The extraordinary deal between Labour and National to provide complete freedom to build up to three housing units three stories high on urban sections is coming under increasing fire from people you might ordinarily think were National Party allies.
Yesterday Auckland’s Mayor, Wayne Brown, had a go at the policy.
They follow ACT and a number of residents associations from Auckland’s National voting leafy suburbs.
And Gerry Brownlee, though now on National’s list, represented Christchurch’s very leafy (and affluent) Fendalton for years in Parliament and has suggested the National caucus is debating its support for the measure.
That won’t surprise Labour, who all along privately saw the move as a wedge issue which had the potential to divide National.
Nevertheless, National’s RMA spokesperson, Chris Bishop, appears determined to stick to the policy.
Brown yesterday attacked the three unit/three storey policy in an op-ed in The Herald.
“The (Auckland) council had taken years to come up with a Unitary Plan at a huge cost that allowed for way more new houses than needed given the slowdown in Auckland’s growth trajectory,” he said.
“The bi-partisan government mandate forcing councils to accept three homes of up to three storeys on most sites, regardless of whether the infrastructure was in place, now looks quite ridiculous.”
But the concerns about the bipartisan intensification move may be only the beginning of an argument about what our housing looks like and where it goes.
The Select Committee hearing submissions on the Natural and Built Environments Bill and the Spatial Planning Bill has this week split in two, half in Auckland and half in Wellington, so that it can get through the hundreds of submissions which include many on urban planning.
The key complaint was flagged last year by Judge Tony Randerson, who prepared the report on which the legislation is based, and that is the question of so-called “amenity” values in urban plans.
In his report, Randerson repeatedly defined one of the key aims of the reforms as being to put “a new focus on enhancing the quality of the natural and built environments to support the wellbeing of present and future generations.”
But in the legislation, which is now before the Environment Select Committee, the objective of enhancing the “quality” of the urban environment has been left out.
In contrast, the Bill’s objectives list the environmental outcomes it is intended to produce as; “the quality of air, freshwater, coastal waters, estuaries, and soils is protected, restored, or improved.”
Meanwhile, its outcomes for urban areas focus almost entirely on housing development.
Auckland Council’s chair of its Planning, Environment and Parks committee, Richard Hills, told the Auckland sitting of the Environment Committee that amenity values were a core underpinning of the current resource management system.
“The phrase amenity values in section seven of the Resource Management Act is relied on for managing a wide range of adverse effects,” he said.
Hills said he understood that the Government was concerned about NIMBYism or negative reactions to growth and change.
“However, we really feel it’s gone too far because some of the matters such as noise, glare, odour, privacy, overshadowing those sorts of things are really fundamentals of good city planning, urban design and development,” he said.
Instead, the legislation simply requires, as an outcome, a well-functioning urban environment.
Hills also said the Auckland Council was concerned about the possibility within the Bill that demolition of a heritage property could be allowed if an offset activity was undertaken.
The Bill provides for offsetting actions or redress in some cases when a property subject to a heritage protection order is demolished.
Devonport Heritage has been a vocal lobby group in Auckland which has managed to have the North Shore suburb where house sales regularly top $2 million declared a Special Character Area which limits the changes that can be made to century-old houses in the suburb.
Tris Deans, deputy chair, said her group wanted the Bill to do what the Auckland Council had done and provide protection for a whole area rather than just individual houses.
“ We want to see that entrenched or built into national legislation, so we’ve got some sense of our heritage, not just the single sites,” she said.
Committee Chair Eugenie Sage said there had been a big debate over heritage issues during the hearings on the 2021 amendments to the Resource Management Act to provide for the “three by three” intensification proposals.
She asked Deans whether there were issues with heritage constraining intensification.
“Of course, there are issues, but is it constrain or is it protect? “said Deans.
“You’ve got very limited areas. How much do you want to lose? In Devonport, we try to lose nothing.”
National’s RMA spokesperson, Chris Bishop, presented the case for intensification to the Committee.
“Do you accept that heritage protections on private property have an impact on the ability of people, people’s property rights? He asked Deans.
“In essence, yes, yes, they do. Of course, they do.” She replied.
Bishop: “What is the rationale for that? If I owned a turn-of-the-century villa and I want to demolish it. Why can I not do that?”
Deans: “Do we as a larger group want to value our cultural and built heritage? You’ve got to make that choice.”
The Property Council, however, complained that Councils were still finding “tools” to limit or stifle growth in the housing sector.
The Council also wanted to see more non-political people involved in the preparation of the regional plans rather than local councillors because councillors were likely to oppose intensification.
“Political appointees will often make decisions based on their constituents around voting,” Katherine Wilson, head of advocacy at the Council, told the Committee.
“So especially when it comes to intensification side of things around housing when you have local constituents maybe not supporting intensification on certain regions, they’ve got that real tension.”
The Christchurch City Council has refused to work with the Government’s new intensification and instead decided that homes up to six storeys will be allowed around the city’s shopping centres, but almost half the city’s residential properties will be exempt from new housing intensification requirements.
National List MP, and former Ilam MP, Gerry Brownlee told NewstalkZB that the National Party was aware of the objections in Christchurch to the three-storey/three-unit legislation.
“Inside the party, we’ve heard that response from the public,” he said.
“We’ve also recognized that some of the provisions around the choices that councils can make are probably not strong enough, and we’re having a discussion about that.”
Brownlee was unable to talk to POLITIK yesterday because he was visiting flood-damaged areas in Hawkes Bay, but his comments suggest that there is a move within National to revisit the medium-density housing rules.
That was probably inevitable.