The plan for a $1.2 billion Sleepyhead manufacturing and housing development at Ohinewai is off to the Environment Court due to appeals by opponents Waikato Regional Council and transport agency Waka Kotahi.
The council said its appeal would focus on seeking improvements and refinements to provisions in the decision of the independent commissioners, who last month gave the green light to rezoning rural land in the north Waikato, paving the way for new manufacturing headquarters for Australasia's largest bedding manufacturer and up to 1100 houses.
Waka Kotahi (NZTA) said it intended to appeal due to concerns with the housing part of the proposal. It did not elaborate.
Many of the proposed houses are intended for employees of the Auckland-based developer The Comfort Group, which owns the Sleepyhead brand. The company, which has outgrown its Auckland manufacturing sites, has said many of its staff could never afford to buy a home in Auckland.
The commissioners' 100-page decision sharply criticised the regional council and the transport agency for the reasoning behind their opposition.
The Comfort Group declined to comment until it has digested the appeals.
Regional council chair Russ Rimmington said the council had "always recognised the positives" that would flow from the proposal.
"...In fact, we have worked hard to grant consents sought from us for the industrial activity to occur.
"We welcome the creation of jobs in the region and our appeal seeks to ensure that, in tandem with job creation, we are ensuring quality communities are also being created.
"We have regional spatial planning documents created in conjunction with our local councils at significant expense. These documents have had community and iwi input and we are required to uphold their direction. We are concerned this is being used as an easy way to get around a community agreed spatial plan that won't produce the quality urban form we'd signed up to.
"We know the region needs to provide more housing but it's really important we are building quality and enduring communities.
"As a council we have some concerns that we believe have not been adequately addressed by the independent hearings commissioners in their decision. So we have lodged an appeal that is focused on specific provisions of the decision."
The specific provisions of the decision where the council is looking for improvements include:
• Management of flood risks.
• Public transport and car dependency.
• Accessibility and urban form.
• Water and wastewater connections.
Commissioners in their decision said the project had the potential to provide more than 2600 jobs to the Waikato, to provide affordable housing to the local workforce and to contribute an estimated $200 million a year into the local economy.
Earthworks for the 178ha development on 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.
In their decision, the hearing panel of commissioners, appointed by the Waikato District Council, took the regional council and transport agency to task, noting that central to their joint opposition were concerns the proposal was not anticipated by strategic planning documents and not in line with existing planning documents.
"Without wishing to be unduly critical, we consider those agencies have taken a narrow doctrinaire interpretation of the relevant strategic planning documents and have given little weight to the strong directions in the (National Policy Statement) for decision-makers to be responsive to development opportunities unanticipated by RMA planning documents.
"We are disappointed the two public agencies took such entrenched positions to oppose the Ohinewai development proposal when a more constructive approach was called for when taking into account the significant benefits that could arise to the local area and region if the rezoning proposal were to be approved."
The regional council said it would work with the developer "to work towards a negotiated solution, noting the appeal can be withdrawn "should a satisfactory settlement be reached through the mediation process".
Elaborating on the specific areas in which the council is looking for improvements, Rimmington said while council experts are of the view the site can be engineered to lift it above the flood levels, performance standards for floor levels and overall stormwater management provisions could be improved.
The council wants to ensure that modification of the flood plain associated with the residential development is done in a way that minimises impacts on adjoining properties, he said.
On public transport and car dependency, it wanted people to have good accessibility between their homes, jobs, community services, natural and open spaces, including by way of public or active transport.
"The isolated nature of the site does not easily support public or active transport and there are no provisions in the plan change to ensure public or active transport will be achieved for the development.
"So through its appeal the council is seeking mechanisms to enable the provision of high-quality public transport services and supporting infrastructure.
"It would also be preferable for recreation facilities, walking and cycle paths to be provided in the first stage of development so residents do not have to travel for all their day-to-day needs."
On accessibility and "urban form", the council wanted better connections between the existing Ohinewai community and the Sleepyhead development that will be separated by the Waikato Expressway.
In the area of water and wastewater connections, there was a staging provision for wastewater connection for the later residential stages of the development which required the Huntly wastewater treatment plant to be fully compliant with its resource consent prior to any connection.
The council sought to ensure the staging provision could be circumvented in the future.
"We also want to ensure that Te Ture Whaimana o Te Awa o Waikato (Vision and Strategy) is given effect to," Rimmington said.
"As you can see, the matters are very specific. We want to continue working with the developers to get the best outcome for the here and now, but also to lay a quality foundation for a durable future.
"We need to get this right. The decision has come a long way to address some matters, but the appeal will ensure that further refinements and improvements can be made to ensure quality workable and liveable communities for the Waikato."