Tauranga City Council is seeking feedback on a plan to use land earmarked for sports fields for affordable housing instead as the city grapples with a housing crisis.
At a meeting today, city commissioners agreed to approve, in principle, the use of the Parau Farms site for housing. A Memorandum of Understanding was being developed between government housing provider Kāinga Ora, hapū Ngāti Kahu, and the council.
Parau Farms is council-owned land near Wairoa River, south of State Highway 2, in Bethlehem once acquired as an active reserve.
The potential shift from its reserve status requires consultation and involves transforming about 22.4 hectares into housing. An additional 10.9ha is considered to remain suitable for reserves.
Originally the land, which falls in the rohe of Ngāti Ranginui iwi and hapū Ngāti Kahu, was bought by the council for the purposes of future sports field provision. Currently, it hosts an orchard and annual grazing but has the potential to provide up to seven sports fields.
In the meeting, general manager of strategy and growth Christine Jones confirmed to commissioners the council had been "informally working with Kāinga Ora to what the opportunities are". She was looking to formalise the partnership.
Jones said there was still scope to cater for the sports fields and facilities elsewhere in the western Tauranga area, including potentially Smiths Farm.
This area has already been earmarked by the council for housing but future access to it was not included in the National Land Transport Programme announced last month, meaning there will be little progress within the next three years.
Commission chairwoman Anne Tolley said the housing plans had merit and the land had special significance to local iwi.
"This has national significance as well but also, we've identified a significant housing gap whereby all the housing development on the books are unlikely to be in the affordable range. So [it's good to be] working alongside parties such as Kāinga Ora and the hapū to be developing houses that are much more affordable price range."
Tolley said the potential development may also include social housing.
"There will be a lot of common interest in this but the fact is we have not met the National Policy Standard for urban development."
She said the council needed to look at all possibilities in order to meet the requirements.
"That means that very good investment made by the council some time ago to purchase specific pieces of land ... it means we've got to come back to that now.
"We have to [do this], on behalf of all those Tauranga people looking to purchase their first home or their second or third. There's a process we have to follow. This starts that process."
Last month, the council confirmed it could not meet the National Policy Statement for urban development - signalling a desperate housing shortfall.
Council strategic Māori engagement manager Carlo Ellis spoke on behalf of Ngāti Kahu to reiterate that despite the report, the hapū had not reached a final conclusion yet.
Work to begin consultation is now expected to take place, with all feedback expected to be collected and reported back to the council in February.
In a statement released after the meeting, Tolley said a lot had changed since the council bought Parau Farms to provide sports fields.
"Back in 2000 who would have predicted lockdowns, compulsory face masks and average house prices in Tauranga topping $1 million? Tucked in behind the Bethlehem CBD, the land at Parau Farms is ideally placed to help us deliver more affordable, quality homes in Tauranga. It's close to shops, schools, and other amenities and it's on a passenger transport route. Given our extreme housing shortage, we owe it to our communities to look into that further."
She said the council was at the beginning of a long process, with many steps to go through before any homes can be built on the site.
"The first step is for people with an interest in this site and the wider community to tell us what they think about this proposal."
A Kāinga Ora spokeswoman said it was too early at this stage to comment.