Artist’s drawing of part of the planned new development – but will it go ahead in that form… or at all?
Housing NZ staff working on the Asquith Ave development project initially raised the prospect of up to 90 units being built on the prime inner-city land.
The “aim high” approach, later reduced to 70 units and finally to 40, was outlined in documents obtained by Mt Albert Inc under the Official Information Act after an application to the state agency that took two-and-a-half years to process.
The papers were initially sought by the Asquith Community Group in September 2014, but the request was rejected, leading to an appeal to the Ombudsman. That was only resolved this year when HNZ finally agreed to hand over selected documents, declining to advance the full file because of the volume of documents involved.
The partly-redacted papers show the agency was tossing around lots of thoughts in the early planning days – but there was also a clear vision for the 8096sq m site back to 2013, despite little leaking out in discussions with local residents.
In the end, the corporation opted for 40 new homes – 20 of them one-bedroom units, with a further 20 four-bedroom homes to be sold privately. The annoucement was made in March 2016 – two months after the old buildings were demolished.
But local residents have been wondering for the last year if there will ever be a start, let alone an end.
When the final shape of the development was unveiled in March 2016, they were told construction would begin around October last year, with a completion date of the winter of 2018.
However, the project has obviously struck major obstacles and now, more than a year after resource consents were issued by Auckland Council, the land is in the same shape as it was after the demolition of the decaying original units in February 2015.
It seems an extraordinary lag for a project which the released documents show was high priority back in 2013. A briefing paper then disclosed: “The business need is clear: HNZ has committed to delivering 2000 new units by June 2015 and this site presents an opportunity to contribute towards this target.”
So much for grand plans.
The Asquith Community Group was told tenders went out pre-Christmas (months behind original schedule) and in April this year locals were informed: “We are currently evaluating the returns from interested parties. Once this work is completed and, if HNZ is not satisfied with these proposals, then HNZ reserves the right to re-advertise. We are hoping this will not be the case.”
Two months later the group posed questions in Parliament via Mt Albert MP Jacinda Ardern.
When, finally, will the bulldozers move in? When will the project finish? What is the cause of the latest delay?
The answer (given in in June by Housing Minister Amy Adams): “Housing New Zealand advises me that it is currently assessing options for the site and plans are yet to be finalised…. As options around the Asquith Avenue site are still being assessed, Housing New Zealand is not in a position to confirm dates relating to start of construction, sale of private units and move-in date of tenants.”
So that’s five or six years the corporation has been considering its options over Asquith Ave, which must be some sort of record.
What’s causing the delay?
The site, with its volcanic rock, is a difficult one, but perhaps the tight market for contractors is behind the dilly-dallying. Plainly the tender round hasn’t gone to plan; developers with plenty of advance work won’t be interested in trimming their margins to allow HNZ to meet its budgets. If so, does that mean the high-spec development suddenly becomes a lower quality one – or is abandoned altogether?
At the moment, only Housing NZ knows if this is just another hiccup, or a major problem… and they’re not telling.
But when, more than three months ago the corporation was “currently assessing options for the site and plans are yet to be finalised” and nothing but silence since, it does raise eyebrows.
Big issues link to full backgrounder