Back in March and just before the council released the Unitary Plan, Nick Smith hit headlines by saying that he was going to smash Aucklands Metropolitan Urban Limit in a bid to make housing more affordable but it appeared he was primarily focused on enabling the city to sprawl faster. Over the ensuring weeks a lot of claims and counter claims flying between the council and the government over the best solution. The government seemed to just want the current urban limits removed and for the development process to start. The council suggested that the fastest way for that to happen was actually through implementing the Unitary Plan sooner as that is intended to open up new land and that elements within it would result in better overall developments.
Eventually both parties decided to take the arguing behind closed doors to try and work things out. Today both parties have announced that they have come to an agreement over the issue in the form of the Auckland Housing Accord. Here is the governments take on it.
An Auckland Housing Accord has been agreed today by Housing Minister Dr Nick Smith and Auckland Mayor Len Brown to urgently increase the supply and affordability of housing in Auckland.
“This Accord will help deliver thousands of new homes for Auckland by streamlining the planning and consenting process and getting Government and Council working more closely together on housing development,” Dr Smith said.
“This balanced and pragmatic agreement addresses the economic risks to New Zealand’s economy of an over-heated and supply constrained Auckland housing market. It is good news for Auckland families wanting access to more affordable houses to buy and rent.”
The legislation, to be introduced to Parliament as part of Budget 2013, will enable Special Housing Areas to be created by the Auckland Council with approval of Government. In these areas it will be possible to override restrictions on housing put in place by Auckland’s eight predecessor Councils, like the Metropolitan Urban Limit.
Qualifying developments in these Special Housing Areas will be able to be streamlined, providing they are consistent with Auckland’s Unitary Plan, once it is notified, expected in September this year. New greenfield developments of more than 50 dwellings will be able to be approved in six months as compared to the current average of three years and brownfield developments in three months as compared to the current average of one year. The streamlined process will not be available for high rise developments that will need to be considered under existing rules until the Unitary Plan has been finalised in 2016.
“This is a three year agreement to address these housing supply issues in the interim until Auckland Council’s Unitary Plan becomes fully operative and the Government’s Resource Management Act reforms for planning processes take effect.
“The Government respects in this Accord that it is for Auckland to decide where and how it wishes to grow. The Government is giving new powers for council to get some pace around new housing development and is agreeing on aspirational targets to ensure Auckland’s housing supply and affordability issues are addressed.
“The Accord sets a target of 9,000 additional residential houses being consented for in Year 1, 13,000 in Year 2, and 17,000 in Year 3. This is a huge boost on the average 3,600 homes that have been consented each year over the past four years and the 7,400 a year over the past 20 years.
“The Accord is a sensible solution to the problem of ensuring a robust process for submissions and hearings on Auckland’s 30 year Unitary Plan, while ensuring progress is made now on Auckland’s housing supply and affordability issues. It is about getting on and building the least contentious 39,000 houses of the 400,000 identified in the draft Unitary Plan.
“This agreement will also enable the Government and Council to make progress on other housing issues. There is a commitment to an inquiry into building material and construction costs, a better coordination on delivering core infrastructure to support new housing and a feasibility study on the development of New Zealand’s first online building consent process in Auckland. There are also significant developments at Tāmaki, Hobsonville, Papakura and Weymouth and across Housing New Zealand’s Auckland housing stock to improve the quality and quantity of Auckland homes.
“This Accord is the product of six weeks of intense discussions with Auckland Mayor Len Brown, his deputy Penny Hulse, and many council and government officials. I wish to publicly thank them for their willingness to engage and to help find this constructive way forward.”
The Auckland Housing Accord is subject to agreement by the Auckland Council and legislation being passed by Parliament. The Accord and legislation will expire when the new Auckland Unitary Plan becomes fully operative, expected in 2016.
At first glance it seems like a fairly decent comprise solution however as always, the devil is in the detail. The way I read things, the council will nominate a series of greenfield and brownfield special housing areas in which the less controversial elements of the unitary plan will take effect straight away. That means that for the rest of Auckland, the unitary plan won’t come into effect until it has been through the Board of Inquiry process set out by Amy Adams earlier this year (or late last year). Allowing the council to decide on the areas that will be subject to this seems like a good idea.
The area of the announcement that most caught my attention was the comments that the streamlined processes will not apply to high rise developments, after all, just what is deemed high rise? The factsheet provided goes someway to answering that.
Overall the accord seems like a decent compromise between the government and council, it will however be interesting to see what areas get selected as special housing zones. Here is the accord itself, the factsheet and the Q&As that go with it.
Also here is Len Browns take on it with the most interesting part being that he suggests that in return for faster consenting in these special housing areas, including affordable housing components in them will likely be a council requirement.