Tainui Group Holdings has won the first victory in fast-tracking the first stage of its $3.3 billion Ruakura commercial hub proposal.
Environment minister Amy Adams today announced the company's plan had been deemed a ''project of national significance,'' and would direct it's request for a private plan change to kick-start the proposal to an independent board of inquiry.
The granting of the company's application, made initially to the Environmental Protection Authority in June, effectively allows the company to bypass the Hamilton City Council's planning process.
TGH, the commercial development arm of Waikato-Tainui, had been frustrated by delays in the local planning process and concerned it could be many years before the city council's proposed district plan comes into force - given the current one took 13 years to go live.
The authority deemed TGH's private plan change application to be worthy and, in turn, made a recommendation to the minister to proceed to the board of inquiry.
TGH made the application in conjuction with Hamilton's Chedworth Properties, which will build housing for the Ruakura development plan.
The Ruakura area covered by the private plan change is around 380 hectares. TGH's master plan for Ruakura covers 800ha. The company claims the total 30-50 year development would create 11,000 jobs and generate around $4.4b for the Waikato economy.
The board of inquiry must first decide whether to accept the plan change request for consideration and, if that is granted, then has nine months to make a final decision.
The plan change would enable mixed-use development at Ruakura, including an ''inland port'', industrial activities, commercial uses, medium-density housing and an integrated network of green space.
''The board of inquiry process will give people directly affected by the proposal an opportunity to have their say,'' Ms Adams said.
The board, which runs its own process and makes its decision independently of the authority and the minister, will be appointed in due course, she said.
It will consist of three to five members and chaired by a current, former, or retired Environment Court judge or a retired High Court judge.
If the board found in favour of TGH and Chedworth, applications for resource consent could be made as early as the middle of next year, and development could start in 2015 - which has always been TGH's target since unveiling the Ruakura plan five years ago.
Only three other private plan change applications have been made to the EPA. All went to a board of inquiry.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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