The question of how many available sections there are in Auckland for development has yet again raised its head in the last couple of days, with much debate over whether there are 15,000 or 2,000 or some number in between of sections available to build houses on. This from yesterday’s NZ Herald:
Auckland has 2000 new sections ready to build houses on, says Mayor Len Brown, who last month claimed there was enough land for 15,000 homes.
As debate grows about housing and land supply in Auckland, Mr Brown is no longer claiming the city has enough new land to build 15,000 houses “right now”.
Instead, he is saying there is capacity for 15,000 homes on ready-to-go greenfield land in areas such as Flat Bush, Takanini and Hobsonville, but only 2000 sections have reached the building stage.
“The remainder require subdivision and internal servicing by private sector developers to create sections,” Mr Brown said.
Much of the debate seems to be around semantics – what constitutes ‘ready to go’ land? What is the role of Council in delivering land to that point? What is greenfield land?
Clearly there’s a process that developers go through to turn what starts out as countryside into urbanised housing. I’m not really an expert but it seems like it probably goes along these lines:
- Land is highlighted as suitable for future urban growth (i.e. placed inside the urban growth boundary). Usually this land seems to get a ‘future urban’ zone or something similar to prevent further subdivision that would make it difficult for that land to be comprehensively redeveloped in the future.
- Structure planning occurs to highlights where roads, parks, schools and other facilities should go as well as which areas should be zoned for what activities/intensities in the future.
- Rezoning occurs to enable redevelopment. Bulk infrastructure (water mains, arterial roads etc.) is provided.
- Land is subdivided down to section sizes and internal roads and pipes, electricity and phone lines are provided to each site.
- House is built and then occupied.
At some point (between steps three and four it would seem) the job of council is done. The main roads have been built, the land has been rezoned, the bulk water supply, wastewater pipes and so forth have been put in. Unless the Council is fulfilling the role of land developer, which in some cases they might well be (like Flat Bush town centre, which I think the Council owns) then it’s hard to lay too much blame at Council for not forcing developers into the final processes of subdividing and building on their land. Ironically one of the biggest greenfield developments on the go at the moment is at Hobsonville – where the government is effectively ‘the developer’. Maybe they need to tell themselves to hurry up and develop that land a bit quicker?
So it seems to me as though something is clearly going wrong between the ‘rezoning’ step and the actual land subdivision step – the difference between the 15,000 figure (which is quite a lot of capacity) and the 2,000 figure (which really isn’t that much). Some developers are sitting on land that has been rezoned and has been provided with bulk infrastructure yet for some reason they’re not subdividing it down to urban sized lots and either building the houses themselves or getting someone else to build the houses. It would be really great to get a better understanding of what’s needed in that process and what’s going wrong at the moment.
Of course Housing Minister Nick Smith’s proposal to get rid of the urban limits doesn’t do anything about resolving the issues that are clearly holding back the supply of sections in current greenfield areas. It’s way back at step one – vastly increasing the amount of land highlighted as potentially suitable for future urban development. Not too dissimilar from seems to already be happening actually.
Dr Smith vowed to break the “stranglehold” of the council’s policy of containing urban sprawl – a policy he says is “killing the dreams of Aucklanders” by driving up house prices.
The minister wants to open up more land outside the existing metropolitan urban limit to peg back land prices which, he said, were the biggest factor putting home ownership out of reach of many.
Mr Brown hit back, saying Dr Smith was advocating a flawed Los Angeles model of “suburban sprawl” going back to the 1940s and 1950s.
The mayor said the new unitary plan – a draft is being released on Friday – provided for a balanced approach of intensification of existing land and releasing new land to house a further million people in Auckland over the next 30 years.
Ironically of course the government’s process for the Auckland Unitary Plan means that no new greenfield land highlighted in the Plan will actually become rezoned for development (i.e. step three) until quite a few years from now – as pointed out by Phil Twyford in parliament today and by Brian Rudman in the NZ Herald last week.
Hopefully the release of the draft Unitary Plan at the end of this week will start to shed some light on all these issues.