Locally controlled urban development authorities (UDAs) with compulsory land acquisition powers and fast-tracked resource consent processes are the latest weapon the government is preparing to fight the slow speed of new city housing and infrastructure development.
Building and Construction Minister Nick Smith today released a public consultation document on legislation allowing UDAs to be established to help enable the goals of last year's National Policy Statement on Urban Development, whose primary aim is to ensure enough urban land is available for housing and associated public infrastructure such as roads, parks, schools and drainage.
UDAs were first mooted by the Productivity Commission in 2015 and today's release of consultation documents follows yesterday's High Court finding against a group of test cases taken by Aucklanders appealing against aspects of the new Auckland Unitary Plan, which is setting the blueprint for the development of the country's largest city, which is experiencing rampant house price inflation caused by land and construction sector shortages, prescriptive planning rules, and strong immigration.
"New Zealand needs UDA legislation to enable faster and better quality regeneration of our major cities," said Smith in a statement. "These new authorities need the power to assemble parcels of land, develop site-specific plans, reconfigure infrastructure and to construct a mix of public and private buildings to create vibrant hubs for modern urban living."
The UDA model was in use in many cities internationally, including several large Australian cities and should contribute to major Auckland development schemes such as those at Hobsonville, Tamaki, Three Kings, and Northcote "to occur three to five years faster".
UDAs would not be able to grant their own resource consents, but would be subject to the same fast-tracked Resource Management Act consenting processes as are used for Special Housing Areas, where the government has already enacted legislation to try and free up land for residential development.
"UDAs can create vibrant new suburbs with greater gains for housing, jobs and amenities than through usual incremental piecemeal development," Smith said.
The initial announcements are short on detail as to how UDAs would be created and governed, other than to stress that they must have local government and community buy-in and can't be imposed unilaterally from Wellington and that they should include private sector investors.
"The government proposes that, in appropriate casers, this development plan may override parts of existing and proposed district and regional plans", consistent with the Productivity Commission's argument that national interest considerations should be able to be brought to bear in areas where developments required for affordable housing or urban growth and renewal could be prevented by localised self-interest. "This would happen only where the government decides that the public benefit outweighs the broader requirements at district or regional level.
"For example, a UDA may be able to apply different requirements for housing density or height restrictions than apply across the rest of the city," Smith said.
UDAs were likely to be "suitable for a small number of significant projects", could not cover entire cities or towns, and would include public consultation on their plans.
"Only land within an urban area, or that is sufficiently close to an urban area that it may in future service or become part of that area will be affected by the proposed legislation."