Rotorua is growing for the first time in more than a decade and that growth has created a housing shortage – we are under pressure.
Almost daily we hear about the urgent need for more homes, calls for Council to do something about it and accusations we’re not doing enough and not moving fast enough.
Our housing issues aren’t just about numbers – there is also increasing demand for social and pensioner housing and the need to find solutions to deal with homelessness.
Council is working on all fronts – exploring pensioner housing options, collaborating with others on social housing and homelessness and encouraging residential development.
In terms of the demand for more houses, the challenge is how to respond to this urgent need while also taking into account the wishes of landowners to develop their land and at the same time acknowledging change can be challenging.
With growth predicted to continue for the foreseeable future it is inevitable there will be ongoing change and we have to take action now to get ahead of what’s still to come.
People are moving here for the lifestyle, for jobs and for business and our local economy is performing above the national average. We welcome this, but there is a flip side – growth also brings challenges, putting pressure on our housing stock, infrastructure and environment, and impacting on rental and housing markets.
Council has several mechanisms to encourage residential development including zoning, effective and efficient consenting processes, and a spatial plan which, when adopted, will guide how and where we grow and assist with future planning and infrastructure. Through central government we also have a local housing accord which allows Council to recommend developments that meet the criteria for “special housing area” status. This is achieved through special government legislation that can significantly shorten the consenting process by limiting consultation and appeal rights.
The aim of the legislation is to build more houses more quickly and encourage affordable housing options. The process has been streamlined but is still robust – it still requires careful consideration of a raft of key factors against set criteria and still requires matters such as infrastructure and environmental issues to be addressed.
We currently have two proposed special housing areas in Ngongotaha at various stages of this semi-judicial process which requires both elected members and council staff to remain impartial. The same applies to normal consenting processes and in the case of SHAs, normal consenting processes will still apply.
We need to open up land to enable more homes to be built and landowners and developers are now keen to progress with their plans. That’s positive – and much needed – progress although not all may welcome it.
Having received applications for SHAs Council is now obliged to work through the process set out in legislation, not forgetting that landowners and developers also have rights, including the right to expect that their application is dealt with in the correct and appropriate way.
SHAs are just one mechanism to facilitate more homes but we recognise it’s new to everyone. Like any process, it needs be worked through carefully and we need to ensure everything is done correctly and appropriately.
The stakes are high and it’s crucial we get this right because Rotorua is growing, more homes are needed and more change is coming.