New Zealand's biggest private hospital network has won the first stage of a planning application which will allow it to knock down or remove several houses to expand in Auckland's Epsom, in the face of fierce local opposition.
Southern Cross Hospitals won a hotly contested plan change application from independent hearing commissioners appointed by Auckland Council to rezone the sites of three homes on Gillies Ave and one home on Brightside Rd to expand its Brightside private hospital.
Two of the Gillies Ave homes were built before 1940 and have special character status.
Commissioners Kitt Littlejohn, Kim Hardy, Ian Munro and Mark Farnsworth allowed the plan change to go ahead with modifications. Southern Cross is allowed to rezone 149, 151 and 153 Gillies Ave from single house zone to special purpose healthcare facility and hospital zone. Homes at 149, 151 and 153 Gillies Ave are also now removed from the special character areas overlay.
Of 176 submissions, 174 opposed the expansion for negative effects on the residential area and its special character, building dominance, loss of privacy, shading, problems with parking, safety and congestion, construction effects with danger to traffic, noise nuisance and vibration due to a significant quantity of rock excavated to create a hospital basement.
"Other arguments in opposition to the plan change included that Southern Cross Hospitals was obliged to consider alternative sites for its proposed hospital expansion and had not, therefore the proposal must fail," the decision said.
But Southern Cross said it had looked at other sites and reached the conclusion Brightside was best for expansion.
Opponents said removing the special character area residential overlay from three of the subject sites would have a precedent effect of the negative type that would lead to other proposals like that elsewhere in the city, thereby undermining the integrity and purpose of that provision in the Auckland Unitary Plan.
Auckland Transport backed Southern Cross and its plan change "if transport-related concerns raised in its submission were acceptably resolved".
Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga did not indicate whether it opposed or supported the plan change, the commissioners said.
Southern Cross told commissioners that of its three central Auckland hospitals, Brightside had the least constraints on expansion.
Developing surrounding sites would enable the number of elective surgeries able to be performed in Epsom to be doubled to about 8000 a year and a new intensive care unit to be developed, it said.
Rob Henin, chief executive of health insurance rival NIB, supported the plan change. NIB is New Zealand's second-largest health insurer and uses Southern Cross Hospitals' elective surgery services.
"New Zealand's healthcare system is under increasing pressure due to population growth, an ageing population, as well as an increase in the number of patients suffering from chronic conditions that require intensive and specialised medical care," Henin told commissioners.
About half the 350,000 New Zealanders who have elective surgery annually do that in private hospitals, Henin said.
The commissioners decided a hospital activity of the scale enabled by the plan change would not be incompatible with the local environment, subject to suitable controls on the design of new buildings on the site. Even though the plans had the potential to adversely affect immediately adjacent neighbours, that could be addressed through further modifications, they said.
"Overall, we are satisfied that a hospital building at the permitted scale allowed under the plan change can be designed to achieve compatibility in its neighbourhood," they said.
Courtney Bennett, Southern Cross Hospitals' property and development chief, today indicated the plan change victory was only the first step: a council hearing for the resource consent application is due to be held later this year, he said.
"Southern Cross Hospitals is pleased to have been granted a zoning change for Brightside Hospital in Epsom," he said today.
"We have been working on plans to expand Brightside Hospital for several years. The expansion aims to help meet the growing need for comprehensive healthcare services in Auckland, where there are severe capacity constraints in both public and private hospitals," he said.
Brightside was established in the 1940s and the area has many medical facilities.
"Brightside provides a range of surgical services and post-operative care for procedures such as knee and hip replacements to Kiwis mainly from the greater Auckland area. The expansion enabled by the zoning change will help to alleviate the growing pressure on Auckland's hospital network," Bennett said today.
Southern Cross had consulted extensively with neighbours and the council before lodging the plan change and resource consent applications.
"We have worked to minimise impacts to neighbouring properties, including designing the building in such a way as to preserve historic trees and rock walls on the site and to keep any additional traffic away from the quieter residential streets and on the arterial road of Gillies Ave," Bennett said.