No easy fixes
While yesterday in my Mayoral Housing Taskforce Report: More Questions Than Answers I had mentioned about getting the first run on the board Simon Wilson from The Spinoff – Auckland division went a bit further drilling into the said report. First of all how my question around land release and rezoning was not exactly answered:
With population growth continuing on the high projection trajectory (see: Auckland Growth Trajectories Have Exceeded All Planning Documents. Crunch Time for Authorities) I did ask whether there would be an acceleration of turning Future Urban Zone land into live Urban Zone land and/or more upzoning to say Mixed Housing Urban Zone to allow large enough tracts of land being available to develop on to meet subsequent demand.
The answer I got back was no they have not looked at this as they were not looking at the shape of the City. That is not what I asked as shape is handled in the Unitary Plan and the Rural Urban Boundary last I checked was not being moved. I asked whether the release of land Greenfield or Brownfield via upzoning would be accelerated to allow enough land ahead for development. There is a second question underlying that first one in that if enough land is open for development than land banking is mitigated against due to sufficient supply thus in theory the land component of development is lowered.
Speaking of which this was an interesting table:
Cost of development. Source: Mayoral Housing Taskforce Housing Report
Because if we are to accelerate the release of Greenfield land or upzone more Brownfield to higher densities than both an Urban Geography and Urban Design question come into the mix. It is one thing to provide the land for supply it is another to get affordable housing out of that supply post-construction, something Urban Geography and Urban Design would cover.
Simon Wilson of The Spin Off also looked at the Unitary Plan angle:
What about the Unitary Plan?
Above all, says the taskforce, there has to be a focus on building a lot of homes, especially affordable homes, and building them quickly. “Develop at scale and build through the dips”, is how they put it.
At the launch of the report taskforce member Stuart Shepherd, an economist and infrastructure specialist, suggested that construction should focus on the areas where “the most homes can be built the soonest”.
Does that make sense? On the face of it, yes. But how does it impact the Unitary Plan? Shepherd says it doesn’t change the overall focus on building a denser city, but is a “sequencing issue”. He means that if it’s easier to build in new greenfields areas on the far-flung edges of the city, good, do it now, and come back to the more complicated issues of putting more housing into the inner suburbs at a later date.
That seems, at best, naive. It will always be easier to build where there are no nimby objections, but the outcome, if that’s all that happened, would be a sprawling blighted housing wasteland. The council has to engage in the hearts-and-minds battle about why a denser city will be a better city for everyone and there’s no good time to have that battle except now. It needs to be waged today, and tomorrow and the day after that.
Shepard I remember from the Unitary Plan Independent Hearings Panel that was chaired by Environment Court Judge David Kirkpatrick. In my Metropolitan Centre, and Residential Zones hearings I remember Shepard asking about how planning rules could stymie getting developments off the ground quickly. This was built around the premise that liberalised rules would mean faster consenting thus less upfront costs to both Council and developers. The quality of developments were handled by the Building Act 2004 (that needs an update anyway) so out of scope for the Unitary Plan (a Resource Management Act document).
I also remember debating with Shepard and Kirkpatrick around the premise of the Manukau Super Metropolitan Centre concept. As I argued the Super Metro allowed an urban core to a sub-region that was rapidly expanding causing overflow into the northern Waikato. That sub-region was Southern Auckland and I had built my assumption that Greenfield would go first in development over Brownfield existing development due to relative ease of doing so first off the bat. That assumption would go on to me advocating that the entire Southern Future Urban Zone be flipped into live Urban Zoning as the South was best equipped to do this while existing areas, the North and North-West caught up in getting themselves ready.
Doing this would as I questioned require the acceleration of Southern Future Urban Zone land to be released and Manukau being seriously upscaled beyond what a Metropolitan Centre offers. Somehow the Taskforce and subsequently Council Planners did not quite grasp this as it would have been a key mechanism in getting land prices and later housing prices (via supply) under control until intensification on Mixed Housing Urban zoned land was under-way at speed (leaving Taskforce question of construction efficiency to be answered separately).
For a more detailed analysis please see my Southern Auckland Omnibus: Auckland Growth Trajectories Have Exceeded All Planning Documents. Crunch Time for Authorities
For inter-city rail and northern Waikato towns acting as relief values to Auckland see: Inter-City Rail and Satellite Cities/Towns – Auckland’s Relief Value
Simon mentioned NIMBY’s and had this to say:
Communities are critical
The taskforce says the council needs to engage much more with local communities. Hallelujah to that. Nimbys are everywhere because we are all nimbys. If the council doesn’t effectively engage local communities, from the outset, guess what. There will be organised opposition, which may or may not be reasonable but it will very often be effective.
Council has to get way better at genuine community consultation.
That I’ll present “without comment” given the blog over the last six years has covered that issue extensively yet we still have risk-aversion and gate-keeping from Council….
Better than all the bits
The politics of this are pretty challenging. Mayor Phil Goff’s taskforce has produced a report that appears to move far ahead of the position in which the government is stuck. Which is: fretting about barriers to progress; bleating about how much it’s already doing. The taskforce makes it clear that so much more could be done.
The cold hard fact is this. The city needs 14,000 more homes every year for the next 30 years. Last year the council consented 10,000. Of those, only 7000 are actually being built. We do not have a problem that’s being managed. We have wretched failure.
The central argument of the taskforce is that we need to build at pace and scale, and keep doing it for years to come. It’s identified a series of barriers to that and proposed ways to overcome them.
And the beauty of the report lies, in the end, not in its specific recommendations, though they are important and numerous, but in what it signifies: a commitment among the disparate parties to fix this thing. Consensus decision-making for real outcomes.
The council used a similar process in 2015-2016 to address the future of the port, and got a similar outcome: consensus agreement on an exciting way forward. Sadly, that report seems at risk of being forgotten. The report of the Housing Taskforce cannot be allowed to suffer the same fate.
The government has been challenged: free the council – and fund the council, and ensure it can be funded – to enable the smart, efficient and creative development of much more housing. The council has been challenged: become the leader in all this.
The mayor stands in front of it all. Now he has to win council and government support to make it happen.
I wouldn’t count on this Government freeing up Council in a hurry: Finance Minister’s Appalling Obstructionist Attitude Continues to Hamper Upper North Island
None-the-less Council does have work to do on its end in lining its own ducks up before going head-long into getting on top of housing and housing supply. I have laid the numbers and subsequent cost out here: #Budget2017 Auckland Redux: Growth Needs Support of the Government Rather Than Government Being Allergic to that Support ($4.25b over seven years just to get on top of the housing deficit and give us some small breathing space).
Ultimately the question to be asked in the entire matter will be: “Is our Council particularly the Planning “regime” including officers and the Planning Committee nimble enough to handle an ever fluid situation that is Auckland’s growth?“
- Is Council fast enough in making decisions to remove roadblocks that would ensure supply of Greenfield AND Brownfield land for both housing and business?
- Is Council too risk-adverse in what would be being able to apply more outside the box critical “thought” to remove roadblocks as described in number one above, OR is Council using the same tools from the same tool box to a scenario that would be like trying to fit your usual square shape into a newly developed circle jigsaw puzzle hole?
- How can we remedy 1 and 2 above?
- Are we resourced properly?
Bit of a long read this one but seeming the Mayoral Housing Taskforce Report has opened up questions it is certainly time to ask even more questions AS WELL AS find the answers!