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Featherston Spatial Plan analysis


Main Street, Featherston. PHOTO/FILE.

Should Featherston’s train station move to the town centre or stay where it is? With two options for Featherston’s growth out for informal consultation, Local Democracy Reporter EMILY IRELAND looks at what the catalyst is for change.

In the 1940s, Featherston was a booming rural service town, complete with a rubber factory, chocolate factory, and sawmill.

Skip ahead to 2022 and although the town continues to service the agricultural sector, industrial and commercial activities aren’t as prominent as they once were, house prices are out of reach, and the current restriction on lot size is stunting growth.

It may not have a functioning chocolate factory anymore, but Featherston’s charm is attracting new residents by the train load.

A plan for the next 30 years is key to sustainable and effective growth – that’s where South Wairarapa District Council’s Featherston Masterplan comes in.

A recent study shows Featherston is set to gain an extra 1730 residents over the next 30 years. This is more than double the 2020 projection that estimated an extra 800 people for the town.

It’s a fast-growing place and is in hot demand from those wanting to escape the city, but still live within driving distance of Wellington.

With housing supply normally low and demand high, house prices have skyrocketed over the past several years, more than doubling since 2017.

Data from Core Logic shows the median house price in Featherston for June 2022 was $699,000, a far cry from June 2017 when the median price was $278,000.

Yet, it still remains the most affordable town in South Wairarapa to buy a house, with the median house price in Greytown and Martinborough topping $1 million for June 2022.

To open up land and accommodate for future growth, South Wairarapa District Council is developing a master plan.

It is anticipated that an additional 940 homes will need to be built to accommodate the population growth in the next 30 years.

Although new building consents have more than doubled during the past few years, the biggest limitation to growth is minimum lot sizes, which the council has proposed to address in two options that have gone out for informal consultation.

Before 2020, new build consents sat around five to nine new dwellings each year.

In 2020, 20 new dwellings were consented, and 26 in 2021.

This indicates building activity is responding to the increase in demand for homes in Featherston.

Of the two Featherston Masterplan options presented for public feedback, the biggest difference which has grabbed residents’ attention is that one option proposes to move the Featherston train station to the centre of town.

The other leaves it as is.

But there are further implications of each option when it comes to freeing up land and promoting affordability in the gateway to Wairarapa.

Currently, the minimum lot size across Featherston is 500 square metres.

Option 1 [keep station where it is], proposes future increased density around the train station and main street.

General residential sites would be subdividable down to lots of 300m2.

This will be of help to many property owners who currently have 800-900m2 lots but who cannot subdivide at present.

Medium Density Residential Area sites would be able to be subdivided down to lots of 200m2, allowing for the likes of townhouses and apartments.

In this option, the area roughly covers lots within 400 metres of St Teresa’s School.

Assuming there is an uptake of 25 per cent [that one in four sites within the residential zoned area is developed], the first option would provide 574 additional dwellings.

In South Wairarapa District Council’s Featherston Masterplan discussion document, advantages of this option include that it enables “diversity of densities”.

It also looks to “make better use of existing urban land” and doesn’t encourage the development of general or medium density housing beyond the existing established town boundaries.

An economic report on the master plan options by Mike Cullen stated the option was “a logical start point for an intensification and diversity objective”.

However, Cullen also said Featherston lacked an “activated urban space within the core” of the town.

“Inspiration remains the key issue for density and diversity within the town centre.

“What is it about the town centre that would create the desire for housing density?”

The second option involves moving the train station to the town centre.

It proposes concentrating density in the centre of town and south.

In this option, minimum lot sizes would also be reduced but it has the potential to provide an additional 796 dwellings [more than option 1].

This is because the Medium Density Residential Area is bigger in this option, with sites able to be subdivided down to lots of 200m2 roughly within 600 metres of the town centre.

An advantage of this option, as listed in the Featherston Masterplan discussion document, is that it is more aligned to “transit-oriented development principles” and would encourage additional investment in the town centre.

Cullen’s report said the option “makes sense”.

“The combined effect of town centre and rail station consolidation would inspire a greater desire to intensify, because the inspiration is of two assets working together.”

South Wairarapa District Council chief executive Harry Wilson said both options – particularly option two – were big picture ideas and the finer details were yet to be sorted out.

“The idea of informal consultation is to take the pulse on how Featherston residents generally feel about these proposals for providing for more people, making the main street more usable, pleasant and economically viable,” he said.

“This is a chance to imagine Featherston’s future. It’s not just about housing, it’s about asking people about what they want to include and value most.”

Feedback on the masterplan options closes on August 19 and then council planners would create the draft master plan. Hearings and formal consultation will follow.

The plan is expected to be finalised and implemented next year.

Visit the South Wairarapa Council website, library, or offices for more information on the survey and to provide feedback. – NZLDR

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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