Plans to build a foam factory in North Waikato as part of Sleepyhead's ambitious plans to transform the rural area are eligible to be fast tracked by the Government and could bring the project forward by between five and 15 months.
Minister of the Environment David Parker has, in a letter sighted by the Herald, confirmed to the company that its application meets the criteria for referral under the Covid-19 Recovery (Fast Track) Consenting Act because of the extent of its potential economic impact.
The first stage of the billion-dollar proposal is estimated to create 2100 jobs to an area impacted by Covid during its two-year construction period. It would also provide a further 50 new jobs during the operation of the factory, help diversify the Waikato economy and possibly further industrial development in the area, according to the letter.
A referral order for the development based 5km north of Huntly will now be considered by Cabinet this month.
The Covid-19 Recovery (Fast Track) Consenting Act was introduced in July and is aimed at urgently promoting employment growth to support New Zealand's recovery from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The application by Ambury Properties - the property-holding arm of Sleepyhead - relates to resource consent for the construction and operation of the foam factory and rail siding which will provide access to the North Island main trunk railway and be used as the main method to ship and receive products.
The consent application is separate to the hearing held in September to consider 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 decision is expected by the end of the year and if declined could stop the project in its tracks.
Sleepyhead, formally The Comfort Group, plans to consolidate its two facilities in Avondale and Otahuhu which employ more than 1000 people at the new Ohinewai headquarters.
As well as a state-of-the-art manufacturing centre, the company also plans to build a residential estate with 1100 homes. The overall project has a $1 billion price tag.
A Ministry for the Environment spokesperson said once the referral order was confirmed by Cabinet, the applicant could then lodge an application with the Environmental Protection Authority for its project to be considered by the expert consenting panel.
Sleepyhead director Craig Turner welcomed the decision for stage 1 of the Ohinewai development to be considered under the fast-track consenting process.
Waikato district mayor Allan Sanson, who has been a strong supporter of the project, said the development couldn't happen soon enough, so anything that would speed it up was good news.
"This is incredible news. These communities - both Te Kauwhata and Huntly - are absolutely hanging out for this and the Ohinewai community as well. They are just busting for this thing to get under way because they just see that 2000 jobs through the construction period here - this is huge employment opportunities which will come on stream pretty quick - there's a fair bit of hope here."