The $1.2 billion Sleepyhead Estate housing and manufacturing development at Ohinewai is set to start rising next year after appellants to the Environment Court resolved their issues ahead of a court hearing.
Waikato District mayor Allan Sanson, who has shepherded the proposal by the Sleepyhead bedmaker brand's Turner family through several years of red tape, told the Herald all outstanding matters had been resolved in pre-hearing talks.
A memorandum of understanding between appellants Waikato Regional Council, transport agency Waka Kotahi and the developers was registered with the Environment Court on Thursday, Sanson said.
The two regulators had appealed the May decision of independent commissioners to allow rezoning of the Turner rural land at Ohinewai in north Waikato for the development by Australasia's biggest bedmaker.
The Turner family's company The Comfort Group plans up to 1100 new homes on 178ha and a large manufacturing centre. The company, whose brands include Sleepyhead, Sleepmaker and Dunlop Foams, has outgrown its sites in Auckland and wants to provide homes for its staff who cannot afford Auckland house prices.
Company director Craig Turner said he was delighted at the outcome of negotiations.
"We now look forward to continuing to progress the development next year, including securing further earthworks consents to prepare building platforms and to obtain building consents for the foam factory in early 2022."
Earthworks on the marginal farming land are already under way, after the Minister for the Environment agreed resource consent applications to authorise the planned foam factory and rail siding on the site could be processed under the Government's Covid-19 fast track consent process.
Waikato Regional Council said the development would be "improved" as a result of the pre-hearing discussions.
The memorandum needs to be presented to an Environment Court judge for final determination.
Regional council chairman Russ Rimmington said it was "a great outcome".
"Huge headway has been made by working together to solve some complex issues so we can ensure good amenities that will be used by people into the future.
"We've focused on doing our best to make sure this development is the best. We've done that by brokering a very practical outcome and, as a result, the development will look different on the ground."
But district council mayor Sanson tells it differently.
He told the Herald the regional council "ran the clock right down" to yesterday, the talks deadline he had insisted on.
"Their appeal did not cover off (truly) opposing it. It was about tiny little things like trying to get Waikato District Council to commit to funding public transport when we didn't know what would be required (by completion time) and putting a figure on 'affordable housing'.
"You can't put a figure on affordable housing - if the Crown can't how the hell can we?"
But he was confident the Turner family would provide affordable housing for their staff.
Sanson said he was "pretty elated".
"These sort of things don't come along often. It's been a long three-and-a-half-year journey since Craig Turner and I first sat down to talk about this.
"It's been an arduous journey, the last six months particularly. But I put a line in the sand for resolving this by yesterday."
Rimmington said the Sleepyhead Estate would be "a good quality and functioning community for those who choose to live and work there".
The regional council had a number of appeal points, Rimmington said.
"Ensuring the future community at Ohinewai has good accessibility has been addressed through the development and agreement of a memorandum of understanding between Ambury Properties Ltd, Waikato District Council and Waikato Regional Council. As a result of the MOU, there will be ongoing discussions around the provision of staged public transport services.
"The council believes other amended provisions will result in a better quality urban design, that encourages walking, cycling and the use of public transport. It will also mean improved connectivity of the proposal with the existing Ohinewai township and Huntly.
"Through discussion, parties have also recognised the importance of offering a variety of housing types at differing price points."
Waka Kotahi in a statement said it supports Sleepyhead's ambition of increasing employment opportunities in the Waikato through a factory at Ohinewai.
"We also support sustainable residential housing development. Transport has an important role to play in enabling urban development and helping ensure the Waikato continues to be an enjoyable place to live, work and play. We have worked closely with all parties to agree a way forward on the proposed Sleepyhead development at Ōhinewai.
"All parties have reached an agreement and this will be reported to the Environment Court, with a consent order to be filed with the Environment Court in late January 2022. Subject to the court's decision, the consent order will formalise the agreements reached between the parties."
Sanson and the independent commissioners have sharply criticised the regional council and transport agency for their attitudes to a development claimed to generate up to 2600 new jobs, $8.5b for the Waikato economy over 10 years and much-needed new housing.