It’s time to stop the sprawl


PARTING SHOT: I hope Queenstown Lakes councillors turf out most of the special housing areas proposed round the Wakatipu Basin.

To recap, the council signed a housing accord with the government last October.

The accord aims to improve the supply and affordability of housing by fast-tracking new subdivisions.

In response to a request for expressions of interest, developers and would-be developers have proposed 13 subdivisions scattered throughout the Wakatipu.

The council decides which ones it will recommend to housing minister Nick Smith for his approval at a meeting next Wednesday.

The first of my four concerns about these special housing areas is urban sprawl.

Do locals, let along visitors, want to see the countryside between Queenstown and Arrowtown carved up?

Two months ago, I spoke to local councillor Cath Gilmour, who was defending a council proposal to increase housing density - otherwise known as infilling - in central Queenstown, Frankton and Arrowtown.

She told me that consistent community feedback over the past decade had been “stick with the urban boundaries that we’ve got, don’t spread across the countryside”.

“Urban sprawl means you not only lose the countryside but your infrastructure costs of all the pipes, all the roads, go up and your public transport feasibility goes out the window.”

Couldn’t put it better myself, Cath.

Getting potable water is another problem when you develop in the countryside, I’ve been told.

Also, why allow more subdivisions when you’ve already got thousands of undeveloped sections consented for housing, many of them in and around Frankton?

Colliers International last week pointed out that the newly-approved plan change 19 allows about 600 residential units on the Frankton Flats.

Council’s controversial plan change 50 also provides for residential apartments around the Lakeview site, above downtown Queenstown.

My second concern is the lack of consultation the public gets under the government’s special housing areas legislation.

It was shameful the council didn’t consult neighbours before recommending the housing minister tick off Bridesdale Farm, beside Lake Hayes Estate - ignoring even its own policy.

Credit, then, to the developer agreeing to meet immediate neighbours and asking council to notify them when going for resource consent.

Council’s asked for public feedback on the other special housing areas ahead of next week’s meeting.

Fair enough, but it also admits the legislation only allows consultation with immediate neighbours.

That’s unfortunate, because issues like increased traffic and environmental amenity, for example, surely affect far more people.

You could argue that the Resource Management Act is far too democratic and allows good developments to be held up for far too long, but this special housing areas law surely goes too far in the other direction.

My third bone of contention is that several of the 13 proposed areas completely ignore hard-fought planning rules.

In particular, I’m thinking of the three proposed for the outskirts of Arrowtown.

Personally, I thought the township, so it didn’t become too exclusive, could have been expanded to take in the proposed Arrowtown South subdivision.

But townspeople rose up against it, and plan change 29 was introduced as an urban growth boundary.

Is it fair, then, to tamper with that?

Finally, you’ve got to question how affordable all these special housing areas would be.

Council’s asking developers to set aside some sections for community housing, but what about the rest?

The developer of the proposed Ayrburn Farm special housing area is proposing to lease 15 homes to a community housing provider for a dollar a year for up to 25 years.

Yet the reality is that most sections won’t be cheaper than anything you could buy at Shotover Country, for example.

Building costs are also rising so you’ll struggle to pay less than $500,000 for a house and section, I’d wager.

Who’s going to stop speculators cashing in, especially if there’s nothing to stop people buying more than one
‘affordable’ section?

In some cases, I reckon affordability’s being used as an excuse to ram through developments that might otherwise have struggled to be approved.