Anger as commissioners push Tauranga housing change ahead of city council election

On the same day that nominations for the Tauranga City Council election closed, unelected commissioners sent a letter to the government asking it to overrule independent planning recommendations for the city.

The move has stirred debate amongst Tauranga mayoral hopefuls, with one candidate writing his own letter to the government, asking it to not make any decision until the council is elected.

Proposed Plan Change 33 (PC33) would allow more Mount Maunganui buildings to reach a height of 22 metres before needing resource consent.

In a letter to Minister for the Environment Penny Simmonds and Minister for Resource Management Act Reform Chris Bishop, Tauranga City Council Commissioner Anne Tolley asked that they overrule part of the recommendations from an Independent Housing Panel which would have left the permitted height for a building in Mount Maunganui at 12 metres.

The letter was sent on 24 May, the same day that nominations for the Tauranga city council election closed.

Mayoral candidate Mahé Drysdale has now sent his own letter to the two government ministers, requesting that they defer the decision until the new council is elected.

He said if he became mayor, he would ask the council to withdraw the request completely.

“The Mount is one of the most important and iconic suburbs in New Zealand. The decision should be made in our city – not Wellington,” he said.

Tolley said there was no legal ability under the Resource Management Act for PC33 to be withdrawn by the incoming council, now that the commissioners had made a decision on it.

“However, the incoming council could initiate a further plan change, if that was the wish of a majority of its members,” she said.

Former Tauranga mayor Greg Brownless, who is running again, said that the move from the commissioners to override the independent panel so close to new elections was exactly why he asked Local Government Minister Simeon Brown to rein in the power of the commissioners months ago.

They were making decisions that were “undemocratic and that didn’t reflect the will of the people”, he said.

“Most Tauranga residents don’t want the Mount turned into a Gold Coast-style over-height over-shadowed wind tunnel.”

Tolley said she did not see it that way. She said the council was statutorily required to notify decisions on the Independent Hearings Panel recommendations by 30 June.

“This meant that the Commission had to make decisions prior to the forthcoming Council election,” she said.

Mayoral candidate Ria Hall, meanwhile, said Plan Change 33 was a housing lifeline for Tauranga City and that opposition to it was regressive and irresponsible.

She said it would enable the city to grow upwards.

“Implementing PC33 to allow for increased density is crucial to addressing both our immediate and long-term housing needs,” Hall said.

Tolley agreed, and said Tauranga had a significant housing deficit, which meant that there was both little choice in the type and size of homes available for people to live in, and that the city’s housing costs were the most unaffordable of any New Zealand city.

“To help address these issues, Tauranga needs to grow up as well as out, and we have been given strict direction by the Government to enable this.”

John Robson, another mayoral candidate, disagreed that the plan change would address the issue of housing affordability.

“The market can’t intensify and deliver affordable housing, only more expensive housing.”

Fellow candidate Tim Maltby agreed that it might not result in cheaper housing as intended, saying high rises would likely be used as “expensive holiday apartments”.

And current deputy mayor and mayoral hopeful Tina Salisbury said she wanted to engage communities to understand the best locations for intensifying.

“Intensification and building high-rise apartments cannot come at the expense of quality, resilience, sustainability, and preserving the character of a neighbourhood.”

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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