The plan to build hundreds of new houses on the Unitec land has taken a major step forward with the news that the project leaders are talking to potential developers.
Two years after the Unitary Plan commissioners created the Wairaka Precinct — allowing the creation of perhaps 3000 apartments and terraced homes — Unitec now seems poised to strike agreements with developers to get the project moving.
Ngati Whatua, which owns small pieces of the land along the western perimeter, has already successfully applied for a subdivision adjacent to Laurel Ave — with a duty commissioner deciding to set aside the need for an integrated traffic assessment (ITA). An application for resource consent to build blocks of apartments is likely to be lodged once the site works are completed, perhaps later this year.
But the great bulk of the 53.5ha site is owned by Unitec and the plan is to consolidate its own buildings within the campus, creating a modern teaching and learning space at the southern end, freeing up around 30ha for development.
The Unitec development firm, Wairaka Land Company, produced an initial master plan — laying out how it envisages the final result — but has yet to reveal the confirmed version, even though it was promised to the local community late last year.
It has also yet to disclose details of the ITA that’s required by Auckland Council — an ongoing concern to local people who worry about the impact of hundreds of new homes on traffic flows.
Small, peaceful culs-de-sac along the southern edge of the development will end up as through roads and they will no longer be peaceful; feeder streets will, over time, carry much more traffic; intersections will need to be improved and calming devices put in place; Carrington Rd will be widened and a new transport hub for buses introduced … and it all takes time.
The change of Government has brought suggestions that some of the land may be acquired for the new KiwiBuild programme, designed to create houses for first-home buyers. But that remains a rumour and would seem a difficult fit with Unitec’s business case, which relies on funds from the sale of land to build its compact education precinct.
The first outward signs of physical progress on the project — beyond the completion last year of a student centre and library and a trades training facility in the education precinct — came when Sanctuary Gardens Mahi Whenua was given notice to quit the land within the Unitec block from May this year.
While it seems no developer has yet been signed up, some progress may not be far away. It is prime city-fringe land and, with a council ready to give its blessing to new developments, should be in great demand. But that doesn’t mean all the blocks will suddenly sprout houses.
Site works and resource consent applications will take time and individual developers will work at their own pace. It could be many years — perhaps as long as 10 to 15 years — before the “town” matures, with commercial and retail buildings as well as houses and apartments.
Unitec’s corporate communications manager, Nick Wilson, confirmed yesterday that Wairaka Land Company executives had begun talks with potential developers.
While the final precinct layout would be decided by future owners and residents, the master plan would provide guidance for the overall development, he said. This included extensive garden and green spaces covering at least 6.4ha, as required under the Unitary Plan. Any new garden spaces were expected to increase access and benefits for the surrounding community and Unitec students.
The land company is expected to meet the Mt Albert Residents’ Association (MARA) next week to outline progress.
MARA co-chair Sir Harold Marshall said Unitec was to be congratulated “if the present moves suggest that real progress is being made”.
“MARA wants this to be a successful, quality development,” he said. “Notwithstanding the egregious failure of the Auckland Council at the first test of its resolve to implement the Unitary Plan [in relation to the Ngati Whatua subdivision and the lack of an ITA], MARA remains committed to represent the residents of Mt Albert in ensuring that the council delivers on the safeguards written in to enabling the Wairaka Precinct.”
Sir Harold said the “refreshed” site master plan and the final ITA “were going to be available to us ‘by November’. Now, three months later, we shall hope to see these at the proposed meeting with Wairaka Land Company next week”.