Unitec’s development company seems poised to make a major announcement on the land it doesn’t need for its education precinct, perhaps triggering the physical start of the project to create a new “town” of around 3000 homes within Mt Albert.
Unitec’s Wairaka Land Company has confirmed to Mt Albert Inc that “we are talking to a potential developer”. It has declined to give any further information, but speculation is that the company may sell all the available land to one buyer.
Two years after the Unitary Plan commissioners created the Wairaka Precinct, the major advance so far has been the subdivision application by Ngati Whatua, which owns small pieces along the western perimeter of the huge block.
But the bulk of the 64.5ha site is owned by Unitec and its plan is to consolidate its own buildings on about 11ha within the campus, creating a modern teaching and learning space at the southern end, freeing up much of the remainder for development.
Those precious hectares of prime city-fringe land will be at the centre of the announcement, when it comes.
If the land is sold to one entity, it will obviously be a substantial operation – a big New Zealand or international company or syndicate… or possibly even the Government.
The Government is charging ahead with its mission to develop its KiwiBuild programme and create tens of thousands of new homes – and the Unitec land presents a great opportunity so close to the city.
When Mt Albert Inc raised that possibility with Housing Minister Phil Twyford last month, he side-stepped direct questions, but did say: “We have a lot of work being done to identify sites across Auckland.”
It may be a mistake to read too much into his February visit to the Unitec site, and the coming announcement could instead be with a private development company or consortium. But at the very least the Government will be involved on the fringes and keenly interested in the outcome – with the council at its side.
What has now become clear is that the site masterplan, which Wairaka and Unitec produced to give a broad picture of how the precinct would look, may bear limited resemblance to the finished development.
The masterplan has lately been “refreshed”, though it seems little more than a marketing tool offering a broad vision and will hardly be binding on a new land owner.
It has never been perfectly clear how many new homes might be envisaged, though 3000 apartments and terraced houses – built over many years – has often been mentioned, and the Unitary Plan gives the scope for a higher total through multi-storeyed apartments.
The main obstacle to a development of, say, 3500 or 4000 houses and apartments would be issues around transport. The developer – Government or not – would have to show the council that local roads and transport could cope with the predicted volume.
Whatever the eventual number of homes, the small, peaceful cul-de-sacs along the southern edge of the development are destined to end up as through roads and will never be the same.
Feeder streets will, over time, carry much more traffic; intersections will need to be improved or reshaped and calming devices put in place; Carrington Rd will be widened and a new transport hub for buses introduced.
While so many questions are at this stage unanswered, this is the real biggie of the future in terms of the changing face of Mt Albert,.