A group of Wellsford residents made a heartfelt plea to the Unitary Plan Independent Hearings Panel last month to help break 40 years of population stagnation.
Vision Wellsford formed last year in opposition to Auckland Council’s proposed Unitary Plan, which it says will restrict growth. The group has developed a proposal to zone an extra 300-hectares for development, which they presented to the panel in Orewa.
There is already 300ha of land zoned for urban development in Wellsford, which Council says will accommodate growth in the town, while tweaks made to the rural urban boundary (RUB) could add another 30ha.
At hearings in central Auckland, Council planner Ryan Bradley said the town’s population hadn’t grown since 1976 and Council growth models predicted the area would shrink over the next 30 years.
But, Vision Wellsford disagrees and claims development has been stymied by the town’s wastewater system which is at capacity.
At the Orewa hearings, group member Wendy Crow-Jones said more people were moving to the area due to rising house prices in Auckland, but there was a lack of housing supply in Wellsford.
“Couples are putting letters in letterboxes in the hope the owner might sell,” Ms Crow-Jones said. “I’ve had one such letter. There is also pressure on our local childcare facilities because of the number of young families in the area.”
Group member Sam Walton spoke representing the youth of Wellsford and asked the panellists to plan for the town’s future.
“If we don’t plan for growth, we won’t get any,” Mr Walton said. “That’s what we’ve done for the passed 30 years. We cannot accept status quo. We need to make it more attractive for young people to invest, build or buy homes.”
Group member Lionel Foster said they had produced a plan after holding public meetings, open days, an online survey and consulting with landowners.
“Vision Wellsford has done what Council hasn’t. We’ve taken the RUB and zoning to landowners and have got their input.”
The group also supplied a statement from Mike Pero Real Estate agent Andrew Steens, which said there was very high demand for property in Wellsford and a housing shortage.
“Buyers seem to be mostly young families and recently retired couples or singles, with investors making up less than 20 per cent of buyers,” Mr Steens said. “There is considerable demand for new stock to be built to meet this demand.”
At the hearing, Watercare representative Andre Stuart said the town was at the limit of its discharge consent and the wastewater plant needed a significant upgrade.
Watercare’s evidence submitted to the panel said, “It is likely to take several years to replace the discharge consents, following which a significant treatment process upgrade will be required”.
The Hearings Panel split into two groups to cover hearings on the RUB in the north and south of Auckland. North panel chair Des Morrison seemed impressed by the presentation.
“I commend you on the process you’ve gone through. We, as commissioners, are listening.”
Panellist Les Simmons asked whether there was growth in employment in Wellsford.
“I’ve heard a lot about wanting more people coming to Wellsford, but where are they going to work?”
Mr Foster said businesses were keen to come to the area, but first they needed somewhere to live.
“It’s a chicken and egg situation.”
Panellist Peter Fuller suggested land could still be zoned for development through private plan changes as demand increases.
The group might also take heart that there was a local on the panel – panellist Stuart Shepherd said he grew up in Wellsford.
The hearings will likely continue until the end of April. The panel will then make recommendations to Council to consider by July 22. Council will notify its decisions by August 19.