Waitakere Ranges Local Board submission on the Housing Accords and Special Housing Areas Bill

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I drafted the submission for the Waitakere Ranges Local Board for the HASHA Bill.  Text follows:

Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area

1.              The Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area is an area of immense tree clad beauty in the west of Auckland.  The area is very hilly and steep and dominated by the Waitakere Forest. It includes the West Coast Beaches Whatipu, Karekare, Piha, Anawhata, and Bethells Te Henga.  Most of the area is outside Auckland’s Metropolitan Urban Limit although the areas of Titirangi, Laingholm and Woodlands Park are inside the MUL.

2.              The area is protected by a local Act, the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Act 2008.  The intent of the Act is to provide enduring protection for the area by preventing the loosening up of District Plan controls and by ensuring that planning decisions are sympathetic to the nature of the area.

Giving of Notice

3.              The Board is concerned that the Housing Accords and Special Housing Areas Bill if enacted may potentially present a significant threat to the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area.

4.              The provisions of the bill does not accord with the Auckland Housing Accord (“the Accord”) in a number of areas and could result in Special Housing Areas (“SHAs”) being approved in areas outside of current or proposed future growth areas within a short time period of time.

5.              The Accord allows for the Council to propose and Council and the Government to agree to the creation of Special Housing Areas (SHAs) where planning and consenting can be accelerated.

6.              Under clause 15 of the Accord a SHA is a development area within the proposed Rural Urban Boundary (“RUB”) identified for urban renewal.

7.              The accord expires either three years after notification of the Unitary Plan (by which date the Plan should be operative) or six months after the giving of notice of intention to withdraw by either party.  Until then it is binding on both parties.

8.              The Bill requires three months notice being given and under section 13(4) this notice period prevails over the terms of an accord.  It is surprising that a bill introduced shortly after the accord has been signed should contradict the accord.

Ministerial power to propose SHAs

9.              The Bill also provides that the Minister can nominate a SHA if he has given notice to terminate an accord (section 16(4)(a)(ii).  He assumes the power on the giving of notice, not on the termination of the accord.

10.           The Auckland Housing Accord is the only one currently in existence.  If contemplating the termination of the accord the only matter the Minister has to consult with Auckland Council on is that the date chosen will enable the orderly transition to the regime applying after the termination of the accord.

11.           When exercising his power to nominate for creation a SHA the Minister has to “have regard to” the current District Plans and the draft Unitary Plan but this does not require him to follow their provisions.  He can consider the plans and then decide on something entirely different.  The purpose of the consideration is said to be “to ensure that the boundaries of the proposed special housing area are clearly defined in the Order in Council and easily identifiable in practice”.  This gives the Minister a very wide discretion.

12.           The only restriction in the Bill (section 16(3)) is that the Minister must not recommend an area unless satisfied that with appropriate infrastructure the proposed area could be used for qualifying developments and there is evidence of demand and there will be demand for housing.  The criteria are very wide and controls on the siting of SHA are minimal.

13.           There appears to be no restriction on designating SHAs in areas outside the RUB.  The statutory criteria do not require environmental damage to be taken into account.  The risk is that if the bill is passed areas within the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area (for instance) could be designated as SHAs.

Consequences

14.           The short time period have not allowed a full appreciation of the implications of an area being designated as a special housing area.  But the implications appear to be considerable.  The designation will mean amongst other things the following:

a.     A person could apply for a resource consent even if the activity is otherwise prohibited in the draft unitary plan.

b.     In determining the application the deciding body needs to give the most weight to the purpose of the Bill.

c.      There is also power to seek a change to the District Plan although this may be limited to areas where the Unitary Plan anticipates development (section 61(2) bill).

Conclusion

15.           While under the accord the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area appears to be safe, if notice to terminate is given the Minister assumes power that may allow him to designate SHAs in the Waitakere Ranges Heritage area.  This may result in unwanted development occurring.

16.           The board recommends that the Waitakere Ranges Heritage area as defined in the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Act 2008 be excluded from consideration as a SHA.

Feedback as always is welcome.

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