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.
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.