A senior Auckland Council politician discovered that 86 of the city's 154 Special Housing Areas have been axed and he is questioning the scheme's success.
Auckland Council planning committee head Chris Darby asked council officials and was disappointed to find changes to the zoning of many sites earmarked for fast-tracked housing and where affordable housing was meant to be built.
So he is now worried about how many affordable houses have been, or will ever, be built.
"It was confirmed that of the 154 [housing areas], 86 had been disestablished. They no longer exist," Darby said of the much-vaunted council and Government plan to speed up residential site planning.
"Why were the 86 disestablished? I've asked that of staff. I'm concerned about the disestablishment," he said.
Under the Auckland Housing Accord approved in September 2013, 10 per cent of new residences in special housing areas (SHAs) had to be affordable, bought by a first-home buyer on a modest income.
Labour's housing spokesman Phil Twyford said the housing scheme had failed.
"The SHAs were National's main policy to increase housing supply. They've been a total flop.
"In three years, only 2500 homes have been completed in the SHAs, when [then-housing minister Nick Smith] promised 39,000. At the same time the shortfall of homes in Auckland is now 35,000, according to Auckland Council's chief economist who estimates it will blow out to 50,000 by 2023.
"The city needs 14,000 homes every year just to stand still, but data from Statistics NZ out yesterday shows only 8700 were built in the last year.
Smith, building and construction minister, has claimed SHAs are a success and said in the House this week: "There are 4800 homes that have been consented in special housing areas in Auckland, and 2500 of those have been completed. Right now, a third of the new homes being built in Auckland are in special housing areas. That is, if we did not have special housing areas, there would be 3,000 fewer homes per year being built in Auckland."
Chris Aiken, chief executive of the business overseeing Hobsonville Pt's development, said SHAs had most certainly worked in his area "because we were determined to build houses affordably. For developers determined to get building, SHAs have turbo-charged their projects."
Darby said SHA landowners got privileges.
"Those who applied for and were confirmed as SHAs enjoyed fast-tracking with non-notification and priority treatment by the Housing Project Office," Darby said.
But when Auckland's planning regime changed last year, the 10 per cent affordable demand vanished, he said.
"When the Unitary Plan came in, there was no longer any need to build affordable houses," Darby said, adding that he had requested more SHA information which he expects early next month.
Asked to name some of the 86 disestablished areas, Darby said "I have a list but it's confidential because it's got company names on it."
Joel Cayford, a planner and former Auckland Regional councillor, said SHAs were a simplistic attempt to speed up development, but often on risk-prone land.
Developers Willis Bond are building on Housing NZ Corporation land at Takapuna on the corner of Lake Pupuke Rd and Killarney St at Takapuna. Roger Twose of Willis Bond said that site had been designated an SHA, which sped up planning consent.
"I'm not sure whether technically it is still classified as an SHA but it was certainly consented on that basis. The resource consent process was more efficient and quicker by at least six months.
"Construction commenced over a year ago and the site will deliver 70 apartments into Auckland's housing supply. Previously there were a dozen dilapidated units. On that basis I think one could consider it a successful example of the SHA initiative," Twose said.
Steve Evans of Fletcher Residential said all his company's SHAs were still in force and he indicated concern about the loss of others.
"Some people used the housing accord legislation to get SHA status. Then the Unitary Plan came in and they worked out that this was more permissive that their SHA status because it had no affordable requirement, and hence walked away from the SHA. We were not one of them," Evans said.