The biggest development in Hamilton's history is set to take the fast track through red tape and could be under way within two years.
And as the wheels are greased under Tainui Group Holdings $3 billion Ruakura inland port and commercial hub, the Prime Minister says Waikato is well-placed to cash in on a multibillion-dollar construction boom - and he wants a slice of it.
The Environmental Protection Authority is to recommend to Environment Minister Amy Adams that the first stage of the Ruakura project be recognised as one of national significance, likely sending it straight to a consent hearing process by a board of inquiry, rather than risk it getting bogged down in years of council district plan processes.
The announcement came as Prime Minister John Key told construction sector leaders in Hamilton yesterday a building boom was inevitable, fuelled by the $40 billion Christchurch rebuild and Auckland's housing crunch.
Mr Key said Auckland's surging house prices, which had risen 20 per cent in the past year, would see some prospective house buyers look to shift south to Hamilton.
"Every time you see a housing boom in Auckland, Hamilton house prices have gone up," he said.
"At the end of the day it is cheaper here, much more affordable and better quality of living. So you'll definitely see an increase, in my view, in house prices in Hamilton and Tauranga. It's just a natural flow-on effect to what's happening in Auckland."
Mr Key's talk was hosted by the Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation (BCITO) and he didn't hesitate to say what he would like as a parting gift. "A house in Hamilton."
BCITO chief executive Ruma Karaitiana said a 95 per cent annual increase in new building apprentice sign-ups in the Waikato suggested the building industry was rebounding.
The decision on a board of inquiry for the Ruakura project was good news for TGH chief executive Mike Pohio but he noted the minister still had to agree to the process. He believed the city council's support for the Ruakura plan being heard by a board of inquiry had helped.
Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker said the EPA recommendations were no surprise. "We had anticipated and supported that."
TGH and its project partner, housing developer Chedworth Properties, applied to the EPA for a private plan change last month after city councillors turned down their application to lift a prohibition which locks in the rural zoning over the tribe's Ruakura land until the draft district plan becomes operative. TGH fretted that given it took more than a decade to implement the current district plan, a start on the first stage could be years off and a big economic gain opportunity lost.
TGH's Ruakura land, received from the Crown as part of the Waikato Raupatu Claims Settlement Act 1995, is half way between the ports of Auckland and Tauranga, and would be served by rail and the new Waikato Expressway.
TGH's case for the plan change and consent is that freight volumes between Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga, known as "the golden triangle", are forecast to double in the next 20 years, that the development would generate $4.4 billion for Waikato regional economy, and provide around 11,000 fulltime jobs.
The first stage involves the plan change request and mixed-use development of 389ha over 28 to 30 years. TGH over 50 years wants to develop a total of 500 hectares.
Stage one includes development of a transport hub or inland port, logistics, industrial, innovation and knowledge zones, medium-density housing and a network of green space. The cornerstone would be the inland port, where containers would be transferred by rail and road transport.
If the minister does not support the EPA's recommendations she can refer the request back to the city council or the Environment Court.
The public can make full submissions to any inquiry she orders. The Government could also have its say.
A board of inquiry has nine months to make a decision.
- © Fairfax NZ News