Residents and political parties appear to cautiously support measures to allow for higher-density housing, but they also raise concerns about government overreach and regulatory confusion.
In a rare display of bipartisanship, the Labor government and the National Party today jointly announced measures to allow up to three houses, up to three stories high, without requiring the consent of resources.
City councils could choose to make the proposed standards more permissive for builders, and developers could request resource consent to go beyond what the standards would allow.
Mission Bay Kohimarama Residents Association president Don Stock said they supported the escalation, but believed there was a growing trend for the central government to override and ignore the needs and decision-making of smaller communities.
“Different areas have different attributes and those attributes need to be taken into account before any wholesale changes are made. If those changes are made by Wellington fiat, then there seems to be very little opportunity for local communities to have a say about it. the nature of the development that continues.
“Some areas may be very suitable for having three-story houses, I do not deny it at all. But there will be other areas, particularly single-family housing areas, character areas, etc., that will be left out of the rather limited exemptions that are proposed, but they still have a certain character that deserves protection.
“I probably don’t live in a character area myself … I’m talking more about the one-size-fits-all principle that applies without local input that takes local opinions into account.”
He said planning laws and council bylaws were in place to protect this for a reason, and that the government should focus on fixing the resource consent process rather than stepping it up in the first place.
“Why don’t we fix the basic problems with the process and then turn our attention to whether we need to have more land – each suburb regardless of local character.”
Newtown Residents Association Vice President Martin Hanley welcomed what he called escalation to scale “where new buildings are not much taller and shade existing homes.”
He said the Wellington City Council had recently imposed much more permissive height limits that would allow buildings of six to eight stories.
“Being able to do things now and make more people live closer to the heart of our cities is a great thing, this is a much better initiative than the problematic, off-scale, six to eight-story buildings that appear next to low-rise houses .
“We know that there is a climate crisis and we know that there is a housing shortage, and global warming and escalating prices are not going to wait to build things in 10 or 15 years.
“The Newtown community has its own blueprint for how to densify our suburb and we would love to partner with Renters United and Generation Zero and house people now. The world can’t wait.”
A ‘hollow trick’ – ACT
ACT Party leader David Seymour said the escalation law was an “empty stunt” that would accomplish little.
“We have sewage on all the beaches in Auckland because we have had more development than we have funded the infrastructure to … we don’t need the chaos over planning rules, we need to fund the infrastructure, order the supply of building materials and get the orderly quality assurance, all of which ACT policy does.
“The things that hold you back, if you talk to the developers, are things like taking 20 days to get a LINZ title, things like constantly coming and going with advice that is basically dragging the chain because development is too expensive for them.” .
He said the proposed bill would not deregulate, but would set aside the rules agreed to under the Auckland plan.
“The Auckland Unitary Plan has said that over the past four years 420,000 additional homes are theoretically possible, but prices went up 25 percent … because city councils don’t have the funds for infrastructure and are doing everything they can to stop the developing”.
“There are many places where people are stepping up and developing under the current plan. What will create chaos is telling a lot of people ‘what you bought, we are just putting it aside without thinking about the local implications.’
“At one end you have a process that is well understood, that city councils put plans and zoning in place and change their rules over time and it has a regular cycle. At the other end of that spectrum, two political parties decide they want some positive press and they say ‘we are going to rush a law in Parliament that changes it like that. So, again, it is about certainty’.
‘People need houses’ – Greens
Green Party co-chair James Shaw said the party would not take a position until they had seen the bill, but it sounded like a good move that would be protected by the bipartisan approach.
“Nimbyism is unlikely to go away completely, but I think this provides a very welcome step to make sure we have the tools to overcome it.
“Having that bipartisan support is really good because it means that both this government and any future national government … have a kind of cover there.”
Shaw said he thought it was entirely possible to increase density without destroying the character of a place.
“People need houses. We are desperately, desperately short of houses, particularly in this city, and I think people will have to get used to the idea that things change over time.
“There is no reason why modern apartment buildings have to be ugly. You know, I spent a lot of my life living in London and there are some fantastic, very high-density developments there. I don’t see why we can’t have that kind of high quality dense life here in New Zealand. “
Higher-density homes would also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“It’s really clear that urban form is a big part of what will help reduce, in particular, our transportation emissions, and the higher standards we apply to building those houses, the less electricity and energy we will use to keep them heated. “