A hearing for Sleepyhead's $1 billion mixed development at Ohinewai has revealed Australasia's leading bedding maker isn't the only one wanting to build housing there as Auckland creeps south.

On hearing day three of the Sleepyhead proposal for a zoning change in the Waikato District Plan to allow an industrial, residential, and commercial development on 178ha in the rural north Waikato area, a major neighbouring landowner said its plans for housing would be complementary.

In a submission to the independent commissioners, Ohinewai Lands says along with an associated interest company Waikare Lands, it owns more than 1300ha in the wider Ohinewai area to the north and south of Sleepyhead group's site.

It said Ohinewai Lands had not sought to rezone through the proposed Waikato District Plan but wanted to ensure rezoning was not precluded in the future.

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Technical advice had showed Ohinewai Lands' property was well suited to be zoned for residential and open-space purposes in future, once infrastructure constraints were solved, and would be able to accommodate around 235 homes.

"It is intended that future development at the site will be complementary to the (Sleepyhead) development through the provision of larger lot sizes and connectivity to Lake Ohinewai reserve," said the submission.

The property had been identified on the Huntly and Ohinewai development plan in the Waikato District Council Growth and Economic Development Strategy 2070 (Waikato 2070) as future development areas with a development timeframe of 1-10 years.

Ohinewai Lands was a submitter to Waikato 2070.

Waikato 2070 had been developed with the knowledge of the Sleepyhead and Ohinewai Lands proposals, and after assessment, considered them suitable for the district, said the submission.

Sleepyhead, formally known as The Comfort Group, is Australasia's biggest bedding and foam maker. It employs 1000 people in Auckland and Australia, manufacturing the Sleepyhead brand and other products, and has outgrown its aged facilities in Avondale and Otahuhu.

Legal submissions on behalf of Sleepyhead said its proposal, which incorporates 1100 new homes, was strongly supported by the Waikato District Council, tangata whenua and local residents, including Huntly business and community representatives.

Opponents are the Waikato Regional Council, the New Zealand Transport Agency and to a lesser degree, the Future Proof Implementation Committee. Their submissions have yet to be heard.

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The thrust of their opposition was that Ohinewai had not been provided for in strategic planning documents, the first day of the online hearing was told.

Sleepyhead's legal submission responded the regional council and NZTA were "old guard" whose approach to land use planning was "an overly conservative, outdated and doctrinaire fixed-point-in-time" attitude.

Comfort Group plans a mixed-used community called the Sleepyhead Estate at Ohinewai, 5km north of Huntly. It would incorporate a cutting edge manufacturing centre which would boost its manufacturing space from 30,000sq m to 100,000sq m over 10 years. Ohinewai would be the group's new headquarters.

The first stage would be a foam manufacturing centre which, before Covid-19, was expected to be operational by mid-2022.

The group is confident the development would be capable of generating more than $100 million a year "in an area under socio-economic pressure".

The Comfort Group's co-owner and director Craig Turner. Photo / Supplied
The Comfort Group's co-owner and director Craig Turner. Photo / Supplied

The housing plan is an integral part of the development because Comfort Group wants to help its staff into their own homes, impossible now for many with the cost of Auckland housing, co-owner and director Craig Turner has said.

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Before the virus response, the company had been training Waikato-Tainui people in preparation for the Ohinewai development, transporting them to Auckland daily.

On Future Proof's opposition, Ohinewai Lands said as it was embedded in the wider Waikato regional planning strategy it had to be given more weight than Waikato 2070 - but it was due for a long-awaited update this year.

This indicated "the growth and land allocation provisions as they currently stand are out of date and incorrect to accommodate unanticipated changing growth and land use patterns since its release".

"Waikato 2070 is up to date and reflects what is occurring in the district today, with a more accurate vision into the future," said the lands company.

"As a result, Ohinewai Lands has placed significant weight on the Waikato 2070 strategy in its decision-making for its landholdings."

Ohinewai Lands concluded that it generally supported the Sleepyhead proposal.

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It sought relief from the hearing commissioners that parts of its land identified by Waikato 2070 were recognised as future growth areas through the Ohinewai Structure Plan, and that the proposed district plan did not preclude the company from future residential development at the site.