John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: National's affordable housing package lacks any substantial detail

Photo / Doug Sherring
Photo / Doug Sherring

Package? What package? No wonder National avoided over-selling the contents of their plan to make housing more affordable. The plan looks more like a rough first draft.

As Annette King, Labour's housing spokeswoman noted, the Government's long-awaited announcement was a combination of "considering new ways", "undertaking more inquiries", "doing more work" and "undertaking evaluations".

The lack of detail serves to illustrate one thing: when it comes to increasing the housing stock, there is not a lot central government can do unless it is willing to spend big bikkies.

Apart from fiscal restraints, National is not keen on being blamed for doing anything which might end up seeing many voters' prime asset - the family home - losing its value in cold, hard monetary terms.

There is comparatively a lot more that local government can do. Yesterday's announcement consequentially upped the pressure on local bodies - notably the Auckland Council - to make a "commitment" to making land available for new housing.

Bill English, who was the lead minister in putting the package together, talked of giving councils a "clear sense of direction".

But it seemed designed more to provide cover for giving a clear sense of direction to major changes to National's bete noir, the Resource Management Act. As well as housing, the modifications will make it quicker for shopping and industrial developments to get planning approval.

Buried in the announcement is a new provision which will see consent applications for undefined "large regional projects" referred directly to the Environment Court rather than first being heard by local or regional councils.

Such a provision currently only applies to proposals of "national significance" which the Minister for the Environment can refer to a board of inquiry or the Environment Court for a decision.

The reaction to yesterday's housing plan may have been ho-hum. But National could be grateful for one thing: the Government has finally steered political debate on to something it wishes to talk about, rather than being hostage to what Opposition parties would prefer to debate.

- NZ Herald

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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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