While Hawke’s Bay industrial, commercial and residential development is back on track with a vengeance, local authorities are hanging out for a significant central Government cash injection into Covid recovery.

Local councils have used the lockdown period to catch up with the backlog in consenting for new developments and are ramping up efforts to deal to the housing shortage and other developments with projects across councils likely to be around $500 million.

Hastings and Napier are awaiting proposed changes to the Resource Management Act (RMA) to fast track ‘shovel ready’ large scale commercial and industrial infrastructure projects.

Those projects need to create significant job opportunities and be approved by an expert panel, including environmental representation, but won’t get the official nod until after the legislation is introduced in June. See Tom Belford’s concern in Not paranoid, just cautious.

Appeals have also made to the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) and the Crown Infrastructure Fund to get a number of regional projects off the ground, including the joint council’s application for $314 million for the ‘Three Waters’ infrastructure.

There’s uncertainty about what slice of the 6,000 public housing and 2,000 transitional homes promise in Budget 2020 will come to Hawke’s Bay. These are being financed by $5 billion through the Kāinga Ora borrowing programme and other community and transitional housing providers.

Finance minister Grant Robertson believed this increased supply would improve affordability while providing a shot in the arm to the residential construction sector.

Further funding likely

He intimated further support for housing development and construction, including the private residential market, will be in the next phase of the newly announced $50 billion Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund.

The challenge put to local councils by BayBuzz was, in the light of the government promising to relax RMA conditions for certain projects, what were they doing to make it easier for builders and developers.

For example, would they relax their own consenting processes to make it easier for the construction of tiny houses, sub-dividing sections, or make more land available for houses or more intense inner city development?

An important part of the Hawke’s Bay’s recovery will be through the coordinated efforts of Matariki or the Regional Economic Development Strategy (REDS) and Action Plan. Included in its multi-pronged strategy is the goal of streamlining regulatory processes across the region.

What that will look like is yet to be seen, but includes a refresh of the Regional Policy Statement to fast track processes to consider residential housing plans and achieve “integrated approaches to sustainable development and planning”.

The specifics of these overarching aspirations to remove bureaucratic obstacles are yet to be fleshed out.

Hastings consents easing

Meanwhile, Hastings District Council, long regarded as having one of the more difficult regimes in the country for processing housing consents, has put in place a number of measures to prepare for a new wave of development.

HDC’s group manager, planning and regulatory services, John O’Shaughnessysays council has “a statutory duty to follow the legislative process” but has approved the engagement of significant additional processing resources in both the building and land use consenting areas.

Prior to lockdown HDC approved significant new resources for its planning and building teams to deal with the high workloads of consenting officers. “Part of this package was the engagement of external building consent contractors to help process consents,”  saysO’Shaughnessy.

The Hastings building and resource consent teams used the lockdown period to catch up and reduce the processing times, although delays are still likely due to being unable to undertake site visits.

Richard Munneke, Napier’s City Council’s recovery manager, insists there are no obstacles to building and land use consents within Napier. “Our consents team worked through the entire period of the lockdown, ensuring fast processing of all consents to enable work to continue as soon as Alert Level 4 ended.”

He says Napier has never had a shortage of consenting officers or experienced delays in getting consents through.

CHB reducing obstacles

Central Hawke’s Bay District Council (CHBDC), which committed to reducing obstacles to consenting three years ago, says it will continue to support “customer excellence and processes that are as streamlined as possible to support … (and) enable consenting.”

It is proposing a number of projects to the Crown Infrastructure Fund and PGF “that can be achieved and started in the short term” and is “eagerly waiting an outcome”.

The PGF package includes 10 projects across roading, vegetation management, social housing, and walkway and cycleways totalling around $40m. CHBDC has six projects it is hoping to get funded through the Three Waters scheme, valued at around $89m.

While Napier has submitted a number of ‘shovel ready’ projects to by-pass the RMA’s public consulting requirements, Hastings mayor Sandra Hazlehurst has a number of projects she’d like streamlined, but won’t submit them until the RMA amendment law is in place.

Projects already identified in the Hastings Long Term Plan include $76.5m as part of the regional Three Waters application; $12m for traffic safety, walking and cycling; and rural roading initiatives and improvements.

It’s hopeful of another $33m from the PGF to support projects related to skills training and pathways to employment.

Meanwhile Hastings has already activated a “large pipeline of work already in train” prior to lockdown, including 28 capital works programmes worth $16.1m.

Papakainga housing

O’Shaughnessy says a number of initiatives have been undertaken and more options will be explored to grow the district’s housing pool.

He cites the large section in West Flaxmere sold to Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga which will include a community housing initiative and claims the council is leading the nation in providing in its district plan for Papakainga housing.

O’Shaughnessy says the District Plan already encourages intensive residential development through the city living zones, inner city living provisions and residential development across all zones, including new greenfield development.

Development contributions were reduced in 2016 for infill and medium housing and council has rezoned “significant areas of greenfield housing at Iona, Brookvale and Howard St to ensure there is a forward supply of land ready for development”.

Hastings is currently producing a design guideline for medium density development “to show how more intense residential development can be successfully achieved”.

He says approval of seasonal workers accommodation, giving certainty for the horticultural sector and labour providers, will have the added benefit of reducing pressure on the rental housing market.

Hastings has also partnered with Kainga Ora to be one of two cities to pilot a place-based approach, expected to deliver about 200 homes over the next two years.

Napier’s City’s Richard Munneke says the council’s recovery team has identified the risk of housing needs changing through “some negative movements and reduced confidence in the market” and predicts Napier prices are likely to drop by around 10%. “Reduced migration and profit margins may reduce progress of new housing developments.”

Napier has applied to MBIE for three ‘waves’ of ‘shovel ready’ projects including $1.4m for eight cycleway, traffic calming and playground upgrade projects, and another $8.4m for eleven other projects.

They’re also betting on a portion of the Three Waters infrastructure funding. Munneke says the council’s pandemic recovery team has identified many streams of work to help the local economy.

Central Hawke’s Bay is also juggling the need to support housing and development while balancing the social, economic, cultural and economic future of the district. “Council remain committed to working alongside local iwi partners, private investors and central Government agencies as we focus on the implementation of the Central Hawke’s Bay Housing Strategic Framework.”

It is currently completing “a generational review” of its District Plan, including its Development Contribution Policy, and reviewing growth assumptions in preparation for the 2021 Long Term Plan.

“Early indications continue to paint a positive picture of community growth for Central Hawke’s Bay. Councils have a range of options in their toolboxes in relation to managing growth… It is too early to say what if any (growth) incentives will be provided.”

Good intentions abound, along with applications for funding and enthusiasm about jobs created and shortages ending. The reality of those intentions however will only be known when the cash is in the bank and builders and developers can get on with the task in a timely fashion.

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