11 Jun 2017

Nelson council criticised over special housing areas

10:22 am on 11 June 2017

A Nelson resident says the city council is using a back-door way to build more houses that are unlikely to be affordable anyway.

The frame of a new house under construction, with a blue sky behind it (file)

Eleven special housing areas have been approved by the government which will add more than 400 new homes to the city. Photo: 123RF

The council has just approved a further nine Special Housing Areas (SHA) for recommendation to the government, including the controversial site on rural land north of the city which is large enough for up to 80 new homes.

Councillor Luke Acland said recently the special housing rules were designed to get around the need to consult the public, in order to speed up building processes.

Gwenny Davis, who lives near the north Nelson site, told a council meeting on Thursday that it was on a sloping hill overlooking the sea and unlikely to yield houses that were affordable.

"The Wakapuaka SHA is an opportunistic proposal to circumvent years of well-laid council planning, and there's absolutely no compelling reason why that should be set aside at this stage," Ms Davis said.

She was disappointed the council had approved the site, and felt its efforts to seek public feedback were merely window-dressing.

There is no legal requirement to consult the public on Special Housing Area approvals.

However, the council decided at a meeting in April to seek residents' views after some councillors expressed concern that the use of special housing areas to fast-track new subdivisions was side-stepping the public feedback process.

Mayor Rachel Reese cast the deciding vote to seek feedback. She wanted the council to continue its commitment to special housing areas, but when there was an indication of reservations, it made sense to seek public feedback, she said.

The land in north Nelson is part of a farm that was sold more than a decade ago, but it remains within a rural zone. Allowing the land to be used for housing would normally require a lengthy and cumbersome plan change.

Mr Acland argued the scope of the proposed development was large enough to trigger the council's right to ask.

A public meeting attracted 80 people, but lawyer Camilla Owen, who represents the landowner and applicant, said in the public forum of Thursday's council meeting that she questioned the balance of the community meeting.

She said it was clearly "anti special housing areas" and that the applicant was unhappy with the way feedback was obtained.

She said the applicant had become the "meat in the council sandwich" over its decision to seek feedback.

Ms Davis believed the council should be looking at more creative solutions over housing.

"I believe it would be better to make a genuine effort to build and provide truly affordable housing closer to the city, which is what we are crying out for."

The council said 13 special housing areas were originally gazetted, but two have since been disestablished because there was no application for consent within the 12 month timeframe.

That leaves 11 areas approved by the government which will add more than 400 new homes to the city.

A further four SHAs were approved for recommendation to the Minister of Building and Construction in March this year, and a further nine this month.

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