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Monday, June 6, 2011

Anyone for Wigram?

While we await the land reports there is an opportunity to consider the options for however many have to move.

For those who need to move quickly the options do not appear to be great: either close-in at Wigram or increasingly further out at Prebbleton, Halswell or beyond. Without seeing the geotech report for Marshlands the name alone suggests the place is potentially a silly idea. Having many years ago lived near Wigram it seemed a good and now unfamiliar place to look through the eyes of someone needing a new beginning.

Compared to living along the river, or on one of the hill areas, the visual outlook is depressing. Go along one of the new built streets and there is nothing to look at - just a sea of roofs squatting on blandly similar houses, the Hills small in the distance, and that is about it. Go for a walk and there is more of the same. The future will bring even more and more of the same. Walk ways and reserves are to be provided one day, and on a scale more generous than many other subdivision schemes. For now it is a culture shock.

Deciding not to be deterred by the prospect of living in a suburb where visual and psychological stimulation might initially equal that of a housing estate in Britain, there is hope that, given the opportunity for innovation and originality, a suitable home can be built.

Sections are currently available, with a great deal of scope for expansion including high density housing. Eventually there will be approximately 1,600 residential sections. Ignoring prices, it is interesting to check through what is involved in buying, building, and living there. I am a beginner at this. We live in a house that was new when bought, but we had no hand in the design, approval or construction. So, if some of the things I raise seem naive or ignorant that is because I am, and so too are a lot of others.

Wigram Skys, the name of the development, is owned by Ngai Tahu Property Limited. Each section is sold subject to a significant range of conditions to protect the integrity of the subdivision. Reading through them they could be the proud product of the central planning and social control committee of a city in China or Soviet Russia. Through the use of Design Guidelines (which are pretty much compulsory) and Restrictive Covenants, practically everything needs prior approval of the development owner, who has the power to deny and to punish.

This "practically everything" business encompasses the design of the house, minimum floor size, number of storeys, how much of the garage can be seen from the street, the roof line, the size of your front windows and door, materials used, the paint scheme (apparently the true reflection of New Zealand character is neutral tones), the vibrancy of objects on the front lawn, plus the landscape plan (must be prepared by a professional landscape designer). There is also concern for the extent to which the design will "contribute to the safety of the local community and social interaction." The list goes on at quite some length. Even if you meet all your obligations to the Council, failure to comply with these requirements means the development owner may refuse you permission to build your house on what has become your land.

Restrictive covenants cover how you use and maintain the property once you buy it. Again there has been thoroughness in producing a list of do's and don'ts including the height and materials used for fences, long grass and weeds, style of letter box, garden ornaments, pets (no fighting dogs and especially no pigeons). Fail to meet the conditions of the covenant and you can be required to pay $100 per day for each day the failure continues.

Wigram is not yet well served by public transport. If you have a car, you can escape. Rely on buses and you are a prisoner. Bus services may change one day, but how many years of imprisonment will pass before that happens? All in all, the thought of Wigram is as dreary as the worst of winter's days.

As we wait to hear about what relocation means, public consideration has to be given to the needs and aspirations of those who will be moved. Land supply is limited, and concessions will have to be made by those moving. But these concessions should be voluntary, and after the best fit to their needs is found.

Concessions must also be made by other parties to assist those being resettled. One important concession will be the removal of some of the overtly controlling conditions being applied in subdivisions such as Wigram Skies. Someone may want to build a house to the same pattern as the one they have left behind, or something of a cultural or architectural style that is untypical of those around it - they should be allowed to do so. The Ministry of Education and schools should be required to give parents and students, and those close to school age, the right to choose a school from their previous zone, or their new zone. Other areas of change will be identified as these shifts get closer, and it will be CERA's job to deal with them. Ideally CERA will make public what it is considering, and who is being consulted, to ensure that those who carry the greatest burden of the required changes will have significant input before decisions are made.

The Wigram Skies website is here. The Terms and Conditions and Restrictive Covenants for one group of sections can be found here.

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