Housing Minister Nick Smith yesterday played another card in the housing blame game, this time targeting resource management consenting.
But while he was doing that his colleague, Social Housing Minister was forced to admit one of her press secretaries had been leaking details of a police investigation into the chairman of an Auckland Marae, which had taken in homeless people some of whom had been sleeping in cars.
The investigation was into Mangere’s Te Puea Marae chairman Hurimoana Dennis, a police inspector and national Maori strategic adviser for NZ Police.
This is not the first time Ms Bennett has been involved in information leaks about people who have embarrassed her politically.
In 2009 she provided benefit details of a solo mother who criticised her decision as Social Development Minister to cut back a training allowance.
But her actions yesterday are a real sign that the Government’s political management of the Auckland housing shortage are beginning to unravel.
There was more evidence in Parliament during Question Time, again featuring Ms Bennett.
As an Associate Finance Minister, she was answering a question on behalf of Finance Minister, Bill English.
Labour’s Grant Robertson asked whether he (English) agreed with the Reserve Bank Governor that concerns about the stability of the financial system were rising as a result of rising house prices in Auckland and other regions?
Her first response was to obfuscate – an approach which earned a reprimand from Speaker, David Carter.
She was then asked the question again and said: “We certainly acknowledge that there are risks with rising house prices and people’s debt to that, and that there may be a correction. In the totality of what the Reserve Bank Governor has said, he is entitled to make his opinions, and we do not have to have an agreement on whether or not we agree.”
It is becoming clear that the Government is beginning to become frustrated with the increasing warnings from the Reserve Bank Governor, Graeme Wheller, about the potential dangers of rapidly rising house prices in Auckland.
The Government’s argument is that the shortage is caused by a lack of supply (which the Governor agrees with), and then the Government argues that the shortage has been caused by the failure of the Auckland Council to allow the development of enough houses.
The Council, on the other hand, argues that its consents are not the problem, but it’s the failure of the construction industry to build the houses that have consented.
Last Friday POLITIK published figures from a presentation by Auckland City CEO, which showed that last year though 9000 houses had consented, only 6000 were built.
Mr Town said that 95% of all Auckland consents were delivered within statutory timeframes.
However, a senior Beehive official provided POLITIK with some commentary on Mr Town’s claims:
“What these figures miss is the pre-application process in consenting,” the official said.
“This is not measured by official statistics and in Auckland, the available evidence suggests it is 18 months long on average, not 20 working days, and appears to be particularly compliance-heavy, capricious, and an important constraint on supply.
“In my view, the consenting process is a serious but largely unseen barrier. “
Dr Smith’s figures released yesterday however dealt with the formal consenting process and showed that 96.6% of all consents were granted within the specified time limit but even so, notified consents were taking 146 days on average across the country while non-notified consents were taking only 21 days.
The Minister is placing great store to speed the process up in the rewrite of the Resource Management Act which is currently before the Local Government and Environment Committee but which has been delayed for another two months.
Meanwhile, Labour presented research yesterday which confirmed that consents in Auckland had fallen.
Their data, which showed Auckland consents back to 1992, showed monthly consents had peaked in October 2002 (when, of course, they were in Government) at 1945 and then fallen after the 2008 GFC to a low of 186 in January 2009 (By which stage National were in Government) and have since recovered to 771 a month in 2015 but still below the record 1015 a month in 2002.
What is clear from events yesterday is that Auckland housing is now the top political issue in Wellington and that the Government has been forced to defend its position.
The question remains though whether there is anything the Government can do to increase supply.