As Auckland contemplates a future of greater housing density with more crowded suburbs and schools, there’s an extreme, low-rise example happening in three of its suburbs. Tim Murphy spent some time in Tāmaki and listened to the man pulling it apart.
Auckland’s biggest housing project, the Tāmaki Regeneration, is something to behold.
It is on a scale unseen and is a window of sorts into the kind-of intensification parts of Auckland will experience in decades to come.
It is patently not a creature of the Unitary Plan. The work has been going for years. And it is on public land – all 150 hectares of it among the 880 hectares of Tāmaki’s suburbs of Glen Innes, Point England and Panmure. It is unlikely the UP will lead to scorched earth suburbs like this.
Here, the state is ripping out shoddy old 1940s/50s state houses on quarter-acre sections and replacing them with multiple townhouses – up to eight on two sections combined. Some are attached; some residences will be in apartment blocks. These are new, warm homes replacing kitset temporary housing which was never meant to be standing today.
Almost all the stock of 2600 state (social) houses in Tāmaki will be demolished over time, replaced by 7500 homes. About 2600 of the new buildings will remain social housing, the rest sold into private hands. The social and private houses will be pepper-potted, in theory to ensure deprived enclaves don’t develop. And the population of Tāmaki will double.
It is densification of extraordinary ambition for this city and country.
It has progressed past ugly and often unreported street protests and sit-ins involving long-time residents, the Mana Party and others. Diggers and builders are everywhere in streetscapes you’d imagine as part of the Christchurch rebuild.
And while the project is not of the Unitary Plan – and is an answer not just to housing affordability or shortages but broader social deprivation, it is emblematic of what hundreds or thousands more homes into suburbs might look and feel like.
The Tāmaki National MP Simon O’Connor held a public meeting in his electorate on Monday night for the chief executive of the Tāmaki Regeneration Company, John Holyoake to outline the project. Oddly, it was in leafy St Heliers rather than the big building site over the hill, but 30 people made the trek.
It’s clear Tāmaki’s circumstances are unique for Auckland.
Glen Innes has, according to the chief executive of the Tāmaki Regeneration Company, John Holyoake, the highest rates of hospitalisation, crime and unemployment in Auckland.
It also has the highest density of state housing in the country – 60 percent of the suburb’s homes are now in the ownership of TRC. In one area by Maybury St Reserve the figure is 98 percent.
When you walk around the streets in Tāmaki North (basically on the hills above Tāmaki College and above Glen Innes centre) there is a constant beeping of reversing yellow diggers and rollers, kilometres of temporary fencing lining whole streets, boarded-up homes, big blocks of bare land – and mud.
The company, which is 59% owned by the Crown and 41% owned by the Auckland Council, took over ownership and management of the homes from the Housing Corporation on April 1. It has promised current residents they can be re-homed within the Tāmaki area.
It is working with developers who design, build and sell these ‘catalyst’ developments of, say, 100 homes going into zones which previously held 30.
Next week, TRC will seek expressions of interest for its first ‘large-scale’ contract developing 2000 homes where about 1000 now stand on the streets over towards Point England. That contract itself could take 18 months to finalise.
The houses going up are a mix of social housing, a small number of cheaper homes to which first-home buyers could aspire and a large number of substantial town house-style dwellings being sold.
There are downsides. Holyoake says it can be hard for those still living in the district at times. Communication by the regeneration company has been patchy and has to improve. Sequencing the emptying, clearing, demolishing, rebuilding is a “bit like juggling a jigsaw”.
“We call it building ahead of the bulldozers,” he says.
At the public meeting, one questioner raised concerns over neighbours enduring asbestos being removed from these old crumbly homes. “It’s a scary thing,” Holyoake conceded, “We have to rely on the fact there are experts who know how to handle asbestos and Worksafe will ensure that happens. For residents it is pretty discomfiting if you look out your window and see some people in a hazmat suit and a mask.”
There’s the scourge of “P” contamination. Holyoake confirmed 20 homes are empty in Tāmaki not because of imminent demolition but because they are poisoned by methamphetamine production or use. (As an aside, he mentioned interest in a new technology like a smoke alarm, with a SIM card inside it, which detects P vapours and alerts the building owner).
Tāmaki has 11 schools, all Decile 1, which will face obvious pressures once the population begins to swell. The company is working with the Ministry of Education to plan population and roll projections for the next 10 to 15 years. At this stage no new school property is envisaged. “They have existing capability within the school boundaries and Education will build its own capital programmes alongside ours,” he said.
O’Connor, the MP, said 45 new classrooms had already been agreed for his electorate, including a ‘goodly number into GI”. School rolls had been reducing and special moves had been made to allow teacher numbers to be held in advance of student numbers rising again.
With private as well as “social” houses filling these suburbs in the future, he hoped all the schools including Tāmaki College would see their “quality come up”.
Bare land where the old Tāmaki Girls College used to stand, now owned by Ngāti Whātua o Ōrākei, would likely be developed in a partnership for new housing.
A resident wanted to know what’s to stop wealthy landlords buying up the new private homes and making a killing off rising land values. “We can control who we sell to,” Holyoake said. “We can put covenants on it with our development partners to stop that. We do not want wholesale absentee landlords. We will not let that happen.”
TRC, or any successor a Government puts in charge of the social housing, will be charged with not just developing the area but regenerating it. “We will work with the ministries of education and health to improve public services, we will look at how our partners continue to employ locally.”
Done right, the project goes some way to achieve Auckland’s twin aims of increasing housing supply and improving the quality of liveable social housing. It does not mean more social housing, which some believe should be integral to such a plan.
In an indication of one side-effect Auckland can expect from increased density in suburbs, Holyoake accepts there will not be enough garaging, or off-street parking, if today’s number of cars per household stays as is and people do not take to or have access to improved public transport. Already in smart new town house clusters, like in Apirana Avenue, cars cram onto available concrete and beyond.
He is unapologetic. “We will not get the density we need if we have to provide expanded garaging. We can’t.”
The district is well-served for public transport – with rail stations at Glen Innes (just 10 minutes ride from Britomart) and the new interchange at Panmure. The regeneration work will see improvements to the bus-rail-car links at GI – and the company is considering buying some of the Glen Innes centre retail buildings to improve facilities and services across from the rail station.
Auckland Council through its property company Panuku Auckland, owns land beneath the rundown town centre and it is possible that could be redeveloped with housing as well.
The Unitary Plan, perversely, will make the Tāmaki Regeneration project’s progress a little less easy. Once passed, it will remove the area’s proposed “precinct status” by which neighbourhood-wide resource consents could be attained. “It makes the process a little harder,” Holyoake said “but it does not change our density.”
Pepper-potting, or sprinkling, social housing through the private homes is intended to “fix the possibility of ghettos – for want of a better term – but it could affect the prices of properties near them because of possible stigma. But the market will determine that.”
And to the billion dollar question: If the UP is approved, and intensification building projects start in large tracts of Auckland, how will Tāmaki continue to attract the tradespeople it needs to continue the job? “I do not know”, Holyoake shrugged. “That will be up to our development partners.”
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed, free daily curated digest of all the most important stories from around New Zealand delivered directly to your inbox each morning.