A political power struggle has broken out over the future of the $625 billion housing sector after the Productivity Commission's hard-hitting report to the Government challenged Auckland Council's plans.
Murray Sherwin, commission chair, called for urgent action so "Auckland is able to provide entry-level priced housing in volume for the many people and families who wish to live there".
But outspoken councillor and anti-sprawl advocate Mike Lee called Mr Sherwin's team "rednecks in expensive suits, right wing provincially minded branch managers with no ideas for economic development". Mayor Len Brown's council wants to squeeze 75 per cent of the city's housing growth in the next three decades within existing boundaries but Mr Sherwin's report said that was wrong and called for "reconsideration" of the plan which goes before the council in just two months. That left Mr Lee fuming.
"Freeing up productive rural land? You mean more urban sprawl for Auckland. Haven't we already tried that? The costs are traffic congestion, roading, water and sewerage reticulation. Those have been externalised on to long-suffering ratepayers.
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"There is more than ample land already available for housing development in Auckland despite the obsessive lobbying of the land bankers. In terms of house prices, I wonder if the so-called Productivity Commission has anything to say about the exorbitant costs of construction materials in New Zealand? Let me guess, I bet they also recommend more privatisation of public assets?
"If such tried and failed neo-conservative ideas are the recommendations of the highly paid members of the commission, one needs to question their productivity. Urban sprawl, blah, blah, blah!" said a frustrated Mr Lee.
The commission criticised high building costs, up a third in the past nine years, said building materials accounted for around half of all house building costs and showed how an Auckland house cost $167,271 to build compared to Melbourne's $118,107 and the Gold Coast's $121,873 - figures provided by Fletcher Building.
Other councillors backed Mr Sherwin's report. Dick Quax said the Government had made it clear the compact city concept was deeply flawed and widely criticised by submitters. He expects substantial changes when deliberations start in February. "We are running out of land for housing, commercial and industrial uses and we have to be think very carefully what what we are doing to Auckland if we commit to a 75:25 split." he said. "It's draconian. That split seems to be something they plucked out of the air without any fine-grained analysis of what land is available. Council officials over-estimated land available for redevelopment for two-thirds."
Dr Roger Blakeley, chief planner, said the spatial plan was only a draft. "We are amenable to changes," he said.
Areas targeted for the 75 per cent intensification within existing limits are the city centre including the waterfront, Hobsonville, New Lynn metropolitan centre, Onehunga town and suburban area, Tamaki town centres and suburban area, Takapuna metropolitan centre and the satellite towns of Warkworth and Pukekohe. Areas targeted for the 25 per cent growth outside the existing limits are south of Papakura, northwest of Hobsonville and Westgate, near Silverdale, Wellsford, Warkworth, Helensville, Kumeu, Huapai and Waiuku.