Plans have been changed for the 240-unit Fabric apartment scheme planned for Onehunga, drawing criticism from buyers and defence from its marketing chief and developer.

A planned glass atrium has been axed from the plans, a walkway has changed and some apartment sizes have altered, leaving buyers unhappy and expressing discontent on social media.

But Colliers International issued a statement from its national residential project marketing director Pete Evans and developers Lamont & Co, defending the changes including the atrium loss, saying the alterations to the scheme were necessary.

Buyers said the atrium was designed to bring light into the centre of the five-building, four-level unit scheme and feared their kitchens and bathrooms would now be dark.

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One complained: "There will be significantly less light, a significantly diminished vibe and aesthetic and through this, all our places will be worth less."

Another said: "Really disappointed in this new update. After all the boasting of award-winning designs of apartment living and then to make such changes."

Another wrote: "I'm unsure what our legal defence is right now. I want to meet up with Colliers to see what information they can actually offer and what are the terms of this consent. And from there discuss options with our lawyer. It's been really poorly managed. If I knew we would have been dictated in this fashion I wouldn't have signed up."

But Evans said: "We understand some purchasers preferred the covered internal walkways, but these changes will ensure Fabric is safer, more structurally sound and less expensive to maintain. The changes will also allow construction to start later this month – without any further delays."

Design changes were sometimes necessary when projects went from a preliminary design phase to a detailed design phase, Evans said.

"As developers Lamont & Co worked through the plans with contractors Kalmar Construction, a number of challenges and opportunities were identified," Evans said.

Tim Lamont of Lamont & Co said a number of possible construction and compliance issues were identified during design.

"The open atrium structure would make it difficult to comply with fire regulations, while the glazed roof could potentially present weathertightness issues. In addition, there could be possible safety concerns associated with open elevated walkways. In light of these concerns, alternatives to an atrium structure needed to be considered. The most practical solution was to dispense with the atrium design and replace it with a more conventional roof and generous 2.5m-wide corridor providing access to the apartments," Lamont said.

Most apartment designs would be unchanged, except for the removal of the small windows overlooking the atrium, which would address odour, noise and fire compliance concerns, Lamont said.

Some units would be bigger. The external appearance of the buildings was essentially unchanged, including the central glazed entrance and double-height lobby facing Victoria St, Lamont said.

"However, the buildings will occupy a smaller site footprint due to the corridors being narrower than the atriums," he said.

Construction of the first 160 units in stage one was due to start in the last quarter of 2017, the Herald reported last year.

But the project also appears to be behind the original planned schedule.

A spokesman said today: "Preliminary site works have been carried out and demolition work on the old industrial buildings is due to commence shortly."