A plan to allow hundreds of new houses to be developed in Springvale is headed to a commissioner hearing next month after three submissions opposing the plan were lodged.
Two commissioners have been appointed to hear submissions in regard to District Plan Change 53 which was publicly notified earlier this year.
The plan change proposes the continued expansion of residential development in Springvale, from Fox Rd down to Fitzherbert Ave and further south to the Titoki wetland.
If the land was made available, it would be enough room for up to 600 new houses, but work is unlikely to begin this financial year.
A total of 16 submissions were received with the majority being in support, while three opposing submissions and one neutral submission were also received.
At this week's Whanganui District Council meeting, planning manager Hamish Lampp said the plan was significant to the future growth of Whanganui.
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"This is the most important strategic planning project currently on the go," he said.
"As we know Whanganui is growing at a rapid rate and we need more greenfield land available to meet the ever increasing demand."
The commissioners will provide only a recommendation to Whanganui District Council following the hearing, meaning the council retains its decision-making authority on the rezoning process.
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Although the commissioners won't be deciding the outcome of the plan, they will make a decision if an area of land within the zone is to be designated for stormwater and transportation purposes.
The hearing will be chaired by Rob van Voorthuysen.
The other commissioner is Miria Pomare, a deputy commissioner in the Environment Court who has more than 10 years' experience dealing with cultural land issues and Treaty of Waitangi claims.
"We consider them to be very experienced commissioners and really what it comes down to in selecting commissioners is weighing up factors such as availability, capability and cost," Lampp told councillors.
"We've determined that a two-person panel is the most appropriate for this plan change, we think that's commensurate to the scale and complexity of the plan change."
Councillor Kate Joblin recalled another council officer previously saying work on the ground would begin in this financial year.
"Unlikely that will happen on the ground within this financial year," Lampp said.
"We would envisage that all going well through the hearing that the plan change will be resolved within this financial year, but then that's only stage one.
"Stage two is subdivision applications; we have detailed engineering matters which will take some considerable time."
Lampp told councillors the process hadn't taken longer than expected.
"To get a hearing next month when we only notified in July, which to the outsider may seem slow, but in the world of strategic planning and plan changes, it's pretty quick."
Lampp said the matters raised in the submissions aren't unusual and "standard planning issues you get with any rezone of land".
With the hearing scheduled to take place on December 17, Lampp is hopeful a recommendation from the commissioners could be provided in January.