2 May 2019

KiwiBuild: Housing Minister doubts ministry head will front over 'minor' matters

3:02 pm on 2 May 2019

Housing Minister Phil Twyford says he doubts it's worth the time of the ministry's chief executive to front up to media about KiwiBuild when it relates to "minor operational details".

Phil Twyford during caucas run 5/5/15

Minister of Housing Phil Twyford Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Mr Twyford has had to defend his ministry in Parliament after it "misinterpreted" a official information request about KiwiBuild from the National Party.

The flagship house building programme has been beset by problems; one element under particular scrutiny by National Party housing spokesperson Judith Collins is the Crown underwrite - government money that can be used to remove the risk for developers.

It is aimed at getting developers on board, and getting more houses into the pipeline more quickly.

In March, Mr Twyford told the House the underwrite could be applied to houses that had already been built and subsequently added to the KiwiBuild numbers as part of a bigger development, under what is known as an "additionality test".

The main criteria was whether the proposal increased the supply of affordable homes in the KiwiBuild price range.

Today he told Parliament the "additionality tests" were carried out by ministry officials and he was advised "the test is conducted in each case".

Ms Collins then asked him if he was surprised to hear the ministry had told the National Party, through an OIA request, the tests were "done verbally" and that no written record existed.

Mr Twyford said he was.

But he clarified there were actually other documents and the ministry would clarify its OIA response.

Judith Collins

Judith Collins. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

When asked by Ms Collins whether it was acceptable for officials to be "playing so fast and loose" when $700 million worth of homes have been assessed, Mr Twyford said that was a matter for the ministry.

Afterwards he said the ministry had "misinterpreted the request", as officials thought that the National Party research unit was requesting a specific assessment report, but no such document existed.

"But the assessment is embodied in a whole lot of other communications", he said, "and they're going to get back to the National Party Research Unit this afternoon with that documentation".

Specific operational questions were for the ministry to answer, Mr Twyford said.

RNZ can find no evidence of Housing Ministry chief executive Andrew Crisp has done any media interviews since being appointed in December last year.

Mr Twyford was asked whether he would expect the Mr Crisp to front, given the controversy that has surrounded KiwiBuild.

"If you ask the chief executive about this, I'm sure you'll get a response," Mr Twyford said.

"But whether or not it's worth his time fronting up on camera to answer questions ... about minor operational details, I honestly doubt that.

"But by all means ask him."

RNZ requested an interview with Mr Crisp but that was declined.

The ministry supplied a written statement explaining why it had interpreted the National Party OIA in the way that it did.

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