The sixth Labour Government's housing development at Unitec is its biggest yet, with more than 3000 dwellings on 29ha, just 9km from Auckland's CBD.

For Waterview residents, the area is a major green space adjacent to the Oakley Creek Walkway, although it is cut off by the busy Great North Rd.

The Government has bought the land from from Unitec, and the face of this green space will change.

That change will happen fast, as Minister for Housing and Urban Development and Transport, Phil Twyford told the Herald he would like construction to begin next year, although the project will take up to a decade to complete.

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Mt Albert Residents Association co-chair Sir Harold Marshall had wanted the campus to be converted to a park. But this dream has vapourised and he realises the development is inevitable. He is heartened after a conversation with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern about residents having some input on the final plans, though.

"I hope there will be a space at the table for the concerns of the residents of Mt Albert," he says.

Twyford agrees about the value of green space.

"It's a special site. I've biked and walked around it many times. It has the Oakley Creek with the waterfall and beautiful bush. It will be a challenging site to develop, but it has these amazing heritage and natural assets that I know the designers will want to preserve and capitalise on."

Because it's so close to town, the site will be high-density. But "with density comes the need for open space, green space, because that is what makes good density work".

Twyford said the Government's proposal was 40 per cent affordable, 20 per cent social housing and 40 per cent market housing. That 60 per cent of cheaper units is a keystone in Labour's plan to provide affordable homes to young people and families.

The Opposition, the media and the Treasury are sceptical of the Government being able to build enough houses on time — but the debate about quality is arguably more significant, in terms of quality of life for home-owners and the wider community.

Marshall told the Herald that getting the 'software' right is much harder than building the hardware — and because there is a significant proportion of social housing, planners will need to include iwi and other groups.

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Twyford says the first step is consultation with Maori Iwi group Ngā Mana Whenua o Tamaki Makaurau. Local Iwi, Ngāti Whātua, own adjacent land and, by legislation, the Government must work with local Maori. Ngāti Whātua has expressed a wish to be a partner.

"Iwi shares the kind of goals the Government has," he says. The Government and its partners will be "building a whole new suburb".

"We want this to be not just a housing development, but a strong and vibrant community.

It means really good walking and cycling (on-site), access to good transport and good shared public spaces. There's also going to be a need for retail, early childhood education facilities, sports facilities."

Twyford says the Government will build a light rail station at Pt Chevalier, that parts of the site are within walking distance of the Mt Albert train station and there are frequent buses to it.

"The whole new community will be built around the academic institution of Unitec, which is great," he says.

Victoria University of Wellington architect, Dr Morten Gjerde favours the European 'perimeter block' concept, which are units of two to four storeys on the perimeter, with gardens in front, combined with shared facilities inside the perimeter, large enough to be a significant garden or for active recreation.

Bill McKay, senior lecturer in architecture at the University of Auckland and former Waterview resident, reckons units near Great North Rd could easily be four storeys, and demand for them will not be entirely from the traditional nuclear family of "mum, dad and kids".

McKay feels that if one thing has to be sacrificed to keep outdoor space, it should be car spaces. McKay says an interesting lesson from Hobsonville Point, which Twyford sees as the standard, is that some people have converted their garages to offices and flats.

He favours extensive walkways and bikeways within the grounds, but it makes sense for people to use the existing shops at Pt Chevalier and Mt Albert rather than replicating them.

"It's not about roofs over people's heads, it's about building a community," he says.
Actually, Hobsonville Point, despite being just two storeys, is perhaps the development most like Unitec.

Twyford says the next step after working with iwi will be deciding who will lead the project.

"There has been some great work done by the Wairaka Land Company, and we will build on that."

Wairaka Land Company is a subsidiary of Unitec, see wairakalandcompany.nz/ for details of its proposals.