Consumer Watch: Plan changes suit developers

By Susan Edmunds

Big bills and long delays for those trying to build under current rules

The development site at 27-29 Powell St, Avondale spent a year in a consent process and cost its developers $650k. Photo / Michael Craig
The development site at 27-29 Powell St, Avondale spent a year in a consent process and cost its developers $650k. Photo / Michael Craig

Developers are worried that Auckland Council will bow to public protest over its unitary plan and housing projects will continue to struggle to get going.

The first round of public feedback on the plan closed on Friday. It allows greater housing density to cater for the growing population.

A Housing Accord between the Government and Auckland Council is also due to fast-track developments before the plan kicks in and before changes are made to the Resource Management Act.

Auckland developers say the changes are vital if houses are to become more affordable. At present, anyone who wants to build medium-density housing developments in Auckland must wait at least a year and pay up to $650,000 just to get resource consent.

One of the biggest hurdles is public notification, in which neighbours can object to big projects. This would be eliminated under the plan when a development meets the new rules.

Peter Chevin is a Resource Management Act consultant who was involved with a 31-unit development in Powell St, Avondale, which was signed off this week to proceed, after a year of public hearings, two court dates and a $650,000 bill.

Council officers had supported the project, but because it is large-scale it had to be notified publicly. At a public hearing, the project was rejected amid residents' concerns about the impact of increased road traffic. The Environment Court then ruled the developers were within their rights. An Official Information Act request showed the public hearing commissioners spent five-and-a-half hours deciding against the project but took 10-and-a-half weeks to respond, charging the developers $105,000.

Chevin said processes are becoming lengthier and dearer. "Things don't get through unless you are prepared to go to the Environment Court."

Developer John Bolton said few people could afford to risk $650,000 on a development that may not go ahead. Medium-density developments were never going to be popular but the council needed to take the lead. "They're afraid to be seen to make a decision that's at odds with the community ... in the last few weeks they've been looking battleworn at the amount of resistance they've been getting and the leadership's been disappearing quickly."

Developer David Whitburn said issues always arose over notified developments. "This is a major problem as a number of people do not like to be near development sites."

He said many developers had given up because of the costs, uncertainty and delays involved in getting projects across the line.

Auckland Council said over the past year, it had processed 11,655 resource consents. Of those that did not need to be notified, 95 per cent were processed within 20 statutory days. The plan will go out for formal notification later this year.

- Herald on Sunday

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