Independent commissioners have approved the development of the $1.2 billion manufacturing and housing community in Ohinewai for bedding specialist Sleepyhead.
The 178 ha rural site in the north Waikato, 7km north of Huntly, will have space for 1100 homes for up to 3000 residents, and a new factory creating up to 2600 new jobs. The mixed-use community is set to be developed over the next 10 years and includes industrial, commercial, and residential zones.
The Waikato Regional Council is now considering if it will appeal the decision because of its concerns about the development.
A statement from the regional council said that housing in such rural places will exacerbate car dependency and, in this case, risk undermining the rejuvenation of Huntly.
Waikato Regional Council chairman Russ Rimmington says: "We don't want decisions that we may regret in the future. We'll need time to review the detail of the decision released today by the hearings commissioners to see if these effects have been adequately addressed."
There is a 30-day period in which appeals may be lodged.
Meanwhile, Waikato Chamber of Commerce chief executive Don Good acknowledges the opposition but says: "The project will make a significant economic contribution firstly as a development and then ongoing as a major employer in the Waikato. This is a long-term development that will add value to the Waikato District, to Ohinewai, Huntly and Te Kauwhata and the surrounding region."
Sleepyhead belongs to The Comfort Group, Australasia's largest bedding and foam manufacturer, which also includes SleepMaker and Dunlop Foams brands. The Comfort Group's current manufacturing facilities at Avondale and Otahuhu in Auckland are operating beyond capacity, suffer from significant site and transport restrictions, and are generally no longer fit for purpose.
The rezoning development by Comfort Group and its property arm, Ambury Properties Ltd, was submitted on the Proposed Waikato District Plan and has been under deliberation since hearings in September.
That was when submitters presented their case to independent commissioners Dr Phil Mitchell, Paul Cooney, Dynes Fulton and Weo Maag.
During these hearings the Waikato Regional Council made a joint submission with Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency opposing the rezoning request due to a range of concerns including the lack of certainty about how water and wastewater will be managed.
The complex would also be developed within a low-lying floodplain, which would require substantial infilling and ongoing protection. Another concern of the council and NZTA are the possible effects on the Waikato Expressway and increased traffic congestion.
The Sleepyhead factory will be on a site of 37ha and employ more than 1000 staff once fully operational. The complex also includes a further 106,000sq m of general industrial activity with an estimated 32,400sq m of commercial gross floor area.
Good says: "The beauty of the Ohinewai site is that it will drive the economic development of an undeveloped region that is strategically situated on an arterial route in The Golden Triangle between Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga. Just imagine what new industries would happen if the expressway extended all the way through to Tauranga."
Director of The Comfort Group Craig Turner also acknowledged the significance of the rezoning decision for both the project and the entire Waikato region.
"The decision today marks a major milestone for the project. The vision behind The Sleepyhead Estate is to create a genuine community in a beautiful setting for people who want an affordable, quality home, a stable job and a thriving community they can be part of."
Turner also said that the rezoning would not only be beneficial to The Comfort Group but also to the Waikato District. "We have chosen to make Huntly the new corporate home for The Comfort Group after nine decades in Auckland."
Waikato district mayor Allan Sanson is delighted about the approval.
"This will mean a major boost for the communities of Ohinewai and Huntly, as well as for the whole Waikato district. It will bring jobs, revitalise the northern Waikato with affordable new housing, and encourage other commercial investment in the area. It's a tremendous stimulus for the council's vision to create liveable, thriving and connected communities as New Zealand continues to navigate Covid-19 and uncertain economic times ahead."
Earthworks have already started on a part of the development under separate resource consents. Alongside this, an application to build a large foam factory and rail siding are to be considered under the Government's Covid-19 fast-tracking consenting law.
If the zoning decision is confirmed after the appeals period, Ambury Properties will still have to apply for a number of land use and subdivision consents to carry out the planned development, some of which are being progressed under the fast-track process.
Tucker says: "We are working in close collaboration with iwi and mana whenua of Ohinewai through the Tangata Whenua Governance Group, to ensure that their environmental, cultural and spiritual values are appropriately recognised and provided for, and the development is beneficial to all parties."
The chief of staff of the office of the Kingitanga, Archdeacon Ngira Simmonds, says: "We welcome responsible development that is considerate to mana whenua needs, environmental considerations and that will bring sustained employment for the people of the Waikato."