Twyford ea­ger to make tracks

Henry Cooke meets the ac­tion man tasked with hous­ing and trans­port.

Sunday Star-Times - - News - October 29, 2017

Phil Twyford has a lot to do.

The new hous­ing, trans­port, and ur­ban devel­op­ment min­is­ter has been one of Na­tional’s more per­sis­tent crit­ics over the last term, needling the gov­ern­ment on rock­et­ing house prices, ris­ing rents, and the tax breaks that make it pos­si­ble.

But the time for crit­i­cism – for lob­bing well-re­searched statistics and zingers at Nick Smith from across the House – is over. Now he has to fix any time.

The 54-year-old Te Atatu MP freely ad­mits the list of prom­ises is long: A ban on for­eign­ers buy­ing ex­ist­ing homes by Christ­mas. The end of let­ting fees, damp flats, and rent hikes ev­ery six months by the end of next year. A dozen or so new Auck­land sub­urbs, all hooked up with new trans­port in­fra­struc­ture and filled with af­ford­able Ki­wiBuild homes by 2027. A re­gional fuel tax – soon – to fund light rail in Auck­land.

‘‘I haven’t quite ad­justed to the idea that we now have the abil­ity to do this. We have this enor­mous op­por­tu­nity to make change,’’ he told the Sun­day Star-Times hours into his new job, sur­rounded by mov­ing boxes in his old Op­po­si­tion of­fice.

Twyford came it, and he isn’t into wast­ing pol­i­tics in 2008 af­ter work­ing decades for devel­op­ment agency Ox­fam af­ter set­ting up the New Zealand branch. In 2011, he took on hous­ing, al­ready wor­ried about the rapidly-ris­ing mar­ket.

Since then he’s had plenty of wins, and one dis­as­trous stum­ble: the ap­palling ‘‘Chi­nese-sound­ing names’’ press re­lease, which Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern now ad­mits she was ‘‘un­com­fort­able’’ with – but won’t ac­tu­ally apol­o­gise for.

‘‘I’ve said pub­licly now that I re­gret the way I han­dled that is­sue. I re­gret that the ef­fect of what I did was that many Chi­nese New Zealan­ders felt like they were be­ing got at,’’ Twyford says.

He says Na­tional used the in­ci­dent to draw at­ten­tion away from se­ri­ous hous­ing is­sues.

But the taunts from Steven Joyce will now be com­ing from the Op­po­si­tion benches, and Twyford is con­fi­dent he has a man­date to fun­da­men­tally change hous­ing.

‘‘No one thinks that the hous­ing sit­u­a­tion is okay. Ev­ery day that goes by is a night when an­other New Zealan­der is sleep­ing in their car, or in a door­way. And we’re bet­ter than that.

‘‘I think most peo­ple re­alise that it’s time we treated hous­ing no longer pri­mar­ily as an in­vest­ment as­set but as a place to live and raise your fam­ily.’’

Twyford is adamant that he can fix hous­ing af­ford­abil­ity with­out crash­ing the mar­ket. In­stead, he wants sta­bil­ity.

But the big $2 bil­lion kahuna is Ki­wiBuild – 100,000 af­ford­able homes built in the next 10 years.

Half will be in Auck­land, where stand­alone homes will be $600,000 and un­der, town­houses less.

The strat­egy ranges from buy­ing houses off the plan straight from de­vel­op­ers, to ‘‘re­ally am­bi­tious’’ projects – cre­at­ing new sub­urbs of thou­sands of homes.

‘‘The gov­ern­ment will come in and in­vest in the trans­port in­fra­struc­ture, build the schools, the open spa­ces and parks, set the de­sign standard, and then bring the pri­vate sec­tor in to build the homes.’’

Giv­ing hous­ing and trans­port to one man could be a mas­ter­stroke by Ardern, as the two sec­tors need to be work­ing in per­fect har­mony.

But the chal­lenge ahead of Twyford is build­ing a light rail sys­tem and tens of thou­sands of homes si­mul­ta­ne­ously. He’ll have to get mov­ing. and will apart­ments and be $500,000 or


Phil Twyford was a strong critic of the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment, now he has to front up.

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