Urban development authority on its way

Published 3 September 2018
This government & its predecessor have both seen a need for an urban development authority, and it’s about to happen.

Never mind that Housing & Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford’s new ministry, set up in June, still doesn’t have its own home in Auckland – the city of greatest crisis.

Never mind, either, that Auckland Council’s unitary plan largely became operative in November 2016, enabling far more intensification throughout the region’s suburbs, and that development based on that potential is starting to happen.

The authority would have the power to override the provisions of the unitary plan – chiefly, the rural:urban boundaries, created through Auckland’s urban growth forum in the 1990s to ensure infrastructure could be provided for a rising population and that development would be orderly, not willy-nilly sprawl.

Provision of infrastructure still needs to be orderly – that’s what underground pipe networks do – unless Auckland moves to smaller waste & water supply systems – water tanks as a standard feature of every home, systems to dispose of sewage inside the boundary (I wrote about such a project a quarter century ago).

Phil Twyford holds both the transport and the new housing & urban development portfolios. When the new Housing & Urban Development Ministry was announced in June, it was given a 1 August start date (but, in Auckland anyway, no independent accommodation) and an official start date for its operations of 1 October.

Mr Twyford said on its setting up: “Addressing the national housing crisis is one of the biggest challenges our government faces. The new ministry will provide the focus & capability in the public service to deliver our reform agenda.”

One of its objective is to launch an urban development authority to lead largescale urban development projects, confirmed by Mr Twyford last week, when he said he’d take a proposal to Cabinet soon.

“The Ministry of Housing & Urban Development will help us deliver our bold & ambitious plan to build much-needed affordable housing, and create modern & liveable cities ready for the future,” he said.

The 2017 version

In a 126-page discussion document the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment (MBIE) issued under the previous government in February 2017, the powers potentially available for an urban development project would relate to:

  • Land – powers to assemble parcels of land, including existing compulsory acquisition powers under the Public Works Act
  • Planning & resource consenting – powers to override existing & proposed district plans & regional plans, and streamlined consenting processes
  • Infrastructure – powers to plan & build infrastructure such as roads, water pipes & reserves
  • Funding – powers to buy, sell & lease land & buildings; powers to borrow to fund infrastructure; and powers to levy charges to cover infrastructure costs. An urban development authority would not have building consenting powers.

Support & opposition

Auckland Business Chamber head Michael Barnett supported the launch of this authority on Friday, as “a long overdue initiative”: “For the past 5 years Auckland has needed to build 14-15,000 new houses/year to keep pace with demand, but the most it has managed was around 13,000 consents in the year to July 2018.

“We are currently around 55,000 houses short. An authority that can speed up the delivery of the new houses Auckland desperately needs has been in the pipeline since the Government came to power last year.”

Mr Barnett said the Government should put the legislation to establish the authority through Parliament under urgency to ensure it’s operating by the end of the year.

Property Institute chief executive Ashley Church, on the other hand, said the institute had rejected the establishment of such an authority in 2016, and still rejected it: “Our position has not changed since that time and our fears, articulated back in 2016, that an urban development authority would ride roughshod over public consultation and the unitary plan are now being proved correct.”

If anything, he said (in 2016, and again), “the super-city provides a stark example of why a single authority isn’t the solution for Auckland. If the creation of a single authority was the answer to the housing problem, Auckland would now be well on the way to solving its housing issues. Instead, it hadn’t gone unnoticed that this property boom – the first since the creation of the super-city – was taking much longer to resolve than any previous boom since at least the early 70s.

“To be fair – that’s not all the fault of the Auckland Council. It’s also the result of strong migration & a strong economy. But I don’t think anyone gets the sense that Auckland Council ‘has matters under control’ – so the last thing the city needs is a new ’Soviet-style’ central planning agency.”

Links:
MBIE, February 2017: Discussion document on urban development authorities
MBIE, May 2017: Proposed legislation for urban development authorities
MBIE, September 2017: Summary of submissions on urban development authority discussion document

Attribution: Ministerial, Business Chamber & Property Institute releases.

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