Waikato Regional Council and NZTA Call for Sleepyhead Ohinewai Project; Next environment court

$ 1.2 billion Sleepyhead Estate in Ohinewai receives rezoning approval. Video / Supplied

The plan for a $ 1.2 billion manufacturing and housing development for Sleepyhead in Ohinewai has been referred to environmental court amid appeals from opponents Waikato Regional Council and the transportation agency Waka Kotahi.

The council said its appeal would focus on finding improvements and refinements to the provisions of the decision of the Independent Commissioners, who last month gave the green light to the rezoning of rural land in north Waikato, opening the way path to a new manufacturing headquarters for Australasia’s largest bedding manufacturer. and up to 1,100 homes.

Waka Kotahi (NZTA) said he intended to appeal due to concerns about the housing part of the proposal. He didn’t elaborate.

Most of the homes on offer are for employees of Auckland-based developer The Comfort Group, which owns the Sleepyhead brand. The company, which has outgrown its manufacturing sites in Auckland, said many of its employees could never afford to buy a house in Auckland.

The 100-page decision of the commissioners sharply criticized the regional council and the transport agency for the motivation of their opposition.

The Comfort Group declined to comment until it had digested the calls.

Area council chairman Russ Rimmington said council had “always recognized the positives” that would flow from the proposal.

“… In fact, we have worked hard to grant the consents that are required of us for industrial activity to occur.

“We welcome the creation of jobs in the region and our appeal is to ensure that, alongside job creation, we ensure that quality communities are also created.

“We have regional land use planning documents created in collaboration with our local councils at a significant cost. These documents have benefited from the contribution of the community and the iwi and we are required to respect their direction. We are concerned that this will be used as an easy way to bypass a community-agreed spatial plan that will not produce the quality urban form we had committed to.

“We know the region needs to provide more housing, but it’s really important that we build quality and sustainable communities.

“As counsel, we have certain concerns which we believe were not adequately addressed by the independent hearing commissioners in their decision. We therefore filed an appeal focusing on specific provisions of the decision.”

The specific provisions of the decision where the board seeks improvements include:

• Flood risk management.
• Public transport and dependence on the car.
• Accessibility and urban form.
• Water and sanitation connections.

In their decision, the commissioners said the project had the potential to provide more than 2,600 jobs in Waikato, provide affordable housing for the local workforce and contribute about $ 200 million per year to the local economy.

Earthworks for the development of 178 ha on marginal farmland are already underway, after the Minister of the Environment accepted resource clearance requests to clear the foam plant and planned railroad. at the site could be processed as part of the government’s Covid-19 expedited clearance process.

In their decision, the hearing panel of commissioners, appointed by Waikato District Council, took the area council and the transportation agency to task, noting that at the heart of their shared opposition were concerns that the proposal was not anticipated by the strategic planning documents and not in line with existing planning documents.

“Without wishing to be overly critical, we consider that these agencies have adopted a narrow doctrinaire interpretation of the relevant strategic planning documents and have given little weight to the strong orientations of the (National Policy Statement) for decision makers to be responsive to the opportunities of development. unexpected by RMA planning documents.

“We are disappointed that the two public bodies have taken such strong positions to oppose the Ohinewai development proposal when a more constructive approach was requested taking into account the important benefits that could result for the local area and region if the rezoning proposal is approved. . “

The regional council said it would work with the developer “to work towards a negotiated solution, noting that the appeal can be withdrawn” if a satisfactory settlement is found through the mediation process. “

Elaborating on specific areas in which the council is seeking improvements, Rimmington said that while council experts believe the site can be designed to raise it above flood levels, performance standards for floor levels and overall stormwater management arrangements could be improved.

The council wants to ensure that the floodplain modification associated with residential development is done in a way that minimizes impacts on neighboring properties, he said.

On public transport and dependence on the car, it wanted good accessibility for people between their home, their work, public services, natural and open spaces, including by public or active transport.

“The isolated nature of the site does not easily support public or active transport and there is no provision in the change of plan to ensure that public or active transport will be realized for development.

“Thus, as part of its call, the council is looking for mechanisms to provide high quality public transport services and support infrastructure.

“It would also be preferable if recreation facilities, walking and cycling trails were provided in the first stage of development so that residents would not have to travel for all of their daily needs. “

Regarding accessibility and “urban form”, council wanted better connections between the existing community of Ohinewai and the Sleepyhead development which will be separated by the Waikato Highway.

In the area of ​​water and sewage connections, there was a staging provision for the sewage connection for later residential stages of development that required the Huntly sewage treatment plant to comply. fully to its consent to the resources before any connection.

The council sought to ensure that the staging provision could be bypassed in the future.

“We also want to make sure that Te Ture Whaimana o Te Awa o Waikato (Vision and Strategy) is implemented,” said Rimmington.

“As you can see, the questions are very specific. We want to continue working with developers to get the best result for the here and now, but also to lay the quality foundation for a sustainable future.

“We need to get it right. The decision has gone a long way to address some issues, but the appeal will ensure that further refinements and improvements can be made to ensure quality, viable and liveable communities for Waikato.”

Elna M. Lemons