14 Aug 2023

Kāinga Ora puts Auckland housing development on ice after community backlash

11:21 pm on 14 August 2023
Marlowe Mews in Blockhouse Bay

Photo: Supplied / Benji Nathan

Kāinga Ora has withdrawn its resource consent application for a new social housing development in Auckland after strong community backlash.

The 68-unit plan on Marlowe Road and Bolton Street, in the suburb of Blockhouse Bay, has been strongly opposed by neighbours who wanted more to say over the impacts the new complex would bring to the suburb, as well as give part of the donated land back to pensioners.

On Monday, through a letter to some of the neighbourhood, the estate landlord decided to take a U-turn on the resource consent application.

"We did this after getting advice from Auckland Council that they consider the effects on the immediate neighbourhood will be more significant than we anticipated," Kāinga Ora regional manager Taina Jones said.

"As our focus is on providing much-needed homes in the area as quickly as possible, we have decided the best course of action is to withdraw the existing consent so that we can review our plans."

Auckland Council initially recommended a non-notified approval of the Kāinga Ora's resource application, without public feedback involved.

But manager premium resource consents Dean William said due to the high level of public interest, the council decided to ask an independent duty commissioner to decide on the application.

"The duty commissioner advised the council that due to the scale and intensity of the proposed development and its potential impact on the surrounding environment, their decision would be to publicly notify the application."

While non-notified applications must be processed within 20 working days, public notifications could take up to six months to be approved.

William said once Kāinga Ora was advised of the commissioner's decision, it decided to withdraw the application.

Jones said the suggestion that the development would have more than minor effects on the neighbourhood was not expected.

"We have a track record in creating successful developments that meet the outcomes of the Auckland Unitary Plan and we want to continue to consistently meet these expectations."

She said Kāinga Ora would review the plans for the Blockhouse Bay site.

"This will also provide an opportunity to consider incorporating design changes that we were already planning to make. In the meantime, we still need to remove the homes on the site that are no longer fit-for-purpose, and we expect to begin clearance works soon."

'This is not the end' - community leader

In April, Kāinga told RNZ it had extensively engaged with the community about the development.

"We've done letter drops, reached out to the local schools, and held three community drop-in sessions. The community is well-informed about what we are doing," Caroline Butterworth, deputy chief executive for Auckland and Northland, said.

But the community thought differently. Blockhouse Bay community leader Benji Nathan questioned the estate landlord's plans.

"Back then, Kāinga Ora was more like telling us what they were going to do, it was more 'informative' than anything," he said.

"Although it seemed like they heard us, it didn't look like they were going to act upon anything the community brought up in relation to the site.

"Now, it's a bit different. With this letter that we received today it would be interesting to see what [Kāinga Ora] will bring to the table."

Nathan said Kāinga Ora's U-turn was long overdue.

"We raised these concerns in the beginning of the year, and now it's mid-August and we haven't changed our tune. We've been saying the same thing - we would love to have been engaged in the conversation."

He believed community pressure played a part in the application's retraction.

"The large community response and emailing definitely played a part in the review of the project. I know that Auckland Council initially recommended that it didn't need public notification, but the last sort of step of the resource application went to an independent commissioner and I think the community voice was finally heard at the final hurdle."

Nathan said it was never about 'NIMBYism'.

"Like we said from the start, there has been social housing in that area since the beginning, we are not opposed to that. Instead, we are opposed to the plan, [opposed to] the way it was presented to us.

He said the community would keep pushing to have a say on the development's plans.

"This is not the end. Until we see the result the community are fighting for, then it would be a smile on my face and that sense of satisfaction that we have done something good for the community.

"The development is still going ahead, just not as they have lodged and communicated to us in the start. There is still a lot of work to do, but it's good to see things moving and the community being heard."

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