Ruakura $3.3b development: One step closer
ELTON SMALLMAN AND RACHEL THOMAS
The controversial $3.3 billion Ruakura development moved one step closer to breaking soil after a decision to allow large scale development on the Hamilton's city fringe.
Tainui Group Holdings (TGH) and Chedworth Property Limited (CPL) welcomed the draft decision by the ministerially-appointed board of inquiry to approve the re-zoning of land at Ruakura from rural to employment and residential.
The board, appointed by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA), approved the plan change request with amendments in its 349-page report which opened the way for the developers to take the next step in their grand 50-year plan.
TGH chief executive Mike Pohio was "very pleased" with the decision but wanted to take time out to study the board's decision.
"We are excited about the potential of Ruakura both for Waikato-Tainui and the people of Hamilton," he said in a written statement. "Our vision is to build a real community at Ruakura with an exciting mix of high-quality work, live and play elements."
A logistics hub was at the centre of the development with container port, industrial park and shopping districts and a residential area in the northern quadrant but was hamstrung by a rule that prevented planning application from being made.
It was a hangover from when the Ruakura zone was transferred from Waikato District Council authority to Hamilton and was not in place anywhere else in the city.
TGH and CPL asked for the rule to be changed but Hamilton City councillors refused and an appeal was filed in June last year.
It culminated in a six-week inquiry where Pohio said plans were altered to accommodate the concerns of submitters and approval meant TGH and CPL could apply for resource consent.
Hamilton mayor Julie Hardaker said the decision was good for Hamilton, with massive investment in the city expected to generate more than 10,000 jobs and $4.4 billion in gross regional product.
"I'm very pleased the board of inquiry has approved the plan change," she said. "I believe that this investment in the city for Hamilton and Waikato was a good investment and I was always supportive of the plan change."
That investment and securing the knowledge zone were essential, as was the mitigation of environmental effects on Silverdale and Ruakura residents, she said.
Parties were required to resolve issues throughout the process and Hardaker said the board of inquiry took the concerns of submitters into consideration when they made the decision.
"The decision gives them certainty, us certainty and also the residents around that area who raised concerns; it seems the board of inquiry listened to those concerns and picked up some of the mitigations which was good news as well."
Ruakura's proximity to Auckland and Tauranga made it an attractive option with the East Coast main trunk line running through which would take 65,000 truck journeys off the roads but raised the ire of residents that neighbouring farms would be turned into an industrial park.
The decision disappointed Silverdale resident and emeritus professor of biochemistry Roberta Farrell.
At the hearing in June, she had expressed, on behalf of Silverdale Residents Group, serious concerns regarding biosecurity and consequences for nearby residents if any outbreaks or infestations were to come in via a container port. Farrell took time out from holidaying in the United Kingdom to speak to Waikato Times about the decision.
"I'm disappointed the EPA has accepted what appears to be a plan change, given what happened in the hearing [in May] with our concerns to security, traffic and the impact on residents. "The question to ask is what was the EPA's basis for the decision."
Silverdale residents group spokesman Dr Robert Bell was not prepared to comment last night. "I want to see the decision first."
The board of inquiry included environment commissioner Jim Hodges, Jenny Hudson, Gerry Te Kapa Coates, MNZM and chaired by Judge Melanie Harland. Comments will be taken by the board on minor errors in the report, by September 5 before the final decision is made by September 11.
- Waikato Times