Sleepyhead plan: Why is a Govt department appealing against a major housing proposal in a housing crisis?

Housing minister Megan Woods says the proposed $1.2 billion Sleepyhead housing and manufacturing estate has “significant strategic strengths” and hopes Environment Court appellants, one a government department, sort issues with the developer as quickly as possible.

Woods had been asked by the Herald to comment on government transport agency Waka Kotahi appealing, during a housing crisis, over its concerns about the residential side of the development.

Another publicly-funded entity, Waikato Regional Council, is also appealing against the green light given by independent commissioners to the rezoning of the 178ha site at Ohinewai in north Waikato, to allow for the master-planned development.

Both opposed the rezoning in the commissioners’ hearings.

Australasia’s biggest bedding company and owner of the Sleepyhead brand, the Aucklandfamily-owned Comfort Group, plans new manufacturing headquarters and up to 1100 houses – including affordable homes for its staff – on the marginal rural land.

The company has outgrown its Auckland manufacturing sites and has been looking for nearly 10 years for a new home. Planning and RMA processes have been under way for two years.

The transport agency told the Herald it was appealing “outlining some concerns with the proposed residential development at Ohinewai”. It did not elaborate.

The regional council says its appeal “will focus on seeking improvements and refinements to provisions in the hearing panel decision”.

Specific provisions include management of flood risks, public transport and car dependency, accessibility and wastewater and water connections.

The commissioners, appointed by the Waikato District Council, in their 100-page May decision, sharply criticised the transport agency and the council for taking “a narrow doctrinaire interpretation of the relevant strategic planning documents and have given little weight to the strong directions in the (National Policy Statement) for decision-makers to be responsive to development opportunities unanticipated by RMA planning documents”.

“We are disappointed the two public agencies took such entrenched positions to oppose the Ohinewai development proposal when a more constructive approach was called for when taking into account the significant benefits that could arise to the local area and region if the rezoning proposal were to be approved,” the commissioners said.

They concluded the project had the potential to provide more than 2600 Waikato jobs, affordable housing to the local workforce and to contribute an estimated $200m a year to the local economy.

Asked by the Herald if she knew about the government agency’s appeal and if she supported it, Woods said: “As a crown entity Waka Kotahi makes its own decisions on how to best achieve the Government’s objectives.

“The Sleepyhead development has significant strategic strengths in terms of location, housing outcomes and positive economic benefits for the people of Huntly.

“It is my hope that Waka Kotahi, the Waikato Regional Council and other key parties work closely together to resolve the outstanding issues as quickly as possible, in particular as all parties have expressed the same goal of supporting high-quality urban environments that have low carbon impacts.”

The Comfort Group, proposing the development through its subsidiary Ambury Properties,has declined to comment on the appeals until it has digested the details.

News of the appeals surfaced just one day after Comfort Group director and co-owner Craig Turner told about 100 people who turned out to meet him at a Waikato Chamber of Commerce event that Auckland had “treated badly” the 85-year-old company.

“We are glad to get out of Auckland. Auckland doesn’t want us anymore.”

The Auckland Council had stymied two attempts by the company to create a new manufacturing centre in south Auckland.

The fourth-generation company employs more than 1000 people across nine sites in Auckland and Australia. Space at its main operations at Otahuhu and Avondale are at capacity.

The company purchased the Ohinewai land in 2019. Its application to fast-track RMA consent for a $183m foam factory, the first stage of the development, has been approved by the Government. The application is being considered now by Environment Minister David Parker.

The regional council granted resource consent for earthworks in March.
Establishment of the site and earthworks are well under way – at a cost of $12m.

Waikato Chamber of Commerce chief executive Don Good said it had to be wondered if the regional council was “anti economic development”.

“Why are they going to spend ratepayers’ money taking the appeal to the Environment Court after receiving such a comprehensive shellacking in the commissioners’ decision?

“Is our regional council a prudent manager of our rates dollar or ideological spendthrifts?

“It beggars belief that WRC say they are championing economic development only to put up such roadblocks.”

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