Resource Management Amendment Bill: New Zealand cities are growing
In October 2021, the government made what to many appeared to be a sweeping announcement. They introduced the Streamlined Intensification Planning Process (ISPP), which offered a new streamlined process that would help Tier 1 councils implement intensification policies.
On top of this, the government has said these councils will have to adopt Medium Density Residential Standards (MDRS), allowing landowners to develop up to three three-storey houses without needing the consent of council resources.
After recovering from the initial shock, councils have had to scramble and seek expert advice on which areas of this bill are feasible and which they can push back on.
Now, five months later, Auckland Council has responded.
Is the government’s objective unrealistic?
As a planner and proponent of housing for all, my initial reaction to this policy change was positive. Every major city in the world has gone through a similar evolutionary stage, in which they run out of space to get out and just have to go up. Some do it better than others, but we’re not alone.
Many have been disappointed with the councils’ handling of New Zealand’s housing supply problem and their lack of meaningful change. This policy implements the kind of change we need. It will also increase residential real estate potential, provide more opportunities to change our residential areas and ultimately provide housing for our growing population.
However, it wasn’t until soon after that I read about the government’s target of 57,000 homes in Auckland within five to eight years, which is 50% more than what we are doing now. My suspicions that this goal was realistic were confirmed by the many builders I spoke to, who all laughed it off and said, “And who’s going to build them?”
While I continue to believe that this policy is heading in the right direction, there is a risk that being so large in such a tight window of time, and there will be poor design results (a theory that was also shared by the builders and designers I spoke to).
Then, not long ago, councils across New Zealand scrapped minimum vehicle parking requirements. Parking in new developments will now be dictated by market demand. From an environmental point of view, this is an excellent initiative. However, coupled with recent government policies and the Big Hairy Audacious Goal of 57,000 houses in Auckland, this could potentially put Kiwis at risk of living in cramped, poorly designed houses and overflowing streets.
Is this a bad decision? No. Will there be localized pain as we increase density and move away from a car-dominated city and automobile space at the same time? Yes. We shouldn’t avoid doing the hard stuff, but we must recognize that there will be significant impacts.
Another pain the Auckland council seems to be trying to avoid is over-complication.
It seems that after reviewing their new requirements, Auckland Council has decided that the best way to handle everything is with a massive rezoning of the city. Now, instead of the previous three zones, the Council has proposed to simplify things by re-zoning the majority of Auckland as mixed urban housing.
While streamlining this process is certainly something I agree with, I was disappointed to see the decision to keep the majority of the special character areas.
The Council’s proposal to remove 70% of the 21,000 homes from intensification efforts is, in my view, unfairly high, and I suspect the actual number should be more around the 10,000 mark or lower. Personally, I find it hard to see 15,000 homes being called a ‘special character’ in Auckland when assessing affordability and supply of land.
However, I also suspect that the Board is aware of this and is in fact prepared to reduce this number throughout the hearing process. I read this as the Council’s opening bet in a very controversial area and we should expect to see a major pushback from central government.
Infrastructure – the missing piece
Like many others, I am waiting to find out what the infrastructure plan will be. This essential element was missing in the government’s announcement, and even after the Council’s recent proposal, it still remains unanswered.
Although the Council lists infrastructure as a potential constraint as a qualifying criterion, it has not identified areas of Auckland which it believes have insufficient infrastructure.
If that answer seems a little vague, that’s because it is. This is probably due to the time they had to formulate an answer. Auckland Council only had five months to announce these changes and didn’t have enough time (or budget) to highlight up to suburban or street level, let alone street level. of the House.
On the other hand, the vagueness could also be due to the significant lack of guidance the government has offered councils on how to successfully reach 57,000 homes in Auckland.
Despite some shortcomings and some government oversight, I can’t knock a plan designed to provide more housing for Kiwis.
Concerns about infrastructure are legitimate. In short, it is a funding problem. Infrastructure and funding must align for this plan to work. However, it opens the debate about debt levels and infrastructure financing models that successful governments have avoided or, at best, tweaked at the margin.
I also believe that there is a future where all of this can work, but it has to work together. More supply is the first part. For good and bad, this eliminates a significant amount of scheduling constraints.
Next comes the infrastructure.
The same question we asked five months ago remains: will Parliament be as bold with infrastructure and funding as it has been with this law?
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