If National is looking for reasons why it is stuck in the polls and why ACT is surging, it might look no further than its support for the Government proposal to effectively abolish planning restrictions on urban housing.
Last night’s Newshub-Reid Research poll showed that National had fallen 1.8 per cent to 26.9 per cent while ACT had jumped 4.9 per cent to 16 per cent.
ACT would appear to be on its way to achieving its ambition of supplanting National as the largest party on the centre-right of politics.
And yesterday, leader David Seymour took aim at the housing proposal.
He launched what he is calling a “public awareness campaign” against the proposal.
“It doesn’t matter how many houses could be theoretically built if there are no connections,” he said.
“Trying to solve an infrastructure shortage by zoning more land is like trying to solve a fuel shortage by buying more cars.”
Seymour was echoing objections to the proposal, which have been presented to a Select Committee by submitters as diverse as heritage housing organisations along with one of the country’s largest homebuilders.
Simply, the policy is projected to increase dwelling numbers by 14.6 per cent by 2043 by allowing residential homeowners do not require planning approval to build up to three dwellings, up to three storeys high, on any property in Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington and Christchurch.
Even a cost-benefit analysis released with the announcement last month forecast that the increased intensification could significantly impact other homeowners’ views (reducing property values by an average of $5,816.74) and reduce the amount of sun their dwellings got.
The measures are contained within the Resource Management (Enabling Housing Supply and Other Matters) Amendment Bill, which Parliament’s Environment Committee is currently hearing over 1000 submissions on.
National has supported Labour’s proposals. Judith Collins and the party’s housing spokesperson, Nicola Willis, joined Housing Minister Megan Woods and Environment Minister David Parker in a joint press conference to launch the proposal last month.
Some Labour sources took a cynical view of this; if there were protests about the proposals, then they would be likely to come from the “leafy” suburbs and National voters. Meanwhile, Labour could explain away the housing shortage by pointing out that National supported their solution.
A typical analysis of the proposal from those opposing it came from Wellington architect Bruce Welsh.
“The concept of permitting three dwellings per site up to 11 m high with few other restrictions and without needing a resource consent is a very simple approach,” he said.
“It will create a peppered suburbia with random sites with three-storey buildings adjacent to single-storey dwellings.
“All of a sudden, your neighbour could build 11 m high and block your sun, your view and create wind funnelling effects.
“This will create a slum type environment for some.”
Welsh said the proposal meant that beachfront houses could be built 11 m high, and fringe rural sites could be built out with three tall houses.
The case for “character” suburbs was put to the Environment Committee by Margot McRae from the Devonport Heritage Committee McRae is well known in Auckland as an advocate for the retention of the kind of Victorian bay window bungalows which predominate in the harbourside suburb she lives in.
According to “One Roof”, properties in the suburb (where Lorde was brought up) have a median sale price of $1. 84 million.
McRae said she realised some on the Committee would think of her a nimby from a leafy affluent suburb.
“But I live in a place that I love, and I want to fight for it, which I’ve done for so many years,” she said.
“So I live in this beautiful, historic suburb, and I unashamedly want to protect it.
“But I’m also an Aucklander, and I believe this Bill is an attack on all of Auckland.
“Even though we really want to end the housing crisis, I don’t think anybody wants believes that anywhere in the city deserves to have cheap and livable places foisted on it.
“Nobody, nobody wants shitty, horrible houses for their children to live in, and this is what’s lacking in this bill.”
McRae was challenged by Labour MP Deborah Russell with the central argument of those who favour the Labour-National proposal.
“We do actually have an extraordinary problem with house prices in this country and young people simply not able to afford their homes,” she said.
“So we need to do something.
“Would you accept as a compromise that perhaps some development could happen in areas which were within walking distance of public transport, whether it had a heritage overlay or not?”
“We’re obviously within walking distance of public transport,” replied McRae.
“I think the question is if Devonport was allowed to be developed with tall buildings, they would be so expensive that they wouldn’t provide affordable housing for new home buyers. The land values in places like this in Ponsonby, Devonport and other areas are so high that even if you did allow development, it wouldn’t actually really produce any more affordable housing for young people.”
Russell then asked if it would be okay to remove the public transport from Devonport, “seeing as we don’t want to have intensification.”
McRae said residents had the ferries and they could use their bikes but the public transport on Lake Road because it was clogged was very bad anyway.
The issue that she highlighted was a section in the Bill providing for the initiative which allows for so-called “qualifying matters”, which would allow city areas that had specific characteristics that might make it inappropriate to apply the new planning rules in full.
Those “qualifying matters” could include suburbs with a “special character” or heritage values.
But Auckland City Council’s Chief of Strategy, Megan Tyler, said there was a significant threshold of proof that was required through the Bill to provide the evidence as to why a suburb should not be part of the Bill.
“So it may well be that, for example, Long Bay, for those environmental reasons, would be something that would fit under the qualifying matters requirements,” she said.
“However, the extent of evidence and thresholds that we need to do there in the timeframe we’ve been given is such that if you multiply Long Bay by possibly hundreds of areas or situations in Auckland, it would possibly be impossible.
“And we have real concerns that while we may be able to make it, whether we can make it in time and whether that is time well spent when there are really obvious reasons in some areas that intensification at the scale is just not required.”
In its submission, the Council said the Auckland Unitary Plan had The AUP, already enabled over 900,000 dwellings to be built in residential areas alone, with an estimated market feasible capacity of around 650,000.
“Nearly 20,000 building consents now being issued, an all-time historic record, which is seeing more building consents issued in the current year than 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 combined,” the submission said.
“62 % of all new building consents are for multi-unit complexes, such as apartments and terraced housing.
“Growth is following the quality compact approach and that specifically most growth is taking place in the existing urban area (82% of consented dwellings).”
The submission said that overwhelmingly, the challenge for Auckland Council and all growth councils was the shortage of funding to provide all the infrastructure needed to create the places “that our communities deserve.”
Fletcher Residential, one of the country’s largest homebuilding companies, said it had significant concerns about the Bill, particularly relating to infrastructure.
“Fletchers does not support the ‘one size fits all approach of the Bill,” their submission said.
“This approach will not deliver a high-quality urban form, nor is it consistent with good urban planning.
“The blanket approach of the Bill effectively up-zones almost all existing lower-intensity zones, particularly in Auckland and Tier 1 areas.
“In many locations, these existing lower-intensity zones are not well serviced by existing (or proposed) infrastructure, including public transport, wastewater, stormwater, and schools.”
The company said that In many areas of Auckland, and particularly those in areas located at a distance from centres and public transport routes, infrastructure in Single House zones had not been planned for the level of density proposed.
“Shortfalls in infrastructure provision are a binding constraint on the supply of development capacity and on the ability of councils to respond to growth pressures,” their submission said.
Auckland’s Mayor Phil Goff focussed on the quality of the urban environment that the Bill was likely to produce.
“This isn’t about NIMBYism,” he said.
“This is about saying that everybody, including low-income people, deserves the same sort of things that you and I want.
“They want to have a decent living room in their house.
“And the standards in this mean that the living area can be tiny.
“They’d love to have a bit of a barbecue on a front lawn.
“They’d love to have an outlook where they weren’t looking into the back of somebody else’s building.
“Now we all want that, and that’s what we’ll buy on our salaries.
“But this bill needs to be about protecting the low-income people who don’t have the ability to protect themselves.”
Though the Bill seemed simple, and its accelerated progress through both the Select Committee and Parliament means it will pass before the end of the year, its implications may reverberate politically through next year.
That may not be good for National.