Paul Little at large

Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Housing crisis needs bold cure

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Pam Corkery, a perfect distraction. Photo / Doug Sherring
Pam Corkery, a perfect distraction. Photo / Doug Sherring

Heeding politicians' pleas to focus on policy, not things they'd rather you didn't look at, and to play the ball not the man, many refocused this week on issues such as immigration, foreign ownership and somewhere to live.

Labour released its housing policy on Wednesday, and what a pity Pam Corkery wasn't on the scene to distract voters from looking at the nuts and bolts. And that will be our last building metaphor on the subject.

Knowing the policy was coming, National had leaped in a few days before with a free money plan that no one took very seriously. It was as though they had thrown it together while distracted by other matters.

Labour's policy looked impressive, detailed and thorough on the surface, but it confirmed that quantity doesn't mean quality. It offered, in short, to build 100,000 cheap homes over 10 years; sales of the first would pay for sales of the next.

"We call it Kiwibuild." Of course they do. Stick "Kiwi" in front of anything and people will buy it. It would be unpatriotic not to.

The core fault in the policy - as with National's - is that it is stuck in old ways of thinking. For instance, two-thirds of the new homes will be built in Auckland. The size of Auckland is already a large part of the problem. The more you encourage the population of Auckland to grow, the worse the cycle will get.

Ironically, aspects of the policy have been the vision of many on the former Auckland City Council not for years but for decades.

Internal divisions and the inability of local and central government to work together have seen politics get in the way of policy to Auckland's detriment.

Someone should write a book about it.

So when Labour says it will "prepare, monitor and report against the implementation of a national policy statement (NPS) for affordable housing" - ie, require councils to meet certain criteria under the Resource Management Act that will allow all this to take place - you can be forgiven for looking sceptical.

Unless you're a lawyer, in which case you'll be looking forward to lucrative years in various courts while aspects of this are being disputed.

Strangely, the policy gets vaguer the more you look into it: "Much of the land will come from Housing New Zealand buying new land or building on existing developments. Labour will also use public land and look at reconfiguring and subdividing some existing state-house land as opportunities arise."

Which sounds like a very plausible way of saying, "We'll think about that in the unlikely event that we actually need to."

But if public land means public open land then we should all feel a chill. Auckland, for one, has already chewed up more green space than it should ever have been allowed to.

On the evidence so far, any answer to the housing problem is going to require bolder thinking than either National or Labour, one of whom will have to drive the solution in a few weeks, has been able to provide.

Speaking of things that leak (and I've been trying hard not to), Labour's housing policy was online 24 hours ahead of its announcement. I found it using the hacker spyware known as Google.

Come on, guys. Please, get your cyber-security together. There's only so long people with agendas can keep criticising other people for nicking your stuff if you make it so easy.

A poll shows that the fallout from the Dirty Politics revelations has been a dip in popularity for National, and a consequent rise in support for New Zealand First and the Conservatives.

So much for the left-wing conspiracy, then.

- Herald on Sunday

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