Government brings in Bob

By John Cousins

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Former Tauranga MP Bob Clarkson's ideas for affordable housing are finally gaining traction, four years after his brief but colourful Parliamentary career finished.

Mr Clarkson was invited to Wellington on Monday to talk with economic advisers to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Bill English.

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The invitation followed Mr Clarkson's headline-grabbing plan to build 1000 affordable homes on his land at Tauriko. Using bulk buy deals, he could offer fixed priced house and section packages at $280,000 each.

The economic advisers are working with the Productivity Council, a group whose work included studying why house and section packages were so expensive in New Zealand.

Mr Clarkson's plan was proposing to deliver houses for young families at Tauriko that cost the equivalent of 4.4 years of an average Tauranga family's income - nearly a third less than the current ratio of 6.4 years.

However, his plan struck problems because his farmland at Tauriko was outside the urban limits set by SmartGrowth, the plan worked out by the Western Bay's three councils to control urban sprawl and protect arable soils.

SmartGrowth was now reviewing where future growth would be allowed to take place, and Mr Clarkson had successfully convinced the councils that his land between the Wairoa River and State Highway 29 should be a part of that exercise.

He said Monday's meeting was to update Mr English's advisers on what happened to his affordable housing plans at Tauriko and to outline his nationwide masterplan to get more people into their own homes at affordable prices.

Mr Clarkson said the invitation from Mr English came out of the blue and followed years in which he has been pushing a national solution to affordable housing. The nub of his plan was to encourage state house tenants to buy their house by pitching loan repayments at the same level as their rent. They would effectively have free use of the land the house sat on for up to 10 years at which point they would have to add the original fixed value of the land plus inflation into the mortgage. The land could be bought at any point up to 10 years.

"It gives them a help-up rather than a hand-out."

At least half of the country's state housing stock would be kept for people who were never going to be able to participate in the scheme.

Mr Clarkson's plan was to use the money obtained from selling the houses to buy sections for first home buyers. Once again, it would be a fixed-price section with nothing to pay for up to 10 years, leaving the family to focus on building the home. There would be controls on the type of house so that people could not "overbuild" the home.

Mr Clarkson said it would be the birthright of every New Zealander to get a section at a fixed price section for 10 years. The Productivity Council was trying to find a way to get the cost of housing down to where it should be for young families. Ideally, land should go straight from rural to housing without the middle man making lots of money. Section prices needed to be driven down and bulk building deals, like he was proposing at Tauriko, would do the rest. Mr Clarkson said that even at today's lower prices, the cost of land was still too high in Tauranga.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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