02 Dec 2012

Sights on satellites

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Written by: Kirsty Wynn
Photo by: Doug Sherring
Published: The New Zealand Herald – 02 December 2012

The Stonefields housing development

City-fringe houses are hot property – too hot for first-home buyers. So why don’t people just buy further out?

A property industry think tank says councils need to spend more of our rates on infrastructure and public transport links so new satellite towns on the outskirts of our cities have more appeal.

Traipsing through open homes looking for the one that “ticked all the boxes” was no easy task for Natalie Hankey and her husband Oliver.

After years renovating an older home in England they wanted a modern family home but beating the streets in Mission Bay, Orakei and Meadowbank proved fruitless – and then the road opened to Stonefields.

The family had the pick of four newly built villas and chose a four bedroom, two level home on 350sq m. It’s a big house on a small parcel of land – less than a quarter of the quarter acre dream, a bite-size piece of the pavlova paradise past generations enjoyed.

“It is small but it is designed to fit perfectly so there is no land wasted,” Hankey says.

Now the Todd Property development at the base of Mt Wellington and on top of the old quarry is nearing completion. When finished, the streets of Magma Crescent, Flint Way and Scoria Crescent – a nod to the nearby volcano – will boast 2500 homes, a mix of modern villas, terraced houses and apartments. It will be home to 6500 people.

Surrounding streets in Ellerslie and St Johns look down on the development in the dip left by the Mt Wellington quarry and Hankey said people’s attitudes toward the sprawling development once reflected that – but things had changed.

“When we first moved here people were like “oh Stonefields” but now a lot of people want to live here,” Hankey says. “It is a modern and well-built area with a friendly community feel.”

Attitudes need to change, and fast – because satellite towns like Stonefields are the future of our bigger cities.

Auckland’s population is projected to grow to between 2.2 and 2.5 million over the next 30 years. Auckland council statistics show 400,000 additional dwellings will be required by 2040, which means at least 13,000 additional houses have to be built each year. There is already a shortfall of about 10,000 homes, and only 5000 consents for new homes issued per year in Auckland. Some of those are never built.

A research paper by the Intellectual Property think tank warns those still searching for an affordable home with a good chunk of land will have to move to satellite areas such as Pokeno, Waiuku, Warkworth and Helensville.

Although there are no entry level homes at Stonefields, the medium-density concept is one Hankey believes would work in areas on the fringe of Auckland’s billowing property skirt.

And it might have to.

Hankey has friends who missed out on Stonefields. Now, they’re looking at buying a house in a similar development in Karaka, right on the southern fringe of Auckland and 30 minutes’ drive south of the CBD if the motorway is running clear. For young families buying their first home, aspiring to a small backyard and a vegetable garden, that is the future.

The Intellectual Property forum is a think tank of banking, politics, law, financing, real estate and construction leaders, convened by Bayleys Real Estate. Inevitably, its policy proposals are somewhat self-interested – but they are also well-informed. In its new research paper, the group said Government proposals of freeing up land for more houses only “scratched the surface” of what was needed to future-proof the housing market.

Analyst Sarah Davidson explained popular city-fringe areas of Ponsonby, Orakei, Mt Eden and Takapuna needed higher density apartment and terraced houses with medium density housing in suburbs a bit further out.

“Intensification of existing residential areas, in conjunction with development of existing peripheral residential land, is the best way to future-proof New Zealand’s housing needs,” Davidson says.

The group called for council to stop worrying about reining in rates hikes, and instead fast-track efficient transport such as rail to townships near Auckland such as Pukekohe, Pokeno, Waiuku, Warkworth and Helensville.

“When you compare Auckland to more socially evolved cities such as London, Paris, and Tokyo – each of these cities has numerous smaller conurbations around its fringe beyond the green belt,” Davidson says.

Transport – such as a proposed high-speed rail connection from the northwest to the city – would see Kumeu, Huapai and Helensville become townships feeding into the CBD hub.

“Residents would live, shop and enjoy the amenities of their local town, but commute to the CBD for work.”

The forum also suggests that council should reduce costs to developers, while ratepayers foot the bill.

Delays in providing infrastructure such as roads, piping and power to new areas pushed up housing costs and often developers paid for infrastructure up-front and then claimed costs back from council.

Lowering contributions required from developers would encourage growth, the group says.

“Improving the timely provision of infrastructure to support new housing is seen as a positive step towards improving housing affordability.”

“The forum believes that this should go a step further though and that council’s focus should move from minimising rate collection, towards future-proofing infrastructure for development.”

When they first moved into their Stonefields home, the Hankeys lived across from a paddock filled with pukeko.

Now, the subdivision is almost self-contained with its own school, Plunket group, market garden, and a cafe and bar in the pipeline. She has friends who missed out on Stonefields who are now looking further out to a similar development in Karaka.

Neighbour Sandy McFarlane loves the Stonefields development and compares the rows of cookie-cutter homes to the character filled streets of London and Melbourne.

“I think it has a great feel around here. The people are friendly and everyone wants the same thing, a great place to live.”

She points to trendy magazine pages stuck to the wall to show her plans for the front and rear gardens.

“The houses are spacious and there is enough land out the front and back for a bit of a garden. I don’t have any complaints,” McFarlane says.

But the developers do. They say the Resource Management Act creates too many costs and delays; that the Government and councils pay lip service to increasing New Zealand’s housing stock, but are slow to put their money where their mouth is.

At Todd Property, which is building Stonefields and a satellite town at Long Bay in the north, external relations manager Conor Roberts agrees that hold-ups cost money.

“Time is cost, so any delay adds cost to the eventual development,” he says.

That makes it harder to provide low-cost housing from families and first homebuyers. The biggest problem, though, is soaring land values.

Roberts says the Government will have to provide cheap land if it wants housing provided at anything less than market value.

“If you’re talking about providing large scale affordable housing at below market value, then the only way you are going to have an impact is when the Government or council provides subsidies or cheap land to bring down the cost. It’s as simple as that.”

Roberts, a former adviser to Mayor Len Brown, said his previous job was handy for “knowing the process council worked to” but there were no other benefits for the company, which was also developing land at Long Bay on Auckland’s North Shore. He believes the council needs to give developers more flexibility in the planning process.

He acknowledges his council experience is handy, but says there are no other benefits for the company. No privileged access, no special treatment.

Roberts says council shouldn’t just roll over current policy, because it is too restrictive on what housing can be built, where.

Auckland Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse says the council’s Unitary Plan goes a long way towards addressing issues raised by the Intellectual Property forum.

“Greenfield development will be part of the solution, but to meet the rapid growth projected for our region we need greater density in our urban areas,” Hulse insists.

“This will also help make our centres more vibrant and more viable, bringing people closer to jobs and customers closer to businesses.”

Transport is a priority in which the council has invested heavily. “At Hobsonville Point we’ve invested in a ferry service at an early stage of the area’s development, and this is playing a major role in helping housing growth there,” Hulse says.

The Hankey family says their villa in the medium density rows of houses at Stonefields meets their needs – something they didn’t entirely expect.

“When we first moved here it was a bit unpopular and there was scepticism over whether it would grow,” Natalie Hankey says. “But now we can see ourselves staying here forever.

“The land size is small but it is no different than subdivided sections we were looking at elsewhere. With housing prices at the moment It is the type of living people might have to get used to.”



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