Local development agitates locals

Can we build good quality, affordable housing while protecting the environment and local community?

Our council is one that government policy is forcing to allow more intensive development, which I generally think is a good thing. We already have two developments planned for the outskirts of the village, which will more than double the number of houses. This isn’t popular. We’ve organised a public workshop with the council to look at their structure plan for the area. However, a few residents have got pretty wound up on social media, and I’m worried locals will turn up with pitchforks and burning torches and the workshop will be a schemozzle and a waste of time.

The last thing we need is people who come along to harangue council employees who are just enacting what the government is making them do. The council has to prepare and notify a District Plan variation rezoning the land to Residential, including the structure plan they want to talk to the community about, by August this year, whether we like it or not. Our choice in this is to either engage constructively to try to influence the outcome for everyone’s benefit or be ignored.

You can’t lament high rents and the difficulties young families have in buying their own homes and then oppose plans to build more houses. Short of regulations to limit private rental house ownership, which no government would ever enact, flooding the market with reasonably priced, good quality, new houses is one of the few ways of breaking the stranglehold landlords have on a substantial part of the housing stock.

Although the emphasis is on ‘reasonably-priced’ housing, we still have to insist developments are done well. In our area, there are lots of sensitive ecological areas that need to be protected. People don’t trust developers not to cut corners to save money, and they’re right to distrust them.

We know from surveying the community on our wider, long-term Village Plan that attitudes towards new houses are more nuanced than the social media NIMBYs would make you think. Many people accept it’s going to happen, but they want to make sure there is much more consideration of environmental and social impacts. No more car-dominated subdivisions, factoring in public transport, water-sensitive designs, safe walking and cycling were common demands. Attitudes are changing.

One new development in our neighbourhood is about 30 per cent Sensitive Natural Areas (native bush and wetlands) that can’t be built on. The rest of that land is pine plantations, and many of us would be happy to see the back of them. But the other development is nearly all pasture with plenty of space for houses. One fear is that we will get more of the traditional spread-out suburbs based around cars, especially from the second one.

More houses will increase the traffic by thousands of vehicle movements each day. One development is walking distance to the train station, but the other one (up to 1000 houses) is further than most people would walk. We need buses that can pick people up from near their houses and take them to the train. There aren’t enough car parks at the station anyway, and no room for more without demolishing neighbouring houses.

Discouraging walking or cycling is not a good climate change response. There is another serious proposal to build multi-storey buildings close to the train station. Kainga Ora (state housing agency) proposed that the new District Plan should allow 6-storied buildings within 400 metres of the train station. People hate the idea, but you could make an argument that it’s a better climate change response than separate single-storey houses spread out along new streets in the traditional subdivision.

For context, our village currently has about 750 houses and just under 2000 residents. The two new developments will add another 1000–1500 houses onto a contiguous urban area. We have one primary school that is just big enough for the current population, but not enough open green spaces for recreation and no sports or playing areas.

As we’ve seen down the road at the next village, where another large development has got the go-ahead, the change has irresistible momentum. We can’t stop it; the best we can do is mitigate the environmental and social damage.