One of the boldest developments in New Zealand history – a reduced-car, solar-powered, environmentally-conscious settlement of 5000 homes in 221 hectares – is the first residential project going through the new government-powered, fast-track consent process.
Sited between Papakura and Takanini and the brainchild of property developers Winton, Sunfield is a radical departure from traditional norms, with CEO Chris Meehan asserting that New Zealand will never achieve emissions targets and embrace cleaner ways of living without developments like Sunfield.
Its central principle is for residents to have the ability to live, work, and spend most of their time in a uniquely-shaped society where environmentally-conscious living is a way of life, including breaking dependence on the automobile. This is a first for New Zealand, with only a few similar projects scattered around the world – in Germany, Holland and Abu Dhabi.
Meehan says: "The point of all this and the reason we think we will need so many fewer cars is that we are trying to provide every amenity people will need – homes, jobs, education, healthcare, restaurants and bars, recreational spaces, retail, and food supplies – on site.
"The design makes sure everything is a short walk or bike ride away. There'll be few roads because there will be few cars – and that means not only reduced costs but a better quality of life with better air and safer neighbourhoods that are quieter, more diverse, inclusive, economically healthy and not reliant on cars."
The overall plan for Sunfield, a community designed to enable "car-less" living and which Winton estimates will be 20 per cent cheaper than average Auckland house prices, includes:
- 5000 homes, consisting of 4400 individual homes and three retirement villages of approximately 600 independent living units and care suites.
- 250,000 sq m of employment, healthcare and education buildings, helping to create permanent jobs for 11,000 people.
- Renewable solar energy network for the community – which Meehan says should be able to provide close to 100 per cent of power needs for Sunfield .
- A Sunbus autonomous electric shuttle fleet to provide internal transport needs and to link with Papakura rail station
- A 4ha town centre.
- Two schools.
- Four retail hubs located throughout the community.
- 22.8 ha of open spaces, green links, recreation parks and reserves and ecological offsets.
- Restoration and native planting of the core stream and wetland network.
Drilling down into the likely lifestyle of Sunfield gives an even better idea of how this development will depart from "normal" New Zealand settlements.
Transport is the most obvious – with only one home in 10 to have a car. Houses will be built without garages, driveways and without roads except for the Sunfield Loop – the "artery" of Sunfield, connecting the whole area.
Cars will be parked at several "mobility hubs" around Sunfield – as will any visiting cars. A car share company or companies will operate within Sunfield to cater for anyone who needs external car travel. A dearth of other roads will mean not only reduced council rates but also the ability to design a residential area where everything is within a 15-minute walk, including to 11,000 jobs they are aiming to produce in the area.
The Loop will also accommodate a fleet of autonomous Ohmio electric buses, called Sunbus – still being certificated in New Zealand but already operating overseas. The buses will be "hailed" by app, with residents able to enter and leave the buses on their own doorstep.
"There won't be any bus stops as we know them," says Meehan. "People will just use the app and will be able to get off right where they live – so there won't be any problem coming home with the groceries, for example."
Solar power will also be obvious; almost all of every roof will be covered in solar cells which Meehan says will provide all – or nearly all – of the development's power needs, based on solar power modelling, stored in big batteries around Sunfield.
"When we look at developments of this scale, we always look 15-20 years ahead and assess how people will want to be living then," he says. "In Auckland, there won't be any more major roads built – and the congestion on the roads we already have will mean that people won't want to be on them.
"That's why we have embraced the idea of a residential area that provides almost everything people need, lessening the need to travel – and let's face it, the best way to reduce the harmful effects of vehicles is to do without vehicles. We think the New Zealand market is ready for that; people are already embracing environmental concerns more and more.
"That's how the government is also thinking, with their push for electric vehicles and reduced emissions. They have set very strong targets in terms of meeting the Paris Agreement but we are not going to get there unless we make bold moves like this."
Winton is seeking development consent for Sunfield through the Urban Development Act (UDA), the fast-track central government legislation designed to speed up major housing developments. Meehan would like to see consent given within 3 months, with building to start immediately afterwards. Winton are funding all of Sunfield's development and infrastructure.
"There's no doubt the UDA has been specifically created to fast-track the rezoning, consenting and delivery of a large-scale project such as Sunfield," says Meehan.
Housing will be both one- and two-storey, overlooking pedestrian laneways. However, with reduced council rates because of less infrastructure normally provided by councils, big power savings and fewer costs associated with owning a car, living costs at Sunfield would be greatly reduced.
"We are ready to go," says Meehan. "With the government's fast-track consent, we can significantly increase Auckland's housing stock and help New Zealand back on track to meet its climate-related targets."