A fire that ripped through a Kāinga Ora development in East Tāmaki is being treated as suspicious by investigators.

Ten firetrucks reportedly arrived at the Guys Rd site to manage an uncontrolled fire at around 5.30am on Monday morning.

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A Fire and Emergency spokesperson said “it is being treated as suspicious. Our specialist fire investigation team is working closely with NZ Police. This process is still in the investigation phase.”

Footage showed tall flames tearing through a partially-completed residential building on a usually-quiet East Tāmaki street.

But while emergency services were battling the blaze, some residents were rejoicing.

The Kāinga Ora development has been a site of heated controversy among the local community, after a letter to immediate neighbours back in March revealed the already-underway new builds would in fact become public housing.

Kāinga Ora plans to purchase 48 homes from developers Gemscott once construction is completed – a mix of one-to-three bedroom walk-ups and terraced houses and an onsite community room.

Before the fire, construction was set to finish up in mid-2024.

The fire mostly affected one building which a Kāinga Ora spokesperson said was close to completion.

Kāinga Ora’s regional director for central and east Auckland, John Tubberty, said the agency was “extremely disappointed” by the fire, which will delay the completion of much-needed homes for families.

He said it was still too early to comment on how long the delays will be.

“The Huntington Park development will eventually provide 48 homes for families in need of a modern, warm and dry place to call home,” he said. “It’s really sad that this fire will be forcing families to live in less-than-desirable conditions in the meantime.”

In the letter, Kāinga Ora said the property would be ideal for public housing due to its proximity to local amenities like Guys Reserve and Huntington Park. It would also provide for a part of Auckland that’s currently underserved by public housing. 

Kāinga Ora has 420 properties in the area from Botany through to Flatbush, which represents less than 3 percent of all housing in the area and 8 percent of the local rental market.

The letter said “the new homes in this development therefore provide an opportunity to acquire more public housing for east Auckland”.

A neighbour’s post on an internet forum around the time said a development would “ruin our lives, completely strip the value out of our property and overall it’s causing so much stress”, before asking if anybody had had any luck challenging Kāinga Ora’s plans.

More than 100 local residents attended a public meeting on April 27 at a local church, where apparently tempers flared.

After the development was announced, Brian Brown, chairperson of local Huntington Park Residents and Ratepayers Association, wrote a letter to Tubberty asking for work to be halted.

Brown said community engagement had been poor, with just a limited notice drop three months after building consent had been approved.

“The lack of engagement with our community has left us feeling helpless and concerned at the impacts this development will have on us.”

The association listed traffic and property values as lead causes of concern, but were also worried about the “potential for tenants who may not fit into the community”.

“Residents have concerns for the diversity of the community and question what resources are in place to support tenants integrating into the community.”

The group also wrote to Minister of Housing Megan Woods saying the process in place had been circumvented.

Meanwhile, east Auckland media outlet The Times reported in May that 640 people had signed a petition calling for a halt to the development.

While the project may not have been brought fully to a stop by the early morning flames, it will likely cause a delay as property developers and fire and emergency workers inspect the damage.

On social media, Maungakiekie councillor Josephine Bartley said she was saddened by the destruction of such needed housing.

“I’m saddened to see the fire of the Kāinga Ora housing development in Huntington Park, when we have families living in cars across the Panmure bridge from it,” she said. “We need more housing, it would be so easy to end up being someone in need of a place to live. Just sad.”

Matthew Scott covers immigration, urban development and Auckland issues.

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