Published: 6 June 2005
3 years into his attempt to get the OK for rezoning to allow a retail centre & retirement village on 17.3ha at Warkworth, Neil Barr let forth a tirade on Friday against Transit NZ policies.
His question, in effect, was: “Who’s in charge?”
The answer, so far, is Transit. The national roading organisation has an effective veto on development it doesn’t like or which it thinks is too early.
The Rodney District Council zoning hearing gives 2 independent commissioners, Harry Bhana & Adrienne Young-Cooper, an opportunity to test that veto. After a general hearing on 14 March, followed by the 3 June hearing specifically on roading issues, they reserved their decision.
Warkworth is a mess in terms of State Highway 1, arterial links across to Matakana & the east coast, and the local road network. For years solutions to the main highway bottleneck at Hill St (top left in map â€“ click to enlarge) have been dreamt, argued and not acted upon. Transit has no immediate plans to resolve the Hill St issues, nor to do anything about existing congestion at Woodcocks Rd (bottom left in map) or the additional congestion emanating from the developments Mr Barr proposes.
Transit’s response to the zone change is to continue opposing it.
Warkworth pivotal to growth
In the wider Auckland regional context, Warkworth is a regional growth centre, the turning point for traffic heading to the fast-growing Matakana horticultural district & the east coast settlements between the Mahurangi River & Mangawhai. Congestion there halts traffic every holiday weekend, creating traffic jams several kilometres long. Even on an ordinary Sunday in warmer months, traffic backs up from mid-afternoon.
For the locals, the highway traffic prevents reasonable movement between Warkworth’s Woodcocks Rd area, on the west of the highway, and the Warkworth township on the east. Woodcocks Rd has an industrial area and, on the state highway intersection, the local high school, Mahurangi College.
Mr Barr’s development company, Perrendale Holdings Ltd, and retirement village developer & operator Summerset Holdings Ltd (John O’Sullivan; chief executive Norah Barlow, based in Paraparaumu) want to develop, on land currently zoned rural & for future urban use, a retail centre eventually containing about 66,000mÂ² gross lettable area of mostly large-format retailing, and a retirement village & aged-care home for 230 occupants. The site is about 700km west of the state highway & 2km from the town centre.
The zone change would create the commercial 5 comprehensive development zone, allowing development of commercial centres on land largely in a single holding here, but also at Snells Beach and at the eastern end of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula.
The retail centre would be built progressively, starting with 12,975mÂ² gross lettable area:
general retail 3500mÂ²
other retail 7000mÂ²
restaurants about 400mÂ².
Subsequent stages would be:
13,000mÂ² before June 2008
17,500mÂ² before June 2012
At each stage of development the developer would have the ability to exceed floor areas by 12.5% for certain activities.
In an assessment of the likely economic impacts of the proposed development, Marketplace NZ Ltd (Mark Tansley) recorded among its key points:
a significant amount of Rodney North consumer spending on non-food, non-trade items wasn’t being captured within the study area
a considerable amount of spending was leaking to bulk retail developments in the Albany area, and to a lesser extent in Whangarei
total spending power in Rodney North rose by a third in the 7 years to 2003. yet
general merchandise floorspace declined in Warkworth & Wellsford over those 7 years.
Transit “has no special status”
At the resumed 3 June hearing, Perrendale counsel Bal Matheson contended that Transit had no special status: “It is just a submitter. It is not the planning authority for this plan change & these variations.” That responsibility had been delegated by the council to the independent commissioners.
Mr Matheson said Perrendale’s expert advice was that the proposals, subject to conditions altering the Woodcocks Rd intersection, would result in sustainable management of the highway.
In the council planning consultant’s June report, reference was made to Transit having a power of veto over works on a state highway. “Perrendale strongly opposes the use of the word veto in the context of an RMA process,” Mr Matheson said.
In response to Mr Bhana’s question, “Doesn’t withholding neighbouring landowner approval equal a veto?” Mr Matheson agreed: “Yes.”
But, Mr Matheson continued: “While it is true that, like any property owner, Transit has a power of veto over activities on its own property, Transit is not the planning authority and it does not have any form of veto over this, an RMA, process.
“Perrendale accepts that the operation of state highways is a physical resource requiring sustainable management. However, so too is the land surrounding Warkworth, some of which is subject to this plan change. Section 5 of the RMA requires that all competing considerations be taken into account. It is inappropriate to give any more weight to effects on the state highway than other effects, such as the positive economic & social effects flowing from the plan change.”
Changing Transit approaches frustrate Barr
Perrendale director Mr Barr picked up the issue of Transit’s approach to development which would increase highway use, saying Transit executives were willing to attend meetings â€“ but at 4 meetings to resolve Warkworth issues they’d given “4 different versions of what they want & what they see as the problem.”
He’d been told the Transit attitude was that “money will solve anything,” but more contributions beyond the conditions agreed to so far would compromise the project’s viability. It was 15 years since transit first knew of the need for a western bypass at Warkworth, but the answer was that nothing would happen for 20 years.
Mr Barr charged that Transit was abrogating its responsibility, and that without action now Warkworth would stagnate.
New roading reports confirm Transit stance
Transit counsel Asher Davidson, in earlier submissions, said the 2 roading reports Transit had received since the March hearing confirmed the Perrendale & Summerset developments would have:
significant adverse effects on the Woodcocks Rd/State Highway 1 intersection, which will require immediate signalisation, with further unidentified upgrading works required by 2016, and
significant adverse effects on the wider state highway network, particularly the intersection of Hill St & State Highway 1, for which no adequate mitigation had been identified.
Ms Davidson said the general approach in the council’s planning report, by consultant Jenny Hudson, seemed to be:
there are already traffic problems in Warkworth
allowing the plan change to proceed will exacerbate those problems
but such an outcome is acceptable.
Making bad situation worse not acceptable to Transit
“It is, of course, the last part of that approach with which transit has serious concerns. Making a bad situation worse is not, in Transit’s view, an acceptable resource management outcome.”
Ms Davidson said an extract from Ms Hudson’s report best summarised the approach with which Transit disagreed: “Whilst it is arguable that a development which will make a situation worse in the short to medium term should not be contemplated, it may be that such a development will be the catalyst for roading improvements that are necessary to support future growth of Warkworth in any event.”
With respect, Ms Davidson countered, “It is submitted that such an approach is completely contrary to the Resource Management Act, the Land Transport Management Act & the Rodney council’s own proposed district plan, which notably has as an objective: â€˜To ensure that a transport network is provided that enables the safe, efficient & convenient movement of people & goods and which is not adversely affected by land use activities’.”
She said a policy of the proposed plan was also relevant: “The safe & efficient operation of the transport network should not be adversely affected by land use activities. In particular, (c) changes in the volume & type of traffic from changes in land use activity should not have an adverse effect on the safe & efficient operation of the roading network.”
Ms Davidson commented: “It is difficult for Transit to understand an approach that consciously allows significant adverse effects to occur on the basis that those effects might prompt improvement in the long term. It is submitted that it would be inappropriate for the commissioners to take into account such considerations in their decision on whether to approve the plan change.”
Ms Davidson reiterated submissions made in March, that “Transit considers the Land Transport Management Act requires active protection of the state highway resource, rather than development being allowed on an ad hoc basis with roading infrastructure needing to be provided later. Such an approach does not provide for a long-term, integrated or efficient outcome.”
Barr claims $850 million of projects held up by Transit stance
This debate has nationwide implications, as Mr Barr noted in comments outside the hearing. After he became aware Transit’s opposition would be his major development obstacle, Perrendale contacted “60 major developers,15 major retailers, 3 mayors, 4 national companies & a handful of little landowners” and found Transit was holding up “an estimated 400 applications probably worth in excess of $850 million nationwide, almost all on variations of the same theme”.
He said the highway system wasn’t sustainable because little had been done for 30 years to upgrade it. That comment as a generalisation is inaccurate: Numerous improvements have been made, particularly around the Auckland region, although many more are needed.
However, it doesn’t detract from the central issue: Does highway improvement or development come first?
Ms Davidson said in her submissions Ms Hudson had suggested a condition for the Warkworth development be that Transit undertake statutory processes to realign & upgrade Woodcocks Rd. This notion was firmly rejected: “If that is what is intended, it is legally invalid â€“ a plan cannot place obligations on Transit to carry out any of its statutory powers. However, Transit understands the inference is a function of the drafting, and that the requirement that statutory processes be undertaken is intended to be one of the 3rd-party actions on which grant of consent is contingent.”
The commissioners could accept the 2nd of those interpretations, which would still effectively kill the development project because the required roadworks wouldn’t happen in a hurry.
An alternative â€“ and in this the power of Transit would be tested â€“ would be to approve the zone change, allowing the development to proceed, perhaps with some roadwork conditions. Transit would then need to make the highway safe, not as a condition of the zone change or of development consent, but to meet its general requirements.
Website: Summerset Group