Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

Prime Minister Bill English blames environment for high cost of housing

The high cost of housing "hanging over" young families is a result of the efforts to protect the environment in Auckland and other big cities, Prime Minister Bill English says. File photo
The high cost of housing "hanging over" young families is a result of the efforts to protect the environment in Auckland and other big cities, Prime Minister Bill English says. File photo

The high cost of housing "hanging over" young families is a result of the efforts to protect the environment in Auckland and other big cities, Prime Minister Bill English says.

Regulations dictating how furniture should be laid out in yet-to-be-built buildings and how plants should be positioned on sections needed to be axed, the Prime Minister said today.

English used his keynote speech to his party's Bluegreens forum - which is National's advisory group on environmental issues - to point the finger at environmental concerns as a major driver of house prices.

With a number of environmentalists in the audience, English said this week he met a group of young mothers, talking with them about the pressures in their lives.

"And the thing that hung over them is the cost of housing.

"The cost of housing in New Zealand is fundamentally a product of poorly-directed but well intentioned views about the environment, and the urban environment and the fringes of cities."

English said local councils in Auckland had spent "many decades" trying to stop the city growing, and as a result the planning system couldn't cope with recent growth.

"We simply can't expect our lowest income households to carry the burden of arbitrary preferences exercised by people having a view about amenity value that can include everything from furniture layouts in houses that haven't been built, through to positioning of plants on a section. Really?

"All of these things drive up the price of land, drive up the cost of development - because it takes far too long. And who pays the bill? It's not the people who can come here to this. It is the people in their homes, struggling to pay the rent, worried interest rates might go up. And hoping someone is taking some notice."

Speaking to media after his speech, English denied he was looking for another scapegoat for the housing crisis that is one of the top voter issues in election year.

"The planning, which was significantly driven by environmental concerns not economic concerns, has had a big impact on driving up the price of land."

English said the biggest step to improve planning recently had been the new Auckland Unitary Plan, which would allow more housing to be built, including on the fringes.

The Productivity Commission will soon present its final report on urban planning.

Its inquiry has considered the Resource Management Act, the Local Government Act, the Land Transport Management Act and also parts of the Building Act, the Reserves Act and the Conservation Act which affected land use in urban areas.

English said the Government would be taking action related to the report.

"This is an accumulation of four or five years of work on the issues I was just talking about in there...but it is important to take people along. Because the shapes of people's cities and the environment matters to them. We need more consideration of housing in the middle of that."

- NZ Herald

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