There have been quite a few battles in parliament between Housing Minister Nick Smith and Labour’s housing and Auckland issues spokesperson Phil Twyford over the past couple of weeks on the issue of urban limits, land supply and affordable housing. Here’s today’s stoush (transcript here):

One thing that keeps confusing me in this argument is why everyone seems to be focusing so much on opening up additional land for rezoning to urban uses (effectively the “busting the urban limits”) when it seems like the real problem is that existing land zoned for urban development and serviced with main roads and bulk water/wastewater simply isn’t getting to the next stage of being subdivided up and put on the market.

This is the difference between the 15,000 units worth of land that’s ‘ready to go’ in the sense of council having done everything in its power to rezone, provide main roads and bulk infrastructure – and the 2,000 subdivided sections which are ‘ready to go’ in the sense that someone could build a house on them tomorrow. In Flat Bush, the two sit side by side:ready-to-go-land-flatbushSo not only is ‘busting the urban limits’ completely stupid in that it sets up an urban form nearly impossible to service with infrastructure (because the powers to be just never know where future development might occur), it also seems like such a policy would make absolutely no difference to what’s holding back the delivery of sections on the market which are ready to build on. That seems to be a problem largely caused by the development industry – whether wilfully (in the form of land-banking) or just because the owners can’t get themselves into a position to do this work.

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  1. I see that Nick Smith is meeting Mayor Len Brown and the Deputy Mayor next week. I hope they have the patience to explain this to him reeeeal slow, in words of two syllables or less.

    1. Sadly I don’t think talking reel slow will have any effect. Nick smith is ideologically predisposed to not understand. The council is doing exactly what he says the goverent wants. No one seems to be picking up on the fact that having set up Auckland to be able to govern, the goverent seems he’ll bent on knee capping Auckland. There is a whole lot of legislation being tinkered with that is giving greater precedence to the will of government.

    2. I don’t think it is going to be a discussion sort of a meeting. It is going to be more like a statement of government intent. The reason the government can feel comfortable to over-ride the council is due to the simple maths of the political opinion polls – to quote from the Herald article on the latest political polling this morning:

      ‘The results indicate National has not been overly affected by those issues. There was a slight increase in those who believed the Government was heading in the right direction up one point to 49 per cent, compared with 43 per cent who said it was not. A view that the Government was moving in the right direction was stronger in Auckland – 56.5 per cent of those polled agreed, compared with 45 per cent in the rest of the country.’

      Feedback like that is going to give the government confidence that it can pretty much do what it likes.
      The frustrating thing is that the council has been having a discussion with its citizens on the Unitary Plan which in theory does represent the views of the people.
      There is a public relations war to be battled for and won on what the future vision for Auckland should be.
      I wonder if it needs to go back to the most basic premise for the argument eloquently expressed that a city should feature a range of housing choices linked by PT friendly modes of transport.
      In my view that premise is sustainability.

      Green Party leader Russel Norman – queried Bill English his climate change beliefs and noted that those beliefs may be at odds with his leader. I wonder what Nick Smith’s, Steven Joyce’s or Gerry Brownlees’s views on anthropological climate change are? I think their answers would give an interesting insight into their strength of character and an understanding on where their thinking is coming from. A discussion on what NZ’s response should be to climate change hasn’t really been in the mainstream political agenda now for a number of years, either by accident (superceded by the GFC) and possibly by intent.

      The response to anthropological climate change is fundamentally a question of ethics and responsibility to future generations. It is also a basic question of resources – oil is going to get more expensive. And these factors should be at the forefront in deciding how cities should function as vibrant and healthy communities in future.

  2. What really needs to happen is for the government/council to buy the land, develop it to work best with the city and then let the private sector come in and buy the lots and build their houses, town houses and apartments. It seems to be working well at hobsonville, only at snails pace however.

    1. Franz, thanks, a great link. As myself being from Austria and knowing Vienna it is kind of different to Auckland but a lot to learn from it. And let me also say all critics who pledge for “you cannot compare Auckland to such a city” are not fully right. The spreadout of Metropolitan Area of Vienna is probably pretty much the same as Auckland so the really stupid argument about density in Auckland is not true. Auckland combined in the super city a huge radius and all suburb centres. Vienna (and that is where the density of about 4000/km2 is calculated) is only the council boundaries. However, there are living about 2.4 million people in the 20 km radius of the city centre (Metropolitan Region) so the density of the metropolitan area is fairly the same like Auckland (around 2000) so comparing these two cities might be applicable.

      Regarding housing: What keeps costs down in Vienna is a huge offer of state housing mostly for rent. Furthermore, the subsidies when buying a flat or house is around 80.000 dollar at least and particular if you build in shared housing like appartments or terraced houses and build them ecological (passive houses, insulation, solar energy etc.) Fourthly, if you build a house or flat or whatever, if you need additional car parks (usually 1 is included in new buildings) you have to pay a yearly sticker for street parking, even in suburbs. Thus the ownership of cars is in Vienna around 300 per 1000 inhabitants what saves a lot of space for parking. That also keeps price for land a bit down. Just see it in that way the 300 aditional cars in Auckland per capita take 2,340,000 square metres of parking space in Auckland compared to Vienna you can built a hell a lot of appartments there. As the presentation points out, a lot of housing works with rent to ownership models where you get part of a cooperation who builts the house. After an agreed time you get an offer to buy the house or apartment and a proportion of your paid rents so far are offset towards the house price. Things to consider, when Austrians talk about house prices, it is Price for the land and the pure house, what means, no chattles like kitchen, lighting, typically also not even the glass for the shower cabin, etc.: no legal costs. What means add on another 20% to the figures of the presentation. That makes housing price a bit more comparable to Auckland then.
      Finally, if you want to build your house and there is no infrastructure yet, you have to cover that together with your neighbours, thus it is definitly not attractive to build houses in green land. That is particularly true for rural areas, only connecting your house to infrastructure can make another hundred thousand. Thirdly, the system of financing infrastructure is different, a bunch of investments are actually provided by the federal government so the city does not cover that, and the city does also not tax directly, what helps the mayor a lot with elections ;), and keep people calm.

      But some things to learn for the unitary plan: Vienna concentrate business, thus if you need something it is not necessary to drive around in the whole city. That means you do typically have centres for living and working with a really good PT connection. Secondly new developments foster low rise, (and low rise means in Vienna between 3 and 6 levels). This is particularly as you get about 20% more subsidies from the government if you build shared units. The number of 46% single houses is for the whole country, what shows that 54% of all housing real estate is actually shared buildings. And by having this financial goodie for building really well thought and constructed homes, the building quality is probably, together with Germany and Benelux Countries one of the best in the world. Thirdly, an area in a City will be only open for developments if PT and all base infrastructure is provided, or as said you pay for connection on your own. A good example is Europe’s largest urban development “Seestadt Aspern” where first the Subway plus the tram is built (it is to open soon) and it is a huge area of 2-6 level buildings

        1. thx, actually i should have proofread it better, but was quite in a hurry when summing it up.

  3. the really crazy thing is that if there were more than 2000 sections available that would tell me there is no demand for them, and developers would be going broke! The issues are more complicated than that though. There is a long and sometimes complex process to get between the two stages. How many sections are between these stages is the real question. That includes consented sections, those undergoing full engineering design, out for tender, and those under construction. If this isn’t happening to land in the MUL , there clearly are some bigger issues. However none of this has anything to do with the council MUL, and won’t magically fixed by expanding it to land.

  4. Twyford seems to have fallen into the trap that Minister for Sprawl’s officials set: The conversation is only about new greenfields sections, yet these are only one type of site for new dwellings and not the fastest to bring to market, just the kind that some lobbying detached house builders are set up to exploit. New, infill, or developed [ie removal of existing structure] buildings on land within the current boundaries and rules are almost certain to offer a greater number of dwelling sites right now [am trying to get the numbers] furthermore, these sites already have water, power, roads etc, and because they allow more of the attached typology, are also more able to supply more affordable dwellings.

    And isn’t that what this debate started off being about?

    1. But I suspect that Nick Smith and his lap dog officials are (very simplistiicly) assuming that those properties will only ever have the same kind of houses put back on them.

      So by this logic, redeveloping existing sites in the MUL won’t increase the housing stock (or if it does actually increase the stock, the land used will be so expensive that they won’t by definition be affordable to the new home buyers).

      Of course, the UP allows exactly this kind of affordable redevelopment to be done within the existing MUL of about half of Auckland exisitng properties to occur, and at densities of 1 dwelling per 300m2 for larger sites.
      So, getting new homes built within the MUL only requires the UP become operative and then you have houndreds of thousands of sites that are instantly ‘ready” for building on..

      I don’t know what Smith and Adams are up to but there is some kind of Gerry-(Brownlee)-mandering going on here you can smell, taste and touch it..

      And what if the MUL is expanded as far as Hamilton and Whangarei – how will that alone magic into existence the required building sites just like that.
      Unless Smith wants to get rid of the RMA as well… – My casually throwing away the rule of law like that.

      Whats next – Government Spy agencies spying on their own citizens and residents ala the Eastern European countries and cover ups when its exposed
      – wait, we already have that situation now….

      At this rate, even the likelihood of General Elections next year must come into doubt, as this Government seems hell bent on turning us into another Pacific Fiefdom with the way they’re steamrollering the very processes that they put into place as they no longer suit their purposes. Sounds more like Fiji to me.

    1. Except, lets take a little look at some facts this from that article:
      “The 1950s weatherboard house, sitting on a 984sq m section, was last sold to a family in 1983 for $139,000 **when it had a valuation of $79,500**.”

      So in 1983 the last time that house/land sold it was above CV then – not quite double CV (more like 1.75x,
      But back then we didn’t have banks falling over themselves to lend people money – in those days you had to have a good reason why the bank should loan you the money and 2nd and third mortgages were common, so that kept a lid on property prices.
      So, the fact it sold today for (only) 2x CV is only repeating the prices from 30 years ago.
      And note back then you probably couldn’t have put two houses on the site due to then ACC planning rules on site size per dwelling (would have 1 per 500m2 at best there).

      And of course, now that site is in the (Double) Grammar School Zone area so its worth a lot of money to certain buyers who value that sort of thing – hence the way above CV price.
      And this was obviously recognised by the amount of interest shown by the developer community at the auction as reported.

  5. Yeah there’s a pretty good argument that Council policies are pretty similar to what Nick Smith is saying. That is: build more sprawl.

    This is kinda weird as all indications suggest it’s been decades since new houses on the urban edge were built to be affordable.

  6. “Twyford seems to have fallen into the trap that Minister for Sprawl’s officials set: The conversation is only about new greenfields sections.”

    Good point. Recommend some stories pronto about successful brownfields re-developments to even the balance.

  7. I find Smith’s views quite disturbing for someone that has been the housing minister for just two months. He doesn’t seem to want to leverage the advances in the unitary plan which would benefit everyone, but rather put forward his silver-bullet that will solve everything. It’s completely backward and unprogressive.

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