I grew up in Te Awamutu. Our township was my playground, knocking about with mates, riding bikes and playing cricket and rugby in vacant lots. As an adult, I’ve also spent time living in Cambridge, enjoying the ambience of the town. I’ve never wanted to live anywhere else but in Waipā, in great neighbourhoods with strong communities.
For someone who has deep links to our district, this week has been frustrating. On Tuesday, I saw our councillors forced to signal changes to Waipa’s planning rules which may fundamentally change our towns forever. The dictate has come from Wellington and it has exasperated our elected members and angered me.
Those rules, aimed at addressing the national housing crisis, mean our council has been made to introduce sweeping new changes; changes which might be suited to big cities like Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Hamilton …..but are not suited to us.
The new rules mean we have to introduce new ‘medium density residential standards’ in Te Awamutu, Cambridge and Kihikihi. Our rural areas, and Waipa’s smaller villages aren’t impacted.
It means that, by law, we’ll be forced to accept more houses into the same area….either by allowing three houses, three-storeys high on one piece of land without requiring a resource consent. Or by allowing more houses to be built on vacant lots than would have been allowed before. There’s a lot more to it than that… that’s the nutshell version.
Since leaving Te Awamutu College, I’ve gained formal qualifications in environmental health and town planning. I’ve got a Master’s degree in Public Policy. I ‘know’ planning. I’m gobsmacked that people in Wellington, across both major political parties, are taking such a clumsy, city-centric and heavy-handed approach to tackling the national housing crisis.
I understand there a major issues with housing and housing affordability. We need more houses in Waipa and greater variety of houses. We’re already working alongside developers to greenlight multi-unit developments, apartments and more. They offer people choice; not everyone wants a full section and standalone house.
Our towns are changing but we’ve worked hard to make sure those changes don’t take away the essence of what living in Waipā means. The law changes coming from Wellington have undermined the efforts of our council. Instead of talking to us, they’ve treated Waipā’s small towns like large cities. They’ve demanded we put more housing in, but have failed to acknowledge the strain that will put on our infrastructure like roads and pipes. Across Waipā, that infrastructure will not have the capacity to cope with too many houses, too fast. The irony of this hitting us, when the Government is demanding better water infrastructure, is not lost on me.
They’ve demanded more houses in smaller spaces, but have already taken away the ability of any council to require off-street car parking. Just when we’re trying to make room for more walking, cycling and public transport, it seems it’s OK to force to park cars on roads. It doesn’t make sense.
The reality is that many of the protections Waipā’s planning rules have put in place for very good reason have been pushed aside. The Government, supported by the National Party, has brought down a city-sized sledgehammer on a small town-sized nut.
I am hugely exasperated by this. If the planning boffins in Wellington had come and spoken to us, we could have worked through solutions. We already had a plan change scoped and being prepared to explore housing intensification and affordability issues. We’re happy to ensure Waipa does its bit to address the housing crisis – our people need houses too.
But we would also have wanted some protections in place to ensure that the bad planning outcomes we’ve seen happen elsewhere, don’t happen here. As it is, we’ve now been lumped with legislation that doesn’t suit us and probably won’t deliver what was intended. By any measure, that’s a bad outcome no-one should be pleased about.