The Government is giving a supermarket and apartment development on Auckland's Dominion Rd a leg up against the wishes of some neighbours and the advice of expert council planners.
Environment Minister David Parker has referred plans by Foodstuffs and a developer to build a New World supermarket, apartments, shops and offices to a Covid-19 fast-track consenting process.
The project has stirred claims it sidesteps existing rules, challenges safety for motorcycles, raises questions about the need for another supermarket and has downsides for neighbours.
The Dominion Road Business Association backs the development. While Parker said it met the criteria for consideration for fast-tracking, some locals are rallying against it.
Nicola Paoli, who lives near the development, said:
"This is about overriding due process to the ninth degree."
Foodstuffs and developer John Dalzell, who oversaw the transformation of Wynyard Quarter, plan to invest $160 million to build a supermarket, offices, 117 apartments, a laneway with bars, cafes and restaurants in a block between Prospect Tce and Grange Rd.
The development is on the site of the old UBD printing business behind an existing 1970s block of shops fronting Dominion Rd which are not owned by Foodstuffs and outside the plans.
The project is one of three new projects put on a fast-track by Parker last month in a bid to stimulate the Covid-hit economy. The other two projects are a foam factory in Huntly, and a subdivision in Nelson.
According to Parker, the project has the potential to provide about 220 construction jobs and create between 150 and 185 permanent jobs upon completion.
But Paoli claimed all of Auckland should be scared by the Covid-19 fast track legislation that she said overrode normal planning rules, including Auckland Council's Unitary Plan.
She claimed the development would struggle to gain normal consent.
"The proposal to build another supermarket only 200m away from Countdown and 100m from local specialised supermarket Farro is complete overkill and unnecessary.
"Given the Government is currently investigating the supermarket duopoly, this proposal only feeds into anti-competitive behaviour and strengthens the duopoly the Government is trying to address," Paoli said.
Neighbours say they are also frustrated at the few details they have been able to gain on the project.
One neighbour Bruce Koefoed said residents had been given a marketing promo document and but a promise to provide further details had not been met.
He said neighbours supported apartments and development on the site as long as the project was within the rules of the Unitary Plan.
Council planning experts told Parker in September very little was known of the effects the proposal would have on infrastructure and amenity.
Ian Smallburn, council's resource consents general manager, told Parker "this proposal will benefit from being processed through typical resource management processes".
Council planner Tracey Grant said under the Unitary Plan, the Foodstuffs site on Dominion Rd called for intensive housing and small-scale retail and commercial development.
She said the zone anticipated small scale supermarkets of up to 450sq m, but Foodstuffs plans showed the supermarket would be about 2718sq m - six times the allowable floor space.
A traffic assessment was not provided to properly review the potential traffic effects, said Auckland Transport principal development planner Sarah Jaff.
She said Dominion Rd has the highest number of deaths and serious injury crashes for motorcycles on arterial roads in Auckland, largely due to right turns at intersections. More right turns could make matters worse.
There has been talk of restricting right turns into or out of Dominion Rd under plans for light rail on Dominion Rd.
The Albert-Eden Local Board, in feedback on the development to Parker, raised questions about the effect of increased traffic on plans for light rail.
The board is also sceptical of the promise to provide affordable housing, saying the promoters had failed to substantiate how many houses would be affordable by using recognised methodologies. The apartments are priced from $650,000 for a one-bedroom unit and have an average price of $1.24 million for two bedrooms.
"Whilst the application claims the provision of '117 affordable residential units' it then fails to establish the case," the board said.
Summing up, the board said the fast track process should be reserved for unambiguous projects, but in its present form it should go through the normal consenting process.
In a statement, Foodstuffs' head of corporate affairs Antoinette Laird said the company had been sharing a "vision for a well-designed and functioning mixed-use transit, retail and residential hub" with residents and businesses.
"Our aim is to provide the community with a variety of homes that are affordably priced, a process for achieving local design content and expression of Māori culture, a design response that aims to build resilience and support local businesses, plus a safe and convenient retail and residential space...amidst a thriving transport hub."
Laird said designs were in the early stage and the priority was to involve and gain feedback from the community.
Construction could potentially begin late next year, she said.
Parker defended his decision to fast-track the application against the advice of council planners and the Local Board, saying just about every application before him included comments from parties saying "no".
"If I just accepted their views then nothing would go through the fast-track process and it wouldn't meet its purpose to make decisions post-Covid quickly," he said.
Parker said he saw enough reasons to refer the Dominion Rd application to the fast-track process where normal Resource Management Act principles applied, a wide range of parties got to make submissions and an expert consenting panel could choose to hold a hearing.
Under the legislation, the panel has a range of organisations, including local councils, iwi, adjacent landowners and various business and environmental groups it must involve. In this case, Parker has added Auckland Transport, Watercare and the Dominion Rd Business Association to the list.
No other person had a right to be heard, but the panel could decide to hear from other parties.
Paoli said she understood the country needed to recover from Covid.
"What I am opposed to is development being railroaded through processes meant to protect us. I don't think the legislation allows the checks and balances to control that development and make sure everybody has a voice.
"I would have thought Labour would have been more consultative in that respect," she said.
Dominion Road Business Association manager Gary Holmes said his group supported the additional supermarket, apartments and office space, saying it's what has been envisaged for intensification along transport corridors.
"As we go forward in this brave new world of intensification, it is going to be an issue that rises its head again all over Auckland. When change happens people are a bit scared and push back," said Holmes, who pointed to the five-storey Eden View apartment block being built a bit further down Dominion Rd.
He said whether people like it or not, buildings like that were changing the landscape of Dominion Rd and that's the plan for Auckland.
"It is going to intensify. It's going to go up and what we have been used to in the past, it's going to change. It's causing consternation, but the dye is cast," Holmes said.