The override edict versus responsible governance

Issuing edicts at the weekend is not a good way to govern in a democracy, but that’s the approach Transport, Housing & Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford has adopted to roll out a housing & urban development authority.

He’s promised consultation on the way to setting up the authority – but his proposal contains an important anti-democratic facility, the override.

This authority, under Mr Twyford’s proposal, will be able to override local & regional councils’ decisions, plans & policies on land use.

Good that he wants to speed up construction, but there are other ways to do it.

If the regulatory process is too ponderous – and it is, made worse by leaky building challenges & payouts, which in Auckland have not surprisingly made the council cautious in issuing consents – then smooth the process. Educate people, improve the construction & infrastructure sectors’ performance.

Mr Twyford’s call reminds me of the large infrastructure sector 20 years ago, seeking preferential treatment to get projects under way. My argument then was: Reject this quest, unless the small builder gets improved treatment too.

When a government minister sees a crisis without taking into account the years of failing to build or inspect properly, the number of homes vacated because of that and the billions of dollars spent in rectifying a completely unnecessary aberration from all sense, the minister is blind in at least one eye.

Creating Auckland’s unitary plan required serious thought!

Auckland Council has gone through a laborious process to replace a regional policy statement & 7 district plans with a unitary plan, 6 years after the super-city was set up. Most of that unitary plan became operable at the end of 2016. It involved consultation, submissions, council debate, hearings before an independent panel, further council consideration of panel recommendations, court conferences & decisions.

Why was all that necessary if somebody can come along and say, ‘We’ll ignore all that and do it differently’?

One of the failings of the last government was to create special housing areas that might be related to transport, job centres,shops & amenities – but in many cases were not. They were land-clearing (and, in many cases, onsell) propositions. A greater, considered community relationship wasn’t required.

Creating better communities through development proposals that are better thought through ought to be the primary consideration of this government.

A housing crisis doesn’t stand still

Mr Twyford referred again at the weekend to “the housing crisis” as if it were a stationary object. Housing need & housing demand are going to mutate.

Apart from government policies, wage-setting mechanisms, educational opportunity… population change over the last 5 years has been a huge factor in bringing on a crisis, also lifting national earnings (but making little difference to national earnings/growth head).

In Auckland, after the region’s councils agreed urban growth limits at the end of the 1990s, there was a population spike in 2003-04 under the Labour government – unheralded & quickly gone, but its effects lingered. It was the beginning of the housing market’s tightening, of the escalation in prices that rose along with the decline of interest rates, and of the unavailability of homes at prices ordinary people could afford.

Houses got bigger, far more expensive, and had more gadgets.

The urban limits, set with gradual expansion in mind, were blamed for causing the escalation of urban fringe land prices. But nobody has suggested how you can develop housing willy-nilly, efficiently & at low cost, without establishing infrastructure such as roads, power supply, water & sewers in an orderly way.

The region still needs growth corridors.

But this is where the override can be used. As an example,areas around Kumeu in West Auckland were identified decades ago as having poor drainage, and were therefore marked by councils as expensive to develop. Using an override, development could be approved, but at what later cost if not done properly?

If an urban development authority can negotiate anagreement to modify such an area to make it good for development, well & good. But should it use an override to achieve it?

The population & immigration factors

According to Statistics NZ figures, over the last 11 years the Auckland region’s population has grown by 290,400 – 46.4% of total New Zealand population growth of 625,700.

Through to 2013, Auckland’s population growth averaged 17,540/year over 6 years. In the 5 years since, that average shot up to 40,540/year.

Remember, Auckland Council went through 6 years of rewriting all its planning rules as the new super-city, created by the Government, while that explosion occurred. Do you blame a council for trying to make change orderly, when it’s faced by a population explosion not of its making?

Perhaps the council could have decided: ‘Change is occurring rapidly while we rewrite the rules, we’ll have to make some interim calls allowing for more urban land use.’

It could have tried to do that – while it faced a government intent on combating the creation of a far improved public transport network to match, and without any indication of a slowdown in immigration.

While the present government has been in power, the net migrant inflow has fallen by 11,000/year. That doesn’t ease Auckland congestion, but does reduce the growing pressure on it. It does ease some housing pressure points.


24 November 2018: New urban development agency unveiled to build more homes

Related documents

UDA factsheet.docx24.04 KB

UDA summary.pdf2.25 MB

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Attribution: Ministerial release.

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