Another announcement yesterday coinciding with Auckland’s Anniversary Day highlighted just how much effort the Government is currently putting into winning votes in the city.
Last week it reversed itself and brought the inner city rail loop forward.
Yesterday Housing Minister Nick Smith announced the Government was joining legal proceedings over appeals lodged against the $1.2 billion redevelopment of the Three Kings quarry in Auckland.
“I am taking this unusual step of joining proceedings to support the Auckland Council and Fletcher Residential because of the size and significance of the project and to make a firm stand in favour of these sorts of plan changes that are needed to address Auckland’s growth and housing problems,” Dr Smith said.
The Government apparently decided to make the move on its own.
Mr Smith refers to it being discussed at Cabinet on January 11 but according to industry sources it has caught the building and housing industry in Auckland a bit by surprise.
What that suggests is that the Government is determined to get on top of the big Auckland issues now.
The news that Auckland houses were the fifth least affordable houses in the world has apparently worried some National MPs who have found Auckland housing prices to be a prime conversation topic during the “barbecue” season.
With an increasing likelihood that the Reserve Bank may not raise rates for a while yet, and claims yesterday that the Auckland housing market was likely to soon “go bananas” as Chinese investment poured in, the Government obviously feels it needs to be seen to be doing something about supply.
“Auckland needs to move up and it needs to move out,” the Prime Minister said after his State of the Nation speech last Thursday.
“It’s not practical to build the rate of houses that we need without both of those things happening.
“And that’s partly what’s required through the RMA reforms.
“We can’t expect the Council to that wholly through greenfield sites because to support greenfield sites takes a lot of infrastructure.”
The Government clearly sees the Three Kings quarry development as a showpiece example of how a brownfields site can be redeveloped.
“Three Kings has been one of the things that Government has been very supportive of,” Mr Key said.
Dr Smith said Community consultation on the redevelopment of the Three Kings quarry began in 2008 and involved over 70 public, community and local board meetings and hui.
The plan change application was lodged in September 2014, with 237 submissions – of which two-thirds were in support.
Hearings were held before four independent commissioners appointed by Auckland Council in May and approval was granted for the plan change and development on 2 November.
The commissioners concluded it would provide the opportunity for a “quality built environment.”
The Environment Court appeals lodged on 11 January 2016 by the South Epsom Planning Group Incorporated and Three Kings United Group Incorporated seek to overturn approval of the development and require the site to be restored to pre-quarry levels, with only low-rise housing allowed.
“The practical impact of these appeals in that they would reduce the number of new homes by 1000, make them much more expensive and significantly delay the project.
“The most likely outcome if the appeal is successful is that this disused quarry will remain vacant for another decade while Auckland families struggle to find suitable homes to buy or rent,” Dr Smith said.
The two groups who oppose the development have a long record of involvement in planning decisions in the area dating back to the time when the quarry was a going concern.
In effect the Government is looking for a showdown with exactly these sort of groups so it can demonstrate that it serious about building houses in Auckland as one way of dealing with housing affordability.