Auckland’s Character Coalition is calling for a major rethink on housing density legislation after National abandoned a bipartisan agreement and announced its own housing policy.
“The bipartisan changes were always a sledgehammer to fix a housing issue,” said Sally Hughes, who chairs the coalition of 60 heritage and community groups.
“It is going to create more problems than it solves, and Aucklanders had a serious wake-up call to that fact earlier this year with the tragic Anniversary Weekend floods,” she said.
National housing spokesman Chris Bishop yesterday said councils would be able to opt out of the Medium Density Residential Standards (MDSR) legislation drawn up in a rare bipartisan effort to address the country’s housing shortage.
This followed National leader Christopher Luxon flagging the move at a public meeting in the North Shore suburb of Birkenhead last week, where concerns have been raised about stripping protections for character homes to allow them to be demolished and replaced with new builds.
The Government has indicated it is open to changing the rules in the 2021 agreement, which allows for three houses up to three storeys high on most suburban sites without needing resource consent.
Labour’s Housing Minister Dr Megan Woods has written to Luxon and deputy leader Nicola Willis, offering to “work together again … to ensure certainty and stability in housing policy”.
Hughes called for a “very strong rethink” of the legislation, saying it is a blunt instrument that will not achieve the objective of providing affordable housing.
The Character Coalition says the city’s 21,000 villas and bungalows with heritage values in ‘Special Character Areas’ account for just 2.3 per cent of the development potential across Auckland and the value of the land means it will always be too expensive for building affordable housing.
This is disputed by groups, like the Coalition for More Housing, that argue much of the ‘Special Character Areas’ are in the inner city suburbs close to amenities and more transport options, making them suitable for more medium-density housing.
On social media, the Coalition for More Homes has urged the National Party to re-commit its support for the MDRS and thriving, sustainable, affordable cities.
Auckland councillor Richard Hills, who chairs the planning committee and a Labour Party member, called National’s decision “really mind-blowing” on social media.
“Who’s going to pay the billions for the infrastructure? What about climate change? What about the congestion caused?” said Hills, who is attending a climate conference in South Korea with Mayor Wayne Brown.
This is really mind blowing.— Richard Hills (@RichardHills_) May 27, 2023
Who’s going to pay the billions for the infrastructure? What about climate change? What about the congestion caused? https://t.co/rg6nj0tBaT
Hughes has not given National a resounding thumbs-up, expressing concerns about the opt-out clause being conditional on councils to either increase density or develop greenfield land for 30 years’ worth of housing demand in the “short term”.
She said Auckland needs more affordable housing, but greenfield development brings the challenges of poor transport choices and infrastructure deficits that are already constraining the Super City.
“Auckland’s Unitary Plan allowed for planned intensification with an identified 900,000 sites across Auckland allowing for population growth for the next 30 years,” Hughes said.
Auckland Council figures show if Government plans for more intensification were fully implemented another 3.3 million homes could be built over the long term against the 900,000 figure in the Unitary Plan.
Auckland Council has been delivering historic numbers of about 20,000 building consents in recent years, although a slowdown in house building saw them drop by 5.4 per cent in the year to March this year.
Meanwhile, the council has confirmed two members of an independent panel hearing submissions on changes to the Unitary Plan arising from the MDRS and another government directive for greater intensification have resigned.
The panel chairman, Greg Hill, has resigned but remains on until a replacement is found. Panel member Kit Littlejohn has also resigned.
Plan Change 78 was the council’s response to the MDRS and the National Policy Statement - Urban Design that allows for six-storey apartments within walking distance along transport corridors.
Environment Minister David Parker extended the hearings by one year to April 2025 for the council to respond to the Government’s housing intensification plans in light of the summer floods.