Opening Shot: You need to tell us more, council

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OPINION: The government’s almost militaristic fast-track for new houses might be guilty of mission creep in Queenstown, writes David Williams.

On Monday, Queenstown’s council innocuously announced it was re-opening feedback for its Gorge Road special housing area – which allows developers in the zone to cut through red-tape and limits appeals.

The news comes as titles in Queenstown’s first special area – Bridesdale Farm – are about to be issued.

SHAs are hugely powerful weapons.

They take a howitzer to normal planning rules and decisions, once made, are hard to bomb.

So, to my mind, these should be used carefully and sparingly.

Already we’ve seen SHAs used to march sprawling retirement villages over farmland.

Now we’ve got this extension, with little explanation.

The original Gorge Rd SHA expires next month so it needs to be extended. Fair enough.

But the council – which isn’t advocating for any other areas – wants to add two new blocks to the SHA. Those are Warren Park (a reserve for which nothing’s planned, apparently) and 133 Hallenstein Street.

I think it’s beholden on the council to explain why.

The council’s webpage says the consultations are the result of “pre-application discussions” with landowners and developers. And extending the area is an attempt to encourage those nameless landowners and developers to build houses or apartments, including worker accommodation. That is essential stuff and to be lauded, but why not say more?

Who has the council been talking to and what’s proposed?

The landowner should be disclosed – so we’ll do that.

The council confirms 133 Hallenstein St is part of a bigger block ultimately owned by building giant Fletcher Building, one of NZ’s biggest companies.

We asked why it needed to be an SHA when it’s already in the high-density residential zone?

Council lip Jimmy Sygrove explains the SHA designation enables a development to be built five metres higher.

It makes sense for Fletcher to pursue it – but it would help the public to know their plans.

Timeframes are tight. Feedback closes on May 22 and the council decides on May 25.

Not that the council needs to consult under SHA legislation – but it says it’s “interested to hear local views”.

I’d suggest those views would be better informed if the council tells ratepayers more.

The aim is laudable – but at the moment the council seems a little sneaky.

david@scene.co.nz