Labour and National governments have one thing in common, neither has much patience with the town planning procedures of local government. To address Auckland's accommodation shortage the previous Government designated some potential development sites "special housing areas" where consent applications would be given a fast track. This Government is going much further.
Housing Minister Phil Twyford has announced the scope and powers of a new Housing and Urban Development Authority to be established by legislation next year. Its powers sound gargantuan, extending far beyond town planning and building consents. It will have the authority unto itself to build and change infrastructure, fund it, consolidate parcels of land and reconfigure reserves.
It will also take over the state housing corporation, Housing NZ, and the KiwiBuild programme. Thus it will be a giant landlord, builder and land developer with rights and freedoms no commercial developer would even be given, to override councils' district plans, change existing infrastructure and bite into parks and reserves if it wants them.
Twyford described these as "cut-through powers to build quality state and affordable homes and create thriving master-planned communities". It would "transform the way New Zealanders live work and play by building communities with a mix of public, affordable and market housing, as well as jobs, transport links, open spaces and facilities people need..."
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It does not sound like there will be much left for local government to do when the Urban Development Authority sets its sights on a suburb, and there was no mention in the minister's announcement of those pesky public objections that can delay and confound the best laid plans of private developers. When asked, he said there would be public consultation "up front" rather than litigation at a later stage. It sounds like any consultation will be on the authority's terms and have no recourse to law.
Within a few years the "HUDA" could become a feared beast whenever it turns its attention on an existing community. Its first project in Auckland will be the Unitec development at Waterview, a reasonably clean slate for master-planning, but its second is Dominion Rd where intensive apartment developments are part of the light rail plan. The existing communities along Dominion Rd will rue the loss of their rights of objection.
Local Government NZ president Dave Cull has welcomed the HUDA's proposed powers, stating it would get projects off the ground that had been too difficult under existing planning regulations. The mayors of Auckland and Wellington have been only slightly more guarded. Phil Goff wants "a collaborative process" with councils so that people and community voices are heard and Justin Lester believes, "If the community's completely opposed to a project, it's not going ahead".
That is probably true. Opposition has a way of being asserted. National's "SHAs" have not lived up to their billing and the HUDA might be no more productive. But its prospective power is unbridled.