Housing intensification: an unrestricted disaster that’s about to hit Waipā

A district-wide disaster is looming that could materially change the nature and fabric of our towns and result in more far-reaching issues than Three Waters. 

It’s called PC26 –“Residential zone intensification”.  It is a mandated change forced upon us by Central Government that none of us agree with it – but we have no choice.  The law change (and disappointingly supported by the National Opposition) sees a change to the “Medium Density Residential Standards”, which we have no power to reject.

During the week of 15 August, all Waipā ratepayers will receive a letter from Council notifying them of PC26. The letter will be largely legal including terminology no one really understands (because it legally has to), outlining central government’s blanket approach to housing intensification (i.e. rampant and unstructured development) in our district.  My fear is that our community will not understand the impacts of this schmozzle, so here’s a plain English summary…

When adopted, Plan Change 26 will mean a property owner can replace an existing dwelling on a residential property with a multi-dwelling structure of up to three stories without resource consent in Cambridge, Te Awamutu and Kihikihi. Thankfully our villages are not included. 

This housing intensification will also mean that any undeveloped sites will be able to be built on, on a similar basis – with the only limitation being that the building standards must still be met.  All of this can be done without the need for a resource consent and against what our previous District Plan allowed in terms of housing density.  

Quick explainer here – our District Plan is a huge document which pulls together a heap of rules around our agreement as a community (amongst other things) relating to how building and construction should take place in our district.  This Plan is complex – and definitely not perfect – and it is something which is continually evolving. 

But what’s super important about it is that it’s a plan we’ve developed for ourselves at a local level taking into account what we as residents want our towns, villages and rural areas to look and feel like.  It’s a document that is unique to us, captures what we value, and expresses what we want.

But this “one-size fits all” Central Government mandated change could mean rampant and unstructured development across the district. 

We could be faced with more houses in places that we don’t want.  The look and feel of our towns which makes Waipā a great place to live will be forever changed. I am deeply worried that we won’t have the transport, water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure in place to cope with such unbridalled housing intensification. 

Council’s initial technical reports have shown our networks have varied capacity. Large parts of Te Awamutu, Kihikihi and Cambridge do not have the capacity to cope with intensification even if all the planned works up to 2050 were brought forward.  Usually developers of large residential developments are required to install the necessary roading and water infrastructure as part of their development, but this is not the case for infill housing generally. 

In short, all other ratepayers would pick up the bill to increase the capacity of our local infrastructure on a “retrofit” basis.  This will likely mean escalating rates rises into the future to meet these costs.  This would be a terrible outcome for Waipā residents and ratepayers.

I am really concerned that we have the potential to lose the heritage value of our towns.  Some of our initial reports have suggested that 5800 of the 6300 estimated extra dwellings these changes could see being built, would be in Cambridge.  It isn’t hard to understand how this would negatively impact on the amenity values and heritage character of the town if this were to happen.

Lastly I am hugely worried about the immeasurable increased burden such intensification would have on our environment and in particular on our collective efforts in the restoration and protection of the Waikato and Waipā Rivers. As a farmer I am all too acutely aware of our efforts to mitigate the footprint our activities have on our precious waterways. Work undertaken by Hamilton City Council has confirmed that without controls being in place intensification will have a negative impact on the Waikato River. This is another outcome we don’t want.

Taking a step back from this issue for a moment, we need to remember that Local Government has a very clear purpose.  The Local Government Amendment Act simply states its role is to improve the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of communities. It is clear to me that this crude blanket over-reaching measure forced upon us will not improve any of these well-beings.  Sure, more housing of a certain type will be built, but at what cost to our communities?

Let’s be clear that housing intensification is something we need to ensure we can accommodate the increasing population and at the same time protect our highly productive land. 37% of Waipā is classed as having these precious soils and we must conserve them for valuable food production. We absolutely need to build up and not outward, but it needs to be well-planned to ensure we can still deliver on community well-being. It needs to be strategic and in a manner that is not only cost effective for our residents but also doesn’t destroy everything we love about our towns.

The provision of housing and different options for housing has not kept up with the growing population, and now New Zealand has a housing crisis. But we seriously need to ask if Central Government’s response to this crisis through housing intensification should be at the detriment of community well-being.  

This just doesn’t work for Waipā and completely takes away our ability to manage and shape our district.  Te Awamutu is not Christchurch and Cambridge is not Auckland.

I’m keen to hear your thoughts on this one. Drop me a line using my contact form.

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