use of smaller cars and e-cycles that reduce the congestion footprint by being smaller. For example if five small cars have a footprint size of one typical car of today, our congestion could be reduced to one fifth of the current congestion level.''

Max Mason: ''The biggest issue Tauranga faces is lack of vision and leadership. Providing growth-related infrastructure should be business-as-usual by now, and the council's Long Term Plan largely reflects that. But it's astounding that there is a huge gap in strategic vision when it comes to building a city for people who expect a higher quality of life. The biggest failing of past councils is that there are plenty of plans but no integrated strategy that will provide a pathway to that higher quality of life for our community. We need a massive swing in perception from elected members, because the thinking that got us here isn't going to get us there. We need a Mayor and council that have the insight and intelligence to understand that building a city is not just about pipes, it's also about people.''

What is Tauranga's biggest growth issue?

''House prices and traffic. I have been working in the CBD for three years and I have noticed that traffic congestion has increased. It is not going to quieten down.''
- Paul Cornwell, 45 Cambridge Heights

Paul Cornwell
Paul Cornwell

''It is the growing pains. Obviously infrastructure is a big thing and the first and most important is roading. Accessibility is a big thing.''
- Brian Gillett, 38, Whakamarama

Brian Gillett.
Brian Gillett.

''Roading. It is getting quite choked up. I am getting caught in traffic queues.''
- Ollie Irving, 77 City centre

Ollie Irving
Ollie Irving

''The middle class is struggling to survive because of the cost of living. Average wages have not gone up, it is definitely tough.''
- Rowan Ellis, 25 Greerton

Rowan Ellis
Rowan Ellis

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