21 Aug 2019

Revealed: The government's plan to allow cities to grow up - and out - to solve the housing crisis

7:27 pm on 21 August 2019

The government wants to be able to direct councils to free up planning rules to allow cities to grow both out and up, in a bid to solve the housing crisis.

Construction site manager of a building site looking on a structure

A new strategy to allow cities to build both up and out has been proposed. Photo: 123rf

The Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford and Environment Minister David Parker unveiled the proposed new strategy at a housing development in Porirua this morning.

And they're confident their plan will be able to reassure even the most sceptical NIMBY.

Carrus executive chairman Sir Paul Adams said the Resource Management Act and overly restrictive planning rules were hamstringing development.

They played a role in slowing down Carrus' 800-home development in Kenepuru, Porirua, he said.

"That really cost us about a year, a lot of money in terms of planning, which is really just a waste at the end of the day, and it gets passed on to the end purchaser," Sir Paul said.

"If we could remove the impediment of creating adequate supply of residential sections we can match the supply and demand curve and truly create more affordable housing."

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Phil Twyford. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller.

Mr Tywford said under the government's proposal, councils - particularly in the six high growth centres - would be given a clear direction to loosen their rules.

"It tells councils that they must make room for growth. In their cities, their urban core and transport corridors they must lift the height and density restrictions that currently stop people building the kinds of homes that they want," he said.

Councils will also have to take a long-term approach to urban planning that brings together transport, housing and infrastructure.

Mr Twyford said the focus would be on high-quality development that avoided the pitfalls of sprawl.

"It's possible to create high and medium density communities with quality urban design and provision for open spaces that will reassure even the most sceptical NIMBY," Mr Twyford said.

David Parker, Minister for Economic Development, Environment, and Trade and Export Growth.

David Parker. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Mr Parker said it wouldn't mean cities were overrun by high rises and apartments, but a mix of developments.

The plan would help shift the attitudes of councils and ratepayers concerned about intensification.

"I think most people accept that when you've got the number of people sleeping on the streets that we see in some of our main centres something's got to change," Mr Parker said.

"You can't change things without changing things."

The government said it had broad support from councils for the plan.

Porirua Mayor Mike Tana is a fan, describing it as an "enabler".

"This I think is a great response to ensure that we're all connected up, local government, central government, and the developments as well."

The best way to combat the not-in-my-backyard attitude was to "provide an exemplar", he said.

"You show people what can be built, building houses that are actually future proofed, and actually do address the issues around the environment."

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff welcomed the move, but cautioned against planning for growth without having the funding to go with it.

There needed to be some degree of revenue sharing between central and local government, he said.

That sentiment was echoed by Tauranga Mayor Greg Brownless.

"We need a significant investment by government in the transport network to service that housing," Mr Brownless said.

"I'd also like to see government look at ways of helping councils fund the cost of growth, because it's councils that pay the bills."

The government said it would not be giving councils extra funding to carry out their planning duties - but it was looking at ways to help with funding and financing infrastructure.

Judith Collins at the Select Committee hearings.

Judith Collins. Photo: RNZ

But National Urban Development spokesperson Judith Collins said the strategy was full of flowery words that didn't mean much.

"It builds off the National one that we did in 2016 and it's now got things like 'using ecologically-sensitive design', I don't know what that means and it doesn't look like there's any detail," Ms Collins said.

She said it was a stop-gap for proper RMA reform - reform that she said wouldn't be forthcoming because the Greens and New Zealand First wouldn't be able to agree.

Consultation on the government's proposal is open until 10 October, with the National Policy Strategy likely to take effect in the first half of next year.

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