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Questions about Helensville SHA

We have had concerns about a number of the Special Housing Areas that have been announced. A month ago I looked in depth into the locations and types of SHA’s. I found nearly 10,000 dwellings have been announced outside the urban limits, which will put huge pressure on infrastructure and council budgets. This is in addition to another 10,000 greenfield dwellings inside the existing limits. The total lack of public transport in many of these areas is probably the biggest worry, and projects such as the North-Western busway will need to be brought forward soon to avoid some areas becoming very car dependent. However these areas will also need substantial infrastructure investment in trunk water and sewer mains, as well as social infrastructure.

The individual development that concerned us most was at Helensville, which was part of Tranche 3 and announced in May. While this was only 60 dwellings, it seemed totally opposed to Auckland Council strategy. In the Auckland Plan it was not identified as a satellite town, but a rural/coastal town and therefore only limited development was expected.

Helensville also lacks jobs, with a 30km commute even to the closest major shopping centre at Westgate. The 2013 Census says there were 1077 jobs in Helensville, with a resident population of 2643. It is hard to foresee the number of jobs rising by over 100 to meet the needs of the new residents. To add to this public transport is rather hopeless with only 10 buses a day on weekdays, which take 1.5 hours to get to the city. While people may not wish to travel to the CBD, would still take over an 1 hour to get the nearest job centers in Henderson. On Saturdays it takes 2 hours to the city, and on Sundays their is no service at all!

1 Helensville bus

Therefore we thought some questions needed to be asked about why the SHA was approved, so we decided to send a LGOIMA request asking for information presented on the SHA, and minutes of the meetings where it was discussed.

The information we received was both fascinating and concerning. First there were a number of slides about the development that we presented to council members. SHA’s were first considered by a workshop on March 5. Then they went to the Auckland Development Committee (whole of council) on April 2 and April 14.

2 issues

So we have a large number of issues outlined. The area lacked potable water and wastewater connections (note WSL is Watercare), flooding, and their would be little demand.

3 issues

It is now wonder that when the development was presented to the council workshop on April 14, Helensville was not recommended to be an SHA.

The minutes of the April 14 meeting show that the councillors agreed with the recommendation and the SHA was included on the list to be declined. The minutes do show that local councillor Penny Webster was noted as a dissenting voice.

After the initial council vote, the SHA’s then go to the Governing Body for final signoff, which was on May 1. The initial motion moved was that same as that passed by the Development Committee several weeks earlier. However an amendment was put up by Cr Penny Webster to reintroduce a portion of the Helensville SHA.

4 Helensville votes

The motion passed 15 votes to 6. The division is quite interesting, with the mayor and an interesting mix of councillors voting against. The minutes of the meeting do not show any evidence that any extra material was presented to the meeting that suggested the Housing Office has changed their mind. Note the development was smaller, going down from 300 houses to 60. However it will still need council services extending and cause 100’s of extra trips along SH 16.

This is rather concerning as it looks like the Helensville SHA was approved despite official advice that is should be denied. Unfortunately we do not have the minutes of the earlier meetings to see if any other SHA’s were agreed to against official advice, however these minutes show that it just requires a simple majority vote.

The potential for more of this can be seen in the same May Governing Body minutes where Dick Quax tried to add in a development along Point View Drive, which is a rural area adjacent to Botany. This had also been denied at earlier stages of the process.

5 Point View Dr votes

Interestingly the minutes include the full list of potential Trance 3 developments that were rejected by the Housing Project Office and turned down by the committees. This does show that there is some rigour in the process, however would be interested to know how many were turned down because of infrastructure and planning issues, and how many encountered local board or councillor NIMBY issues.

6 denied SHAs 7 denied SHAs

The fourth Tranche of SHA’s will be considered in the private session of the Auckland Development Committee on Thursday. With some light now shed on the process, I’m hoping councillors will be extra careful when passing further housing areas outside the urban area. Would be great to see no more SHA’s outside the urban limits, given the investment already required by council to deal with the 10,000 already passed. While the session is private, you can still email your local councillor general thoughts about SHA’s beforehand, their contact details are on the council website here. 

*Update: Interestingly the part owners of the Helensville SHA (the Kidds, Directors and Shareholders of Hounslow Holdings) have long been lobbying for more growth in Helensville. See these 2013 articles “Fighting to Grow (Rodney Times)” and “Plan lacks up vs out costings (NZ Herald)”. However the articles also show the wastewater treatment plans is a serious issue in terms of growth. The herald article includes this quote:

The main handicap has been the capacity of the existing water and wastewater system. Watercare is spending $5 million upgrading the wastewater treatment plant but has no plans to upgrade it for growth until 2020.

This is further evidence that the SHA should have not been allowed to go ahead.

42 comments to Questions about Helensville SHA

  • I’ve been told that the owner of the Helensville site is one of Penny Webster’s financial backers. That probably explains why she’s pushed it so hard but not why the other councilors agreed to it.

    • Rharris

      Doesn’t surprise me there was some sort of corruption. It’s a shame we don’t have enough competent journalists and media outlets in the country.

      • Bryan

        It would be good if we had competent journalists and media outlets to investigate the rumours and allegations (and I don’t think Slater or Hager count).

  • Don

    There is a railway to Helensville. Not yet electrified?
    Mind you the new trains averaging 35km/hr it will not be a quick journey!
    Makes sense for a country town style living with rail commuting to work.
    Almost as attractive as 2 hour rail commute to London each way each day.

  • mfwic

    If people don’t like it they won’t go there. They will make better decisions about their own welfare than any of you people can on their behalf.

    • Yes of course, all good, but I don’t see why we have to roll services out there at huge expense in case some do. Daft.

      • mfwic

        I agree with you there. The only sensible commentary in the last week came from Hone Harawira who said there are 280,000 kids in poverty and we have built a tunnel so people can get to the airport a bit quicker. What a waste of resources.

      • Geoff Blackmore

        Patrick, you don’t appear to believe towns outside Auckland should grow? Helensville is not “sprawl”, it is a town in its own right, distant from Auckland. It’s no skin off your nose if people want to live there. You are always telling me the same about apartment dwellers – well what is it, do you believe people should have the right to live where/how they want, or don’t you?

        The case for Northwest Rail is growing by the day. The population predictions that MRCagney said will make Northwest Rail worth looking at in future are already being brought forward by the SHA’s and other Northwest developments.

        A rapid transit corridor already exists between the CBD, metropolitan centres of New Lynn and Henderson, and Kumeu, Waimauku and Helensville. Time to start planning for it’s upgrade and use, to ensure transit-orientated development takes place in this fast growing region. Something that trains will achieve to a greater degree than buses.

        • What population predictions are those Geoff?

        • conan

          You read what Patrick actually said eh?

          “Yes of course, all good, but I don’t see why we have to roll services out there at huge expense in case some do”

          Should we break it down?

          “Yes of course, all good”

          So fine with the idea that people can chose to live there.

          “but I don’t see why we have to roll services out there at huge expense in case some do”

          If people are to live there we (ratepayers) will need to spend substantial sums on extending infrastructure to this area. Given the government has reduced the ability to charge development levies this cost falls onto all ratepayers. As a ratepayer I’m not happy about subsidising this and it would seem Patrick isn’t either. So your assertion ‘It’s no skin off your nose if people want to live there.’ is false

          • Geoff Blackmore

            “If people are to live there we (ratepayers) will need to spend substantial sums on extending infrastructure to this area.”

            That’s the case everywhere, including south to Karaka, and especially within existing built-up areas with intensification. The CRL is $2b alone.

            Helensville rail is a drop in the bucket by comparison to intensification-related transport upgrades, and it also needed be expensive. It would partly be offset by savings from the bus service. Looking back at the train trial in 2008-2009, if those four buses at 0545, 0615, 0645 and 0710 had stopped running the same day the 0630 train started running, the train probably would have reached its patronage threshold from day 1. Masterton doesn’t have any buses to Wellington, so everyone takes the train.

          • conan

            Infrastructure isn’t just public transit. There’s all those very expensive pipes and ducts that need to go into the ground that come from and go to expensive plants. Then there are roads. The great thing about doing this in developed areas is the pipes are already there.

            Adding infrastructure to dense areas is always going to be more expensive in total, but they serve so many more people. I would imagine that exposing new fringe developments to the total cost of new infrastructure required would kill most of them dead.

          • Geoff Blackmore

            So you’re saying yes to people choosing to live in towns outside Auckland, but no to spending on any infrastructure for them? So what, you want to develop towns with no sewage and electricity? Or perhaps you want them to pay for it entirely from their rates, and cease having them pay anything in rates for city folk, in turn breaking up Auckland Council into smaller district councils?

          • conan

            You don’t seem to be able to understand what I’m saying. There isn’t any point continuing to say it over and over.

  • The improvement of Roading as well as Rail out to Helensville should be encouraged – to future proof for when population expands to these area,s – It could be said that this improvement to Roading and Rail should be improved in other areas as well for the same reason – Waiting for Population Growth to come first is one reason why we have such congestion now.

      • Geoff Blackmore

        Cancel Drury and Karaka, and cut back the rail network to Papakura to avoid those nasty diesel costs? Let’s treat the south and the northwest like for like.

    • Waspman

      There’s not a snowballs chance in hell that the rail line north of Swanson will be improved unless our council and our government see eye to eye and as we know this government is all about roads. And its a very slow bit of track anyway as is. In fact there’s a very good chance it may not exist in the not too distant future from what I hear and could end up mothballed.

      Helensville aside, even with the Northcote development proposal, which is mega intensive, there is no mention of improvements to PT and its not the greatest service at the moment with small 39 seater buses the norm as per everywhere else. And the roads are clogged on a daily basis as it is.

      This whole SHA idea is incredibly half arsed in respect of what it is supposed to be achieving, officially anyway, but its potentially lucrative for those well connected people who know what’s going to happen next..

      • Sailor Boy

        “even with the Northcote development proposal, which is mega intensive, there is no mention of improvements to PT”

        Have you heard of the RPTP?

      • Geoff Blackmore

        It’s pretty clear the SHA’s are basically the government overriding Auckland Council in determining where people should live. They do the same with transport too – AT is a lame duck planner for as long as the backbone of the transport network (motorways) are government controlled. Auckland won’t be in charge of its own destiny for as long as it isn’t an autonomous region.

  • Scott Osmond

    Something very strange is going on here. The map of the Helensville SHA shown in this post is very different from the one on the Auckland Council website at http://www.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/EN/ratesbuildingproperty/housingsupply/Documents/specialhousingareamap201405rautawhiriroadhelensville.pdf which was announced in May.

    As an immediate neighbor I would have thought that we would get some information or at least a courtesy notification from either the council or the developer but nothing!!! Presumably this is because this government has weakened the RMA so much neighbours no longer need to be advised of adjacent developments!

    The present owner of the part of the land is a high profile local farmer who has owned the land for about a decade as nothing more than a “land bank”.

    I understand there is water and wastewater to the road adjacent subdivision so that shouldn’t present too much of a problem but the points on lack of local jobs and useless public transport need to be addressed before development and at the developer’s cost. Otherwise they will just run away with their new-found fortune while we deal with unemployment and gridlock on SH 16.

  • Worried Landowner

    Yes you are right Matt L. There is a total conflict of interest with this lot of land that is being subdivided – a lot of people that are voting for it will be getting a lot of money in their pockets…..

  • A proper rail service, combined with the cheaper house prices in Helensville, and you’ll eventually have this……

    http://www.3news.co.nz/tvshows/campbelllive/swept-from-masterton-to-wellington-the-cost-of-commuting-2014102719

  • I agree with improving the Rail link to Helensville – this will give people the option to live in Helensville and commute to Auckland without the clogged up motorways === The only thing is that they will have to improve the Rail system between Helensville and Auckland – these will have to include adding a second Rail Line (tracks) otherwise the train returning from Helensville will cause delays to the train leaving Auckland bound for Helensville etc. — They will have to add new stations and stops along the way (ie Waimauku etc) as well as electrify the line as in other areas of Auckland — also they will have to improve the infrastructure of the Power system so they don’t have the Power System Failure which will cause the Electric trains to stop running — these will ALL need to be upgraded but I do agree that this should be done and get Rail Transport working for us again

  • Patrick R

    It is worth noting that Masterton has a population 10x the size of Helensville (25k to 2.5k) and the rail line there is able to take advantage of the Rimutaka tunnel while the road goes over the top. There is no such physical barrier between Helensville and the city so driving is quicker, less arduous, and less prone to weather disruption. This of course holds for buses and cars.

    I agree that if population is to expand considerably anywhere in and around Auckland that quality Transit options ought to be delivered concurrently or a little in advance of this growth; it is vital that we don’t make the same mistakes as last century and allow disconnected formless sprawl. And that the NAL is one such potential route. The costs and timing of any extension of services beyond Swanson however need to be balanced against other investments, and linked closely to land use.

    • Transit Orientated Development only occurs when you provide the quality transit ahead of the development. Waiting for development to be in place as you suggest, means retrofitting PT to a car-orientated area, which is the method Auckland has been using since the 1950’s, and it doesn’t actually create TOD. It just serves the overflow of a car based society.

      The time for NW rail is now, especially as it will never be as easy and cheap again, as it is now, when AT already owns a large fleet of suitable trains that are about to be surplus.

  • Actually a closer match for the Masterton model looks like Rangiora/Kaiapoi. A higher population c. 15.5k and rising and the barrier effect of the Waimakriri River. A much bigger shame that the standard anti rail ideology of our institutions failed to understand the utility of the existing line there than the one to Helensville currently.

  • And Campbell Live’s Auckland-Huntly train idea:

    http://www.3news.co.nz/tvshows/campbelllive/putting-a-railway-through-waikato-2014102719

    It’s frustrating seeing how Auckland’s huge surplus diesel train fleet is going to go down in history as a massive lost opportunity. AT already own the trains necessary for services NW to Helensville, and south to Huntly or Hamilton, and futher south, Christchuch could be establishing a basic service from the same surplus fleet. But AT’s lack of vision is by the far the biggest part of that lost opportunity, as they already own the things, but are instead going to sell or scrap them, whilst preventing rail submissions from being considered as part of the new network consultation for the NW.

    • Patrick R

      Can’t wait to see the back of the old inefficient and carcinogenic bangers personally. But then I’m no sentimentalist about trains, or vintage cars or other kit: I just want a better and more efficient city and that means more rational transport investment decisions. Not ones based on emotion (old trains) or habit and vested interests (moar m’ways).

      • tuktuk

        There is just one part of the current fleet that are ‘old inefficient and carcinogenic bangers’. These are the locomotives, not the carriages. Under a different regime, the current gas guzzling, rust ridden, locomotives would be replaced by Euro Tier4 emissions (or electric) motive power. The accompanying carriages would go on to have many more years of useful service. This is not ‘sentimentalist’ or train-spotter talk. Some developing overseas country will receive a wonderful donation when Auckland Transport do give away the fleet. And good for them I say.

        In the meantime we have voted in the regime we have and there are bigger fish to fry than techo train talk.

        The agenda for the next local body elections will be set by “the freedom” to be allowed to build “low cost” pavlova paradises all the way to Warkworth, Helensville and Huntly, to be allowed to drive fluidly over a motorway network with an unlimited budget paid for by future generations, and of course the right to have open fire-places in the city. The open fire-places thing in particular, is of concern as it has shades of Helen Clark’s fluorescent light bulb fiasco about it.

        The big challenge of course is swaying that conservative 15-20% of the population in the middle who determine who runs the council. Or the country.

        In that context John Campbell is to be applauded for his efforts to discussion options with that 15-20%. I’m sure he reads this site as it draws out a wealth of information and some good discussions. I trust that this site in general supports John Campbell’s efforts, given the relative difference in importance of the respective target audiences, in terms of the potential to influence future outcomes.

        • Yes, agreed, and those carriages would be great in the Waikato or Christchurch.

          • And Helensville, where the combination of rail and development, will ensure the area develops more sustainably. Waikato and Christchurch are retrofits to bad development. Strange that one would support that approach to the Helensville corridor. The road builders certainly won’t muck around, there will be a motorway to Kumeu within 20 years.

          • Helensville even with a doubled population is still only about 6k. The Wairapa example used in Campbell Live has over 20k. That corridor also benefits from an unappealing drive over the ranges making the train much more attractive.

          • Yes I know, I’m talking specifically within the same context as the Campbell Live clip about running a train to Huntly for cheaper housing purposes. Trains to satellite towns (Helensville, Waimauku, Kumeu, Tuakau, Pokeno, Te Kauwhata, Huntly), and promote them as a solution to the housing problem Auckland suffers from.

  • Scott Osmond

    Don’t start me on trains to Helensville! Suffice to say we need some decent public transport NOW!

    I did however notice that the first stage of the Helensville SHA at 177 Rautawhiri Road has commenced with land clearance. They are having “agent on site” time so on Sunday I popped along to ask some questions.

    The sections average 600 sq m and are priced at $225,000 plus GST ($258,750). The agent said that they were $280,000 plus GST but had been reduced due to perceived “resistance”. I had done my homework with some local research and noted a 10 year old house in a recent large subdivision in Helensville was listed at $575,000 on a 745 sq m section. An older home in the more established part of town on 1000 sq m for $539,000.

    When I suggested I could get these for a similar end price to the agent so why would I look at the same kind of money for his offering on a smaller section his only answer was: “But this way you get a NEW house”.

    I also asked him if there was a building covenant he said houses would be required to be “brick & tile” but I expect that means “Brick or plaster & tile”. Also I asked about infrastructure he said the properties would be connected to the town wastewater but NOT drinking water as the council says there is not enough capacity for growth. Also of course that means some of the 600 sq m would need to be covered by a water tank and an additional cost.

    This is only a small part of the designated SHA and I bet the owner of the adjacent property at 151 Rautawhiri will be looking closely at how it goes before committing to further expense.

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