A huge tract of West Auckland farmland more than half the size of Hobsonville Point could be transformed into the city's next "urban village" after being snapped up by construction giant Fletcher Building.
However, residents have slammed Fletcher's purchase of the 109ha of dairy farmland near Kumeu and its plans to potentially build thousands of homes next to Taupaki township by 2045.
Local MP Chris Penk said recurring haphazard development had mired Auckland's north west in grinding traffic jams and classroom shortages.
Auckland Council also expressed concern, saying Fletcher's new land was located outside areas earmarked for future urban growth.
That risked disrupting city growth plans and piling more costs on ratepayers, it said.
Penk said Fletcher's plans called into question the kind of city Aucklanders wanted to live in - one that rushed new developments or one that planned for the future.
"We've ended up with ad-hoc development that doesn't make sense in the way it all fits together - and the infrastructure needed to support that increased population does not yet exist."
Fletcher said its Taupaki land was an "attractive" buy at a time when house prices had climbed to record heights and Auckland's continued population growth meant more homes were badly needed.
Its plans were still in the "very early stages", but it intended to engage "relevant stakeholders" with "a vision of creating a residential community alongside the existing one at Taupaki", it said.
That included building an "urban village, together with roads, parks, community facilities and supporting infrastructure".
Fletcher wouldn't reveal the price paid for the two dairy farms at 467 and 517-529 Waitakere Rd after gaining Overseas Investment Office (OIO) approval in September.
But the Herald understands it was well above their combined council valuations of $6.4 million.
The OIO said Fletcher's project would create housing "in an attractive location", protect wildlife in Kumeu River and create cycle tracks and walkways.
It comes as Auckland's median sales price soared to a record high $1.03m in November, the Real Estate Institute said.
Hamish Glenn, from lobby group Infrastructure NZ, said part of the blame for high house prices was central and local governments restricting the release of new development land.
However, Auckland councillor and planning committee chair Chris Darby said unconstrained land release "would lead to a chaotic outcome of land banking and development occurring anywhere anytime".
Developers could then buy cheap rural land, leaving ratepayers to finance transport links, schools, libraries and parks.
That's why Auckland Council created a Future Urban Land Supply Strategy, he said.
It planned for an orderly release of land so infrastructure could be built in the most cost-effective and efficient way.
The supply strategy allowed for up to 1m new homes to be built by 2047, including 137,000 on currently vacant land, Darby said.
That led council to grant a record 15,673 approvals for new homes in the 12 months to October, he said.
There was also plenty of land identified by the supply strategy still available for purchase, yet Fletcher instead chose to buy rural land outside the future development boundaries, he said.
To get its project off the ground, the company would now need to get its Rural - Countryside Living land rezoned.
Should it have problems convincing Auckland Council to do this, it could bring a private plan change application and seek to have this heard by an independent committee.
Fletcher might also face a further hurdle from its Taupaki land being rated high-quality, productive farmland.
That could mean it was caught under central government plans to pass new legislation next year encouraging councils to protect important farmland, Darby said.
Mike Pero Kumeu Real Estate owner Graham McIntyre said he didn't know of any north west residents who supported the new development.
Fletcher could buy any number of development sections still available from Huapai, Riverhead and Whenuapai through to Hobsonville and Scotts Point, he said.
The company had also failed to consult with locals, many of whom had no appetite to pick up the tab in their rates bills for further housing infrastructure, he said.
Fletcher had simply chosen "the wrong land for the wrong development", he said.
Penk said the north west lacked all kinds of infrastructure, be it internet, water and power connections or secondary school classrooms.
Yet the traffic jams heading in-and-out-of Kumeu stood out for being known as one of the worst in Auckland.
"It's an absolute shocker, and the crazy thing is it's not even just rush hour," he said.
"It's every day of the week with the weekends sometimes as bad or worse, and it's all hours of the day."
The urban sprawl that won't stop
Shaun and Rita Eastell moved to Kumeu, west of Auckland, 40 years ago after falling in love with its rural beauty.
In 1993 they opened Country Bears Nature Childcare on the grounds of their lifestyle block, offering tiny tots the chance to play and learn in the great outdoors.
They thought that when housing development did eventually come, it would creep westwards from the city.
"In the normal scheme of things, when urban sprawl develops it usually starts in the centre and works its way out, but for some reason that didn't happen here," Shaun said.
"It jumped from Westgate straight to Kumeu."
Land bankers began buying up blocks of land, leading to new housing sporadically popping up here and there, he said.
"Why was there this sudden grab of land out in Kumeu with no infrastructure put in place to match," Shaun said.
Development had only picked up pace until much of the town's character had been diminished or lost.
"People have that image of lovely rural Kumeu, but sadly that has changed," he said.
"It is the sheer volume of development, and the traffic."
Many locals were dismayed to hear about Fletcher Building's urban village plans, he said
"Why? It seems like a strange place to all of a sudden plonk a new development," Shaun said.
"Why aren't they using land that's already available?"