Almost two years ago now, I went and had a look at a Special Housing Area (SHA) that had been set up a few Ks away in Browns Bay. Oddly, there was nothing happening at the supposedly fast-tracked SHA, while all around it non-SHA apartment blocks were sprouting like mushrooms.
I went back three months later. Still nothing at the SHA (and nothing happening at another one on East Coast Road that I also went and sussed out). Still full speed ahead on the non-SHA sites, though.
And a year ago I went back yet again. Signs had just gone up on the Browns Bay SHA site saying a very smart looking apartment block was planned, but there was no sign of any construction. Nor at the other SHA on East Coast Road. Meanwhile the non-SHA projects were all progressing nicely.
And today - you guessed it - I went and had another shufti.
Here's the SHA in Browns Bay. Best you can say is that at least it's started, though as you can see it's only at the very earliest stage of construction.
Meanwhile the non-HSA apartment blocks on the same street are all finished. Here are two I snapped before, 'The Pines' at 25 Bute Road...
...and the 'Norfolk' at 19-21 Bute Road. Both already have people living in them, though The Pines is still looking for tenants for its streetfront office/retail space.
And at the other SHA on East Coast Road? Nada. Still looks the same as ever. It hasn't made the original target, which was to have 39 apartments finished by "the early part of 2017", according to the blurb on the Auckland Council SHA site (it's the 'East Coast Road, Pinehill' one in Tranche 4).
And finally I thought I'd go and look at another SHA, currently the site of The Brownzy pub on the corner of Beach Road and Bute Road. Nope: nothing underway there yet either, which is a shame as it's a decent-sized pozzie. The Council write-up ('Beach Road, Browns Bay', in Tranche 10) says it will eventually carry 66 homes, with the first ones available by the middle of next year. Can the developers wind up the (still operating) pub, knock it down, and put the new housing up in seven months? We'll see.
Let me finish by saying (as I've said before) that I'm not criticising the owners of these sites in any way. They can develop - or not develop - their own properties to whatever schedule they damn well like, and good luck to them. And as an economist I'm congenitally inclined to believe that they know their own interests better than any outsiders, and it's highly likely - subject to the current capacity shortages in the Auckland building trades - that they'll be making the most efficient use possible of these valuable properties.
But as for the Special Housing Areas as a policy experiment?
My working hypothesis is that they've been an almost complete dud. And I wouldn't rule out that they may even have been counter-productive, when you see the non-SHA sites have gone ahead at full speed while the SHAs have just been sitting there.
Guesses, sure. Small sample size, absolutely. And I'll try and put some numbers around the whole SHA scheme when I have half a mo, and see if I can substantiate what I suspect. But for now, who am I going to believe: the original hype, or my own lying eyes?