Five ‘shovel ready’ projects, valued at $10+ million, proposed by the Hastings-based St Andrews Church Trust have made it through the first stage of evaluation for funding from the Government’s infrastructure investment fund.

The two proposed solar energy farms and three community and social housing projects put forward by St Andrews Trust “would stimulate employment in the region, improve the environment and improve people’s lives,” says chairman Jim Spall.

The Trust, formed in 2019, is currently working on further details required ahead of funding decisions being made. “The door was open for a few weeks and we had to react very quickly to document projects we and our partners were considering.”

The projects needed to be at the stage where they would be ready to begin within 12 months. In essence the Trust is “standing in the queue” on behalf of other organisations …when the time is right we’ll back out and let them take over”.

Chris Lambourne project co-ordinator says the projects reflect St Andrews Church’s 100-plus year missional statement of serving the community and trying to make a difference in the world.

While the “shovel ready” projects may be going for the same pool of money that local councils are hoping to benefit from, he says the Trust is aiming for “social good rather than pipes and roads”.

Partners with marae

A key before engaging has been partnering with tangata whenua, the people of the area, both in Flaxmere where the 1MW Te Rā Power solar farm is proposed and at Mangaroa Marae in Bridge Pa, which wants a solar farm 25 times larger.

Mangaroa Marae is making the land available for the solar farm which aligns with its current community plan efforts and “to look after whanau across the whole Heretaunga area”.

Lambourne says the solar farms are a way to address “power poverty” where energy bills have increased at 2.5% above the rate of inflation over last 30 years and are likely to continue escalating.

The proposals have to work in with local power wholesaler Unison. “You can’t control the price of electricity unless you supply them and you can’t do that as a little player, otherwise you will eventually get hung out to dry with spot market prices going all over the place.”

The answer is to have the buy price offset by what is sold into the grid so you can distribute power at a lower cost to those who need it, says Lambourne. “Otherwise you’d have to be running extension cords all over the place”.

Community housing

The other three projects involve social housing, community housing and supported living. St Andrews owns land in central Hastings and is also looking at developing the carpark area between the church and hall on Market St and Lyndon St currently leased out to a commercial customer.

It’s been estimated a two or three story structure could cost $10-$12 million, possibly in partnership with Presbyterian Support East Coast (PSEC).

Lambourne says that housing would be for people with physical handicaps or mobility issues who need adapted living places and people to help them. Currently PSEC has the Rowan House facility in Taradale, which has up to 15 people on its waiting list.

It’s estimated the lease returns would cover mortgage payments, operate the building “and give us an annual revenue”.

The other housing project is at Bridge Pa where Mangaroa Marae has purchased 20 hectares of land for flood protection, water storage and housing.-“They want to build 20 houses and sell them to those involved in the construction to reduce the cost and help build community and commitment,” says Jim Spall.

Chris Lambourne says there’s a growing need for more flexible options or different models in the housing market, for people who are renting and would like to buy “but can’t quite make that jump” to rent-to-buy or reducing the house price by leasing the land.

He says there’s a definite need to increase the supply of community housing and social housing (formerly State houses), with options for those fresh out of prison, the homeless and others needing short-term accommodation.

Lambourne believes the challenges for housing and rental are only going to increase through the impact of Covid-19 with unemployment and changes in hours and types of employment placing further stress on the market.

“I keep hearing stories about families of five children, for example, with both parents working, their house in Hastings has been sold out from underneath them, being moved into motels in Napier.”

Lambourne says there are plenty of examples of ‘not enough’ rental stock. “People need options. It’s about focussing on the community rather than another sub-division.”

Chris Lambourne. Photo: Florence Charvin

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