Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

Government look at hardline measure to seize property for development

Housing Minister Nick Smith said today that overriding private title for development was a "big call" but have worked effectively for other countries. Photo / File
Housing Minister Nick Smith said today that overriding private title for development was a "big call" but have worked effectively for other countries. Photo / File

Landbankers could have property seized by the Government if the land is within certain areas marked for housing development.

Housing Minister Nick Smith said today that such a hardline measure to override private title for development in certain areas was a "big call".

"If you look at many of the other governments in other parts of the world that have used those powers, they have worked effectively.

"Yes, we are the National Party, but we have responded in a very pragmatic way to the challenges in Christchurch. And that has involved overcoming some of those pure views about property rights.

"We are pragmatic, and pragmatic answers are needed to the housing challenge that New Zealand has."

At its conference in Christchurch today, the National Party outlined two key responses to rising house prices.

Prime Minister John Key announced a new $1 billion fund to fast-track infrastructure development by councils with high new housing demand.

He also signalled the Government was considering another big measure - to establish Urban Development Authorities (UDAs) - for specific areas of high housing need.

The idea of UDAs was proposed by the Productivity Commission last year. It said the authority could assemble sites, master-plan large residential developments and partner with private sector groups to deliver them.

Speaking to media at the conference, Housing Minister Dr Nick Smith was asked if the Government would consider the hardline measure of using the Public Works Act to take land off an owner who resisted development inside a UDA area.

"If you look at the recommendations from the Productivity Commission, they recommended that the urban development authority had that specific power. That is something for Cabinet to work through over coming months," Dr Smith said.

Mr Key said housing prices were mostly driven by a lack of land supply.

"Ultimately we want to work constructively with people. And the urban development authorities are something I think are welcomed by councils and developers ... but we do need to make sure there is enough supply."

On landbanking, Dr Smith said the new $1 billion infrastructure fund would do more to counter such behaviour than UDAs, because a major barrier to greenfield development was the infrastructure cost.

The Government has also talked to councils about charging an extra rate on unimproved land as a disincentive to land banking.

The councils that will be eligible to access the infrastructure fund for things such as water and roading development are Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Christchurch and Queenstown.

They are the cities that are expected to have more than 10 per cent population growth in the next 10 years.

The Government has not yet decided how the fund will be structured but it will require an extra $1 billion in borrowing. The fund will own or finance the infrastructure until the councils receive rates revenue from the new houses.

Labour Party leader Andrew Little says Auckland alone has an infrastructure deficit of nearly $20 billion. Photo / File
Labour Party leader Andrew Little says Auckland alone has an infrastructure deficit of nearly $20 billion. Photo / File

Labour leader Andrew Little said the "$1 billion credit line" would do little to address the homeless crisis.

"When you have an infrastructure deficit in Auckland alone of nearly $20 billion and billions more around the country, a $1 billion loan? It simply doesn't cut it.

"Just another credit line, when this Government has spent the last eight years criticising councils for the amount of debt they've got, that's not the answer."

Mr Little said new models of financing infrastructure needed to be found.

"Our approach is to assist councils with that, and allow them to issue bonds, have targeted rates to repay them. That's about putting the cost to where it should properly fall. But just more debt for councils -- it's not the answer to the problem we've got at the moment."

Labour would in the coming week make three housing announcements that would include more detail on its solution for funding infrastructure, he said.

It would also cover UDAs. Asked if Labour favoured such authorities, Mr Little declined to give details ahead of the announcement.

However, the Green Party, which as an memorandum of understanding with Labour, views UDAs as a good idea, depending on how they are structured.

"We would need to see the detail ... if they are focussed on good, green, urban design with affordable houses, then we are all for them," Green Party co-leader James Shaw said.

The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) had shown the Government's previous approach to urban development was "very authoritarian and top-down", Mr Shaw said.

"If they take a more democratic approach and actually engage with communities and councils in the design of cities, then I think they [urban development authorities] are a good idea.

Mr Shaw said the infrastructure fund was a step in the right direction but not enough and a commitment to invest in houses was needed.

"It puts councils in a difficult position because it is a loan. I think the idea of making it a loan rather than a true investment fund is so that Bill English can keep his books tidy."

Matt Paterson, acting chief executive of the Property Council, said UDAs were a good way to reduce the risk to development posed by planning rules and land fragmentation.

"They have got to go as far as making the land economically feasible for development, and allow private developers to do their work. They should not compete with private development."

Other political reaction

Auckland Mayor Len Brown welcomed both the infrastructure fund and future establishment of urban development agencies, and looked forward to reviewing the initiatives in detail.

"This is a welcome proposal for all high growth areas, but in particular Auckland where we face significant housing challenges," Mr Brown, who was unavailable for interview, said in a statement.

"We have been talking with the government for some time about further steps to increase the pace of new home building in Auckland and funding for infrastructure has been a key and crucial component of these discussions.

"While we are yet to see the details, these initiatives could contribute to the acceleration of housing supply in Auckland without increasing the burden on ratepayers or adding to council's debt levels."

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said the $1 billion fund "won't even remotely cope" with the houses needed for new immigrants, let alone the country's natural population increase.

"After eight years of doing nothing, this monetary sum won't make up the huge deficit in infrastructure that National has allowed to build up."

The Government refused to take responsible for and drive a house building programme, Mr Peters said.

"Here after, this government will seek to blame local government for the housing crisis on the pretence that they, and not central government, is responsible for the massive demand that now exists."

Act Party leader David Seymour was critical of the announcement, saying it was designed to generate positive "$1 billion" headlines.

"But it will not actually affect the housing market at all because councils still have to pay the money back...their plan leaves councils with the same problem, just a different lender.

"A more substantial policy would be a rule that gives Councils a share of the GST collected from new construction projects in their territory. That would give Councils the funds and incentives to build infrastructure, without new bureaucracy."

Labour MP and mayoral candidate Phil Goff said the infrastructure fund was much less than needed, but welcome.

"It is an acknowledgement of the degree of crisis that cities, in particular Auckland, are facing with rapid population growth and severe constraints on their financial ability to provide the infrastructure to meet the needs of that growth.

"Now that we have established the principle...we can start to negotiate over the quantum, so that it is a meaningful sum."

Auckland mayoral candidate Victoria Crone said the infrastructure fund would leave Auckland Council with no excuse not to speed up delivery of infrastructure projects, consenting and the delivery of more homes.

"I see the proposed introduction of a UDA as a failure of Auckland Council's core functions of planning, consenting and support of growth. This wouldn't happen under my watch," Ms Crone said in a statement.

Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker said growth councils had been pushing for an infrastructure fund, and she also welcomed the possibility of UDAs.

"The biggest challenge has always been funding for infrastructure. [The fund] is definitely a major piece of the puzzle. If we look overseas to Australia the state governments have large infrastructure funds which have been very successful."

Hamilton had land available now that could accommodate three years of the necessary housing supply, Ms Hardaker said - but it couldn't control how quickly developers built.

"That is another area that we have constantly submitted on - the time frame by which developers can hold consents."

- NZ Herald

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