Farhad Moinfar: Council must get on board with fast track housing

Like the proverbial frog who is slowly boiled alive in a pot, blissfully unaware of its fate, the Auckland Council is inhibiting development of more housing. Photo / Michael Craig
Like the proverbial frog who is slowly boiled alive in a pot, blissfully unaware of its fate, the Auckland Council is inhibiting development of more housing. Photo / Michael Craig

Auckland is facing a crisis of a scale that will cripple New Zealand's economic powerhouse and yet many continue to deny it. Like the proverbial frog who is slowly boiled alive in a pot, blissfully unaware of its fate, the Auckland Council is inhibiting development of more housing.

No better example exists of areas of Auckland ripe for development than Whenuapai. It has been identified as ideal for meeting Auckland's burgeoning need for residential housing and numerous developers, ourselves included, have applied to the council for Special Housing Area (SHA) status to accelerate development.

Individual developments comprising about 100ha of land within Whenuapai could provide 2000 homes for Aucklanders within a short time.

On February 16, the Auckland Council's development planning office called a meeting with developers who had applied for SHA status in Whenuapai.

It was part of a clear power play under the pretence of infrastructure shortcomings (water, sewers, roads) and structure planning of the wider area.

The developers were asked to withdraw their SHA applications for Whenuapai and the council declared it intended instead to commence a "council-led" rezoning process for Whenuapai in its entirety - some 1300ha with more than 300 individual landowners and potentially yielding up to 12,000 homes.

It doesn't take a town planning expert to understand that by any measure, this is going to take an inordinate amount of time to conclude.

Without the benefit of the fast-track provided by SHA status, any rezoning to provide housing will drag through the Resource Management Act system and undoubtedly be stymied and delayed through protracted litigation.

The council claims the Whenuapai area does not have adequate water or transport infrastructure to support housing development. This is a nonsense and makes a mockery of the Government's legislative intervention.

While currently there may not be adequate infrastructure for 12,000 homes (five times the size of Hobsonville Point), there is sufficient roading and Watercare has confirmed there is water and wastewater in place for the development initially of about 2000 homes. Auckland needs more homes now, not in a decade. This is why we have special housing areas.

There are clear instances of SHAs working over multiple owned blocks of land. Take, for example, Scott Point, which comprised more than 60ha and 30 different landowners. This was an excellent example of co-operation between eight private developers. It certainly was not "council-led". More than 1000 sections for housing are being delivered, more than a third of these by our company.

Private developers have led the structure planning, rezoning and consenting process and funded all infrastructure upgrade costs, empowered by exactly what was intended by the 2013 Housing Accords and Special Housing Areas Act.

By deliberately ignoring the act, the Auckland Council is complicit in exacerbating this city's housing crisis, which continues to worsen. The annual global Demographia survey of 367 cities ranked Auckland the world's fifth most expensive city.

The aim of the council and the Government to deliver 39,000 additional residential houses under the act by the third year is nowhere near this target. However, the solution does not lie with the Government but with the Auckland Council, which is the biggest roadblock to the development of new homes.

Labour's Phil Twyford has called for the urban growth boundary in Auckland Council's Unitary Plan to be abolished, which would open up more areas for development. This is part of the answer.

But the real solution is to enable and empower development in areas such as Whenuapai which, under the Proposed Unitary Plan, are within the urban growth boundary.

Both Housing Minister Nick Smith and Finance Minister Bill English have said any failure to agree on a plan that provided enough room for growth both up and out would have wider economic and fiscal consequences, including higher interest rates, higher taxpayer-funded rent subsidies and more inequality.

The slowdown of new housing delivered through SHAs will be a setback for Auckland, the Government and New Zealand. This should not be allowed to happen unless we accept that we too should join the Auckland Council and boil ourselves slowly in the housing crisis pot.

- NZ Herald

Farhad Moinfar is a property developer of Myland Partners in Auckland.

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