Last week the Government announced it had reached a housing accord with the Auckland Council in a bid to get more houses built and ease issues over housing affordability.
The legislation, to be introduced to Parliament as part of Budget 2013, will enable Special Housing Areas to be created by the Auckland Council with approval of Government. In these areas it will be possible to override restrictions on housing put in place by Auckland’s eight predecessor Councils, like the Metropolitan Urban Limit.
Qualifying developments in these Special Housing Areas will be able to be streamlined, providing they are consistent with Auckland’s Unitary Plan, once it is notified, expected in September this year. New greenfield developments of more than 50 dwellings will be able to be approved in six months as compared to the current average of three years and brownfield developments in three months as compared to the current average of one year. The streamlined process will not be available for high rise developments that will need to be considered under existing rules until the Unitary Plan has been finalised in 2016.
“This is a three year agreement to address these housing supply issues in the interim until Auckland Council’s Unitary Plan becomes fully operative and the Government’s Resource Management Act reforms for planning processes take effect.
“The Government respects in this Accord that it is for Auckland to decide where and how it wishes to grow. The Government is giving new powers for council to get some pace around new housing development and is agreeing on aspirational targets to ensure Auckland’s housing supply and affordability issues are addressed.
Overall the accord seemed straight forward enough and fairly sensible. At a high level the council would decide on a number of Special Housing Areas. Qualifying developments within these areas are able to use a fast tracked process to get consent and would have to comply with the rules in the Unitary Plan when it is formally notified later this year.
To me the accord seemed fairly positive as it would make it quite easy for medium density developments – the kind that will likely be the majority of intensification that occurs – to happen in any brownfield areas selected. This was especially the case as a site only needs capacity for 5 dwellings to qualify. There was one issue though, while the council would be able to select the special housing areas, the government had to approve them. That leaves the question of what happened if the council and government couldn’t agree on where the special housing areas should be.
Today it seems we have our answer. Along with the budget, the government has introduced the legislation to enable the special housing areas to be designated. Nick Smith has also issued a press release about it which includes this.
“If an accord cannot be reached in an area of severe housing unaffordability, the Government can intervene by establishing special housing areas and issuing consents for developments.”
Budget 2013 includes $7.2 million over four years to help the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment fund the initiative.
The legislation will go through its first reading as part of Budget 2013 before being sent to a select committee for a shortened six-week timetable for urgent consideration and progress.
“This legislation is an immediate and short-term response to housing pressures in areas facing severe housing affordability problems,” Dr Smith says.
“This provides time for the Government’s substantive changes to resource management reforms and the subsequent council planning processes to bear fruit and address these land and housing supply issues in the longer term.”
In other words, if the council and government can’t come to an agreement on the locations for the special housing areas, the government will simply override the council and do what they want. It makes a complete mockery of the announcement that the government and council made last week. It turns out that this is not a case of both sides compromising but one of the government twisting the councils arm behind its back to get their way while also forcing the council to smile at the camera and pretend everything is good.
Len Brown has obviously also been surprised by this as he has already come out with the statement below.
Auckland Mayor Len Brown has welcomed the introduction of legislation for housing accords, but says he will be seeking clarification on a number of points to ensure the final legislation is consistent with the draft Auckland Housing Accord.
“There are clauses in the bill introduced today that appear to be inconsistent with the Auckland Housing Accord,” says Len Brown.
“My expectation is that the Select Committee process will provide an opportunity to clear up these inconsistencies.
“Clearly, in relation to the accord, the point of the legislation is to give effect to the agreements we reached.
“The accord still needs to be considered and agreed by the Auckland Council’s Governing Body. Before we can do this we need to be certain that the legislation is consistent with the agreements in the accord.
Len Brown said he would be writing to Housing Minister Nick Smith to raise questions about the consistency of the accord and the current bill.
The Housing Accord is an agreement between Auckland Mayor Len Brown and the Minister of Housing aimed at tackling issues of housing affordability and supply in Auckland.
It is subject to agreement by Auckland Council.
The streamlined consenting process outlined in the accord can only take effect once the council’s draft Unitary Plan is adopted for notification – expected to be September this year.
It would also be interesting to see how the government determine housing unaffordability, my guess would be the flawed Demographia study as it is something that the government have pointed to in the past.