Hamilton City Council is warning that sweeping changes to planning rules announced by the Government have the potential to fundamentally change the face of the city.
Under the new rules, which come into effect by August, people will be able to build up to three homes of up to three storeys on most city sites without needing a resource consent. On most residential-zone sites, Hamilton's district plan usually allows for only a house and ancillary flat with a maximum height of 10m.
Housing Minister Megan Woods and Environment Minister David Parker unveiled the changes on October 19. They will allow more homes, including more affordable homes, to be built faster. Both the Government and the National Party support the announcement as a way of addressing New Zealand's dire housing crisis.
The changes affect five Tier 1 cities – Hamilton, Auckland, Tauranga, Wellington and Christchurch. Each of those cities is facing massive growth and each already has severe housing shortages, which in turn affect rents.
Mayor Paula Southgate has warned Hamilton could irrevocably change as a result of the changes aimed at cutting red tape and enabling more medium and high-density housing.
"There is no question that allowing three storeys to be built in existing residential neighbourhoods, without resource consents, will impact big parts of Hamilton," she said.
"The reality is that the standards announced are a lot more relaxed than our current district plan rules. They will enable quite radical changes to height, plus how close and how high you can build to the front and side boundaries of sections. They are significant and they will change the look and feel of some of our neighbourhoods.
"I know some people will be concerned and I certainly understand that. So, we need to make sure whatever is built is sympathetic and makes for a better community," she said.
"I do recognise that we fundamentally need more houses across New Zealand including within Hamilton – that is a fact."
Southgate applauded the focus on removing some of the red tape that had hindered housing development and created a cumbersome bureaucracy for councils to administer.
"That's certainly going to save time and money for councils and for developers. This will streamline the process and allow change to be delivered faster."
While the timing of the announcement was unexpected, the council had already begun work on a major overhaul of its district plan to comply with a strong government directive to increase housing density.
"But there's a lot more work for us to do to understand the impact of these latest changes on that process, including how it applies to the Vision and Strategy for the Waikato River. And our council will have a lot of questions around funding and how these changes fit into the growth we already have planned," she said.
"As a city, we've done huge amounts of work to determine where growth should go. And we've planned for that growth by putting in the right infrastructure, like roads and water services and parks, in place. So I certainly won't be happy if the Government now comes along and dictates new growth areas without first agreeing them with us."
Hamilton City Council would be looking for funding support to back up the Government announcement, she said.
"There are huge infrastructure costs incurred in supporting more density. You can't just put more people into more houses and expect existing infrastructure to cope. In some instances, it won't. So we will certainly be looking for financial and other support from the Government to deliver on their changes they have announced."