Give us tools to get build­ing

Short­cuts in the plan­ning pro­cesses are a good thing if we are to build more homes in our big cities. But the rest of the coun­try needs them too, writes Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment NZ pres­i­dent Dave Cull.

Manawatu Standard - - News -

Here’s an easy bet for you. You’ve got two builders com­pet­ing to put up a house. One is us­ing a pneu­matic Makita GN900SE gas fram­ing nailer, and the other is us­ing the same well­worn claw ham­mer they’ve used for the past 28 years.

It’s a no-brainer. Clearly the builder with in­no­va­tion, tech­nol­ogy and modern man­u­fac­tur­ing is go­ing to win.

This is the same bet we’re flirt­ing with when it comes to hous­ing pol­icy.

On one hand, we have the Ur­ban Devel­op­ment Author­ity (UDA), the agency that will be re­spon­si­ble for de­liv­er­ing on the Gov­ern­ment’s am­bi­tious Ki­wibuild pro­gramme.

To build at scale, the Gov­ern­ment is look­ing to give the UDA the power of com­pul­sory ac­qui­si­tion to as­sem­ble large parcels of land and the abil­ity to short­cut the oner­ous pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion pro­cesses re­quired un­der the Re­source Man­age­ment Act (RMA). In other words, a Makita gas fram­ing nailer.

On the other hand, we have non-uda projects, which still have to go through the RMA process – the trusty old claw ham­mer.

Make no mis­take, the UDA is a good thing. The an­swer to the hous­ing cri­sis is to re­move the hur­dles that have pre­vented us from build­ing homes. Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment NZ has worked closely with the Gov­ern­ment on the UDA pol­icy to en­sure it works with coun­cil struc­tures as seam­lessly as pos­si­ble.

But there is a risk that, if we stop re­forms with the UDA, we could be en­trench­ing the hous­ing prob­lem, not fix­ing it.

Here’s why: by seek­ing a series of RMA carve-outs for the UDA, the Gov­ern­ment is ef­fec­tively ad­mit­ting that our plan­ning sys­tem is bro­ken, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to ur­ban devel­op­ment.

It is an ac­knowl­edg­ment that the RMA is too con­sul­ta­tive and en­cour­ages a tragedy of the anti-com­mons. This is where ev­ery­one gets a say in a devel­op­ment, not just af­fected par­ties, and as a re­sult many worth­while projects never get off the ground.

The RMA’S con­sul­ta­tion re­quire­ments also vastly com­pli­cate the al­ready dif­fi­cult mat­ter of as­sem­bling land for ur­ban devel­op­ment. Why do you think Auck­land has such a dearth of medium-rise build­ings com­pared with al­most ev­ery other city in the de­vel­oped world?

Un­for­tu­nately, early signs sug­gest the zeal for build­ing re­form seems to be lim­ited to the UDA, which will fo­cus on a hand­ful of re­ally big projects, the kind that only the likes of Auck­land, Welling­ton, Christchurch, Hamil­ton, or Tau­ranga could rea­son­ably take on.

The rest of New Zealand will have to strug­gle on with the RMA – a claw ham­mer with a cracked han­dle and wob­bly head.

But New Zealand is made up of more than just seven high­growth coun­cils. A devel­op­ment of 50 houses is a drop in the bucket for a city like Auck­land. But 50 houses is a big deal for a place like Cromwell, which is also in the grips of a hous­ing af­ford­abil­ity cri­sis.

New Zealand sim­ply has too many Cromwells to stop plan­ning re­form at the UDA stage. This is why LGNZ is strongly urg­ing the Gov­ern­ment to fol­low through, and ur­gently put whole-scale plan­ning re­form on the agenda.

We ac­knowl­edge the fo­cus on the high-growth coun­cils, as this is where our hous­ing prob­lem is most acute, but we can’t leave the rest of the coun­try be­hind. To do other­wise is to cre­ate a two-tier sys­tem devel­op­ment sys­tem that ef­fec­tively sows the seeds of the next hous­ing cri­sis.

If we want to tackle hous­ing af­ford­abil­ity across the whole coun­try, and not just in our big cities, we need to re­form our na­tional plan­ning leg­is­la­tion to en­able more res­i­den­tial build­ing to take place, whether it be in Gis­borne or Gore.

In short, we want to see ev­ery­one equipped with gas fram­ing nail­ers. That’s the kind of ex­cit­ing con­test that we want – an even play­ing field that re­sults in more houses, where we all end up win­ning.

We need to re­form our na­tional plan­ning leg­is­la­tion to en­able more res­i­den­tial build­ing to take place, whether it be in Gis­borne or Gore.

Ki­wibuild homes in Te Kauwhata, Waikato. Other parts of the coun­try need more homes too, ar­gues Dave Cull.

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