The Productivity Commission recommends, in its draft report on Using land for housing:
- More standardisation through the building code, followed by removal of numerous environmental conditions from local zoning rules
- More central & local government partnership in producing plans
- Not strengthening the recognition in the Resource Management Act of plans prepared under other statutes, because this would be unlikely to significantly speed up the translation of spatial plans into district plans, and removing or relaxing RMA consultation & analytical requirements would increase the risk of poor quality regulation
These are among 38 draft recommendations and a long list of findings in the 374-page report, released on Wednesday.
The commission is seeking responses to its draft report by 4 August. It’s required to deliver its final report to the Government by 30 September.
The suggested switch to centralised standards is accompanied by economic reasoning, limited reference to the background causes of the many environmental rules imposed on residential developers, and lacks analysis of how such a system might work. But it is worth exploring in more detail.
The biggest cause for concern in that aspect of the report is that safeguards will be removed before adequate replacements are produced.
As Auckland has been finding in the creation of the first housing accord between government & council, and in negotiations on infrastructure funding & the transport network, closer co-operation between central & local government is vital. It’s also been poorly handled in the last 5 years.
Politicians have been walking round the edge of funding structures. It’s time to take action.
While some centralised standards are recommended, the Productivity Commission has found it unwise for that principle to be universally applied, especially in the production of council plans. It felt the risk of poor quality regulation would increase.
Probably more important than all its recommendations are 3 observations on the way through the draft report, on:
- Density & value
- How cheaper housing is sidelined
- How land prices on the urban fringe have accelerated, but not the best way to deal with that
- A focus on the number of houses misses the point that we live in the wrong houses – a dominant 3-bedroom stock for households now averaging 2.6 people, and falling.
The commission has noted comments that Auckland deviates from the normal expectation when urban density or price increases – cbd & fringe density hasn’t adjusted to rising prices. The chief cause is heritage zoning and the answer is not at all clear: Having created heritage overlays, can Auckland now demand that heritage be ignored in favour of greater density? If heritage remains an over-riding factor, what happens to the urban shape of the city? Might intensification – and thereby the urban centre – shift?
The commission also cites Auckland University professor Larry Murphy explaining why bigger & more expensive housing wins the development race. The answers lie in banking – investment returns, builders’ margins.
The imposition of a metropolitan urban limit in Auckland, to be replaced by a rural:urban boundary under the unitary plan, came with inadequate flexibility. The regional council made small boundary changes hard to achieve, but there were also competing desires among the region’s 7 territorial councils before the super-city was formed in 2010.
On the outskirts, councils wanted more business developed because that would reduce travel out of the district, improve rates collection and lead to more rounded communities. At the heart of the region, the old Auckland City wasn’t interested in sharing its commercial rating base, although it did start to cut the differential between commercial & residential rates, and was keener on limiting fringe expansion because that would improve the likelihood of more intensive central development.
Formation of the super-city meant the outlying areas didn’t have to worry any longer about building their commercial rating bases because they could now get a share of the existing base, but the new super-city had to worry about uncontrolled demand for infrastructure as a migration spike lifted demand for new housing.
The commission’s task
In the outline of its role, the Productivity Commission focused on policies & practices designed to promote the supply of development capacity for housing, especially for those on lower incomes. The commission said it therefore looked at those practices or policies consistently enacted or promoted across jurisdictions that are facing housing affordability issues. The 4 thematic policies or practices identified were:
- Systems & processes for integrating land use, transport & infrastructure
- Strategies to encourage the supply & use of land
- Proportionate & well targeted land use rules & regulations, and
- Streamlined approval processes.
The Government asked the commission to make recommendations on improving the performance of the land supply & development system in 4 main areas:
- policies, strategies, processes & outcomes for urban land supply, including the provision of infrastructure
- funding & governance of water & transport infrastructure
- governance, transparency & accountability of the planning system, and
- involvement & engagement with the community.
The commission said a number of issues were outside the scope of this inquiry. In particular, this inquiry:
- does not review the fundamental role or purpose of the Resource Management Act
- does not include the Building Act or related processes governing the assessment & processing of building consent applications, and
- does not consider changes to the ownership of local authority infrastructure assets, but does include the funding & governance of those assets (eg, the implications of whether or not assets are held by a legally separate, but wholly owned entity).
2 June 2015: Productivity Commission draft on land for housing out in fortnight
30 March 2015: Transport specialist Litman itemises cost of sprawl
2 March 2015: Economic report for council an exhortation to relax land use rules
12 November 2014: Hawkins chief lambasts Government & lawyers for blocking productivity gains
7 November 2014: Productivity Commission launches land supply regulation inquiry
Attribution: Productivity Commission.