Legislation to cut red tape for more new housing has passed in Parliament with cross-party support that provides an enduring solution to fixing New Zealand’s housing crisis.
The changes to the Resource Management Act enable much-needed homes to be built faster in our biggest cities, Housing Minister Dr Megan Woods and Environment Minister David Parker said.
People can build up to three homes of up to three storeys on most sites without the need for a resource consent, from August next year.
“Passing this legislation with support from the National Party, the Green Party and the Maori Party delivers stable, enduring policy on urban density. This gives New Zealand homeowners, councils, developers and investors greater certainty,” Megan Woods said.
“These changes address the overly restrictive planning rules that limit the types of homes people can build and where they can build them. These changes to the Resource Management Act will allow more affordable homes to be built more easily in areas with good access to jobs, transport, and community facilities like schools and hospitals.
This is a great outcome and combined with other recent changes, such as removing parking minimums and allowing up to six-storeys near key metropolitan centres and public transport stations puts New Zealand in an enviable position compared to many of the other countries and cities we like to compare ourselves to.
We can have confidence the changes will have an impact by looking at the outcome of the Auckland Unitary Plan (AUP). It is now just over five years old, becoming operative on 29 November 2016. The most recent housing consent data is for October meaning we’ve just under 5 years worth.
When the AUP became operative, the Council was issuing around 10,000 consents a year, still short of the 2004 peak of nearly 13,000 and coming after a nadir of just over 3,100 in the midst of the Global Financial Crisis. Since then record after record has been set and consents have doubled to around 20,000. Since the AUP came into force a total of around 73,000 consents have been issued.
The other notable aspect in the numbers is the rise of townhouses and which now make up nearly half of all consents issued.
That change in building typology has also resulted in the average floor area of new builds reducing from around 185m² to 145m².
The focus and pressure will now go on councils who have to update their existing planning rules and they have to publicly notify those changes by 20 August 2022.
It will be interesting to see Auckland Council responds to it and in particular, how much effort they put into trying to find loopholes to avoid changes to the suburbs closest to the city centre. One of the things that has been frustrating to me and many others has been the suggestion, particularly from the council, that the Unitary Plan is fine and delivering enough houses where were need them and that Auckland has a quality compact city approach to managing growth. This was reinforced in their response to the bill.
In a submission on the Bill, the council has reiterated its strong support for enabling more higher-density housing close to the city centre and larger urban centres, jobs and public transport, consistent with its quality compact city approach for managing growth.
In 2020 the council welcomed the National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS UD), and its focus on further intensification in these areas.
However, the council is seeking changes to this latest government proposal which would see widespread intensification dispersed across the city in places not served by essential public transport, water, and community infrastructure and in areas located far away from employment centres. This includes smaller coastal and rural towns on the outskirts of the city.
“Under Auckland’s Unitary Plan, zoning changes enable more than 900,000 additional dwellings. We are already consenting up to 20,000 homes a year, four times what we were a decade ago, and around two-thirds of new consents are for intensive housing.
“The constraint on housing in Auckland is not zoning changes but the cost of the infrastructure needed to support new developments, as well as skills and building materials shortages.
“We’re equally concerned that by allowing for intensification away from needed infrastructure such as public transport, existing problems of carbon emissions, congestion, and meeting infrastructure costs will worsen.
We’ve also seen comments, including here, suggesting that we don’t need to make changes to our inner suburbs as there’s already a lot of housing being built in those areas.
I wanted to explore that argument a bit more and see how well we’re doing towards creating a “compact city“? Are we actually seeing lots of homes being built in the areas closest to the jobs and amenities that the city centre provides?
We’ve published some numbers before by local board but to answer it more accurately I wanted to go deeper than that. Stats NZ also provide the consent data by Statistical Area 2 (SA2). Using that as an indicator, I’ve calculated the distance from the centre of each SA2 in Auckland to the middle of the city centre. This is a direct ‘as the crow flies’ distance rather than the distance by the road network or some other measure as that’s a bit outside my capability. I’ve also only included SA2s within the existing urban area or in the process of being urbanised. The SA2s included are shown below and the consents in them represent about 95% of all consents issued.
The results of by analysis are below. What stands out to me in this that immediately outside of the city centre, there’s a real gap in consents being issued. That gap of course lines up perfectly with the lack of development allowed in city fringe areas. I’ve also done this breakdown by the type of dwelling.
As some will be keen to point out,
- A decent chunk of the city fringe land is water
- There’s a lot more area within an 11km radius than there is a 2km one.
While both of those are true, they’re also not as significant of a factor as people think due to the shape of Auckland’s coastline and that much of the other land is rural. To highlight this, I’ve also looked at the consents by land area for each SA2.
As you can see, we have the same issue with not all that many consents issued in the areas closest to the city centre but a lot more happening further out in locations with fewer viable alternatives meaning residents are much more likely to drive.
With the changes these new requirements will bring it will be interesting to see how the shape of these graphs change over the coming years and as developments closer to the city become possible, it will also likely reduce the demand for new housing on the outskirts as the long commutes and fewer amenities available will them less attractive.