A new Government planning approach could help pave the way for faster intensification in Tauranga, experts say.
The regulation shake-up has been welcomed by developers, a social housing provider and city leaders, but there are also reservations about how far the changes would go and whether they would deliver houses.
The city was one of six growth areas targeted in the Government's draft National Policy Statement on Urban Development, announced on Wednesday.
The statement describes a new planning scheme that would help cities accommodate growth by removing overly restrictive development rules.
Phil Twyford, Minister of Urban Development, said the proposals were built around the idea of trying to make room for growth instead of trying to stop it.
"You have got to allow for your city to grow up, not just out.
"[The statement] would give a directive to councils that they have to free up restrictions on height and density."
He said it was vital to provide a mix of housing options and for higher density developments to be built around quality amenities, including open spaces, parks and transport.
He was confident councils could access top urban design advice to achieve that.
He said the proposal could help enable projects such as Tauranga City Council's plan changes that would encourage intensification along the Te Papa peninsula, and social housing provider Accessible Properties' proposal to replace 140 houses with modern townhouses in Gate Pā.
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Tauranga Mayor Greg Brownless said it was clear the council was being told it must loosen up planning rules, but he wanted more detail about how far it would be expected to go to achieve that.
While he was for the intensification and believed it was needed to provide more housing, he was concerned that relaxing some regulations could lead to residents having less say about what happened in their neighbourhoods.
A proposal in the draft statement that would see a limit on local authorities' ability to regulate how many carparks should go with a development was concerning, he said.
He said the idea that people would use public transport was good and worked in places like Wellington but Tauranga was "not there yet".
He said the council already had changes to its City Plan in the works and had a plan review scheduled for next year.
Developer Peter Cooney, director of Classic Group, said the shake-up was "long overdue" and needed to go hand in hand with changes to the Resource Management Act (RMA).
He said many developers were not keen to build apartments or higher density buildings in Tauranga because strict regulations left too much risk of plans being rejected or challenged.
"I know because it has happened to us."
He said regulation should be about achieving good outcomes, not setting limits.
"The architecture and designs of the way we live have changed and our policies need to change with them."
He said developers would build what the market wanted, and were unlikely to build without enough carparks if buyers would want carparks.
Sir Paul Adams, executive chairman of development company Carrus, said funding infrastructure to support growth was a significant issue for councils, and the proposed changes would provide some alternatives to the traditional model.
While dealing with the RMA was "the most important thing", the changes proposed in the policy statement could supersede parts of the RMA and help remove some of the biggest impediments to projects.
Vicki McLaren, general manager of Accessible Properties Tauranga, said the proposed changes matched the social housing provider's approach to regenerating and growing its Tauranga portfolio.
"The Gate Pā area, where Accessible Properties owns over 40 per cent of the current housing stock, is ideally suited to the type of development the policy statement seeks to enable and coupled with much-needed Government investment, this could be a game-changer for Tauranga."
Stuart Crosby, Bay of Plenty regional councillor and vice president of Local Government New Zealand, said the previous Government's policy statement was, in his view, a "tickbox exercise that did not produce any houses".
It's proposed replacement needed to be fit-for-purpose and followed by changes to the RMA. The draft document looked promising, and would give councils in the western Bay of Plenty "another tool in the toolbox" as they planned for growth, he said.
"What this is giving growth councils is the knowledge the Government is going to be behind them."
Crosby said change had to come to Tauranga, but councils only got one shot at remaking neighbourhoods.
"We cannot carry on with the kinds of subdivisions we have been doing for the last 20 years."
Simon Bridges, MP for Tauranga and National Party leader, said he did not oppose the Government's urban development work but it would not make much of a difference to the housing supply issues in Tauranga and New Zealand.
"What is really needed is bold Resource Management Act reform, and the Government has pushed that into the long grass with another working group."
Twyford said the Government was comprehensively reforming the Act - something National had nine years to do but instead only "tinkered".
The policy statement, which could take effect as early as mid-2020, could supersede and fix some aspects of the Act, he said.