Friday, 27 November 2015

A visit to a Special Housing Area

A while back, I saw that a Special Housing Area (SHA) had been set up quite close to us, in Browns Bay. So I went and had a nosey, as you do.

It wasn't what I'd expected, from a number of perspectives. I'd had at the back of my mind that SHAs would be reasonably substantial sites - it's rather implicit in the term 'area', you'd think - so I was somewhat surprised that the SHA consisted of a single, small to medium sized commercial building at 4 Bute Road (pictured below).

To be fair to Auckland Council, this must be an unusually small SHA. Their guidelines for approving SHAs say (at point 5) that "The council has a preference for SHAs with a yield of at least 50 dwellings", and this one just scrapes in. The Council's SHA web page says that "The site at 4 Bute Road, Browns Bay will be developed for retail at ground level with four levels of apartments above, comprising 54 residential units plus accompanying car parking".

And if you're wondering how you get 54 apartments onto the former site of a not very large New World supermarket, the answer is that they'll be - I don't know the best real-estatese to use here, but "snug" might do. As the webpage says, "The residential units are a mix of one-bedroom (77m2) inclusive of balconies and two-bedrooms (88m2) inclusive of balconies".

I've got no problem with any of this. If people want to buy fairly small apartments, why not? And as the Council web page says, apparently people do: "The proposed scheme has been developed in close liaison with local real estate agents who have identified significant demand, particularly from older residents seeking to downsize and remain in the suburb". While I still think "area" is pushing the ordinary meaning of words a bit, let's park that.

But it also got me thinking about the meaning of "Special". From a land use point of view, there's nothing in the least bit "special" about 4 Bute Road. The area around it has already got lots of multi-storey mixed retail/residential apartment blocks. Here are two of them, also on Bute Road.

I'd have thought the planning approval discussion at the Council would have gone something along the following lines.

Trev: "Hey, Kev - you know Bute Road?"
Kev:  "Yep".
Trev: "Is that the one with all them apartment blocks?"
Kev:  "Yep".
Trev (picks up rubber stamp): [Thunk]

So I don't know whether this site was ever going to be a goer under the SHA regime, where developers get faster-track approval in exchange (in particular) for including a component of "affordable" housing (section 6 of the guidelines has the definitions of "affordable"). Personally, if the social objective was solely a faster build, I think I'd have preferred a simple, "accelerated consent" process without side conditions, but I can also see the planners' wanting to get a social quid pro quo. But I'm not sure any of this applies to 4 Bute Road: the developer, I'd imagine, would have figured on getting planning approval fairly readily, given the past approval of several projects just like it, and without giving up any potentially expensive concessions.

Not that its being an SHA, or not being an SHA, seems to have made any material difference either way. The site's been vacant for some considerable time, and (I drove past a few moments ago) is still vacant, with no signs of imminent activity. Don't know why: if I had to guess, I'd say it's because the Auckland construction market is at or beyond full capacity, and projects are just going to have to take their turn in the development queue. But in any event, I don't think I'd be proposing 4 Bute Road as a poster child for the SHA initiative.

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