As the first construction crews prepare to move on to Housing New Zealand’s Asquith Ave land next week, the project continues to raise questions.
The recent history of the substantial Mt Albert development has been marked by delays at all stages. But now, on the verge of a start, a new issue has arisen: why, on a site that is intended to take 20 single-bedroom units for social housing and 20 four-bedroom homes for private buyers, is the plan to begin with just the state units?
After earlier clear signals that the 40 homes would all be built in the same time frame – with private buyers and state tenants moving in as soon as the project was completed – locals now learn the development will focus, at least to start with, on the social housing.
That point is made almost in passing – with reference only to the state units and no mention of the homes to be built for private buyers – in a letter sent to neighbours confirming the site works will begin next week.
Representatives of Build Partners, the Takapuna-based builders HNZ had named as lead contractors, have apparently confirmed to neighbours that they will handle the site works (the initial work before the actual building) and the construction only of the units for state tenants.
So what’s happening to the 20 private homes? Are they in some sort of stage two that will come along later, or has HNZ had a rethink? Mt Albert Inc put questions to the corporation 10 days ago, but has received no response.
It’s understandable why the agency would want to move quickly on social housing at Asquith Ave – to help trim the long waiting list and show a new government that it is not sitting on its hands, despite the endless delays on the project – but it could have been more forthcoming with locals.
Meanwhile, it’s become clear HNZ struggled to find a developer willing to take on the job.
Under its original plan, the development would be well advanced by now. But with a new completion deadline a full year away, the agency has revealed its tender round didn’t go smoothly.
In a pre-Christmas response to Mt Albert Inc under the Official Information Act, HNZ says: “As with any large development, there are a number of factors that influence negotiations… we weren’t able to find a development partner who could deliver the project as originally envisaged.”
However, the corporation was subsequently approached by Build Partners with “an alternative offer”, which was accepted “after due consideration”.
Mt Albert Inc posed these questions:
- When the master plan was revealed in 2016, HNZ hoped work would start around November of that year. While the resource consent process seemed to take more time than expected, what was the main reason for the delay? The tender round ended in February 2017, so were market conditions (tight margins from well-committed developers, leading perhaps to a lack of commercial interest) the issue? If not, what were the main problems, the main reason for the delay?
- Did HNZ have to increase its budget to fit the original plan, or has that original plan “suffered” in some way?
- Will Asquith still be a highly specced development, or has HNZ been forced for budgetary reasons to cut some costs (and thus reduce the quality of the homes)? If that is so, where have the cost cuts been made?
HNZ responded that its plan for the Asquith Ave land “remains the same” and it did not need to increase the budget. No costs had been cut.
However, the corporation disclosed that “some materials have changed, such as the removal of glass balustrades and replacement with metal-framed balustrades”.
These changes were “largely cosmetic in nature and do not materially affect the outcome”. They did not require a revised consent.