New Zealanders' freedoms have been curtailed in previously unimaginable ways since we all went into Covid-19 lockdown, but the intentions are for that situation to come to an end as soon as possible. However, most people are unaware that a far more permanent risk to our rights is advancing right under our noses.
There has been very little media coverage of the Urban Development Bill, which is currently at Select Committee awaiting its second reading. Submissions have closed, with oral submissions due to be heard in early-mid April.
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If passed in its current form, the Bill will give immense land development and acquisition powers to Kāinga Ora Homes and Communities - a crown entity that combines Housing New Zealand and its development subsidiary HLC as well as KiwiBuild.
This draconian legislation will give Kāinga Ora sweeping powers to over-ride local bodies and leave Kiwis with little or no appeal rights. It could see homeowners forced to hand over their homes and properties for redevelopment.
The Urban Development Bill's powers are broader than the Public Works Act 1981 and property owners' rights of recourse are reduced.
While the Government undoubtedly needs to address the supply side of the housing shortage, the proposed nature and scope of the Bill's powers are a blunt, heavy-handed tool that gives extraordinary powers with limited restraints and erodes democracy in this country.
If passed in its current form the Bill will have significant intergenerational implications for our communities and the ability of New Zealanders to have a say in the places we want to live in.
The Auckland Unitary Plan represents the combined will of the local authority, experts and the collated interests of 13,200 submitters with 93,600 unique matters raised. This unprecedented body of work was undertaken in response to the needs of New Zealand's largest and rapidly growing city – including the need to grow Auckland's housing supply.
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Mt Albert Residents Association (MARA) was a significant submitter in this process.
The Urban Development Bill would enable Kāinga Ora to simply override the Plan.
Local communities in Auckland are currently represented by local boards. These appear to have been overlooked by the Bill. This will leave individual property owners to face Kāinga Ora with no elected advocates in the process.
Cities and towns where Kāinga Ora projects occur will be subject to a parallel set of planning rules - a system whereby properties within a proposed Kāinga Ora development area will be subject to their rules, and neighbouring property owners will be subject to the local authority's different processes, rules, rights and regulators.
This will significantly marginalise those under Kāinga Ora's jurisdiction and will likely to lead to confusion, unfairness and disputes.
Worse still, a homeowner in a Kāinga Ora project area would be regulated on all matters, not just those related to the specified development. For example, if passed into law in its current form, the Urban Development Bill would give Kāinga Ora the ability to levy betterment payments, development contributions, connection payments and targeted rates. This would amount to taxation without representation.
Giving Kāinga Ora the authority to grant or refuse permission for consenting matters unrelated to the specified work is giving it excessive powers above and beyond its mandate. It is not clear which rules Kāinga Ora would apply in such circumstances – its own rules, the local authority planning rules or another set of rules?
The fundamental principles of democracy are being discarded. Regulatory power of the type proposed by the Bill needs checks and balances, accountability and transparency if corruption and inevitable self-interest are to be avoided.
Public Works Act powers should not be given to Kāinga Ora – an organisation that has no public accountabilities. There must be safeguards against conflicts of interest, so that sweeping powers proposed for Kāinga Ora are limited only to public bodies carrying out public works for public benefit.
The proposal to use powers under the Public Works Act 1981 to acquire land with a broader criteria of necessity and with reduced offer-back requirements to a former owner, is open to an abuse of power. It is naïve to believe that this power would not be exploited for private benefit, especially as the Urban Development Bill allows for unwanted land to be on-sold to developers.
Compensation for an acquisition in the Bill does not have to follow the Public Works Act rules, leading to reduced safeguards for owners and opportunities for exploitation or corruption.
Furthermore, the Bill's proposed definition of "specified work" is too broad and could be manipulated to suit any development Kāinga Ora decided it wanted to pursue.
The Bill proposes to give Kāinga Ora the ability to revoke, reclassify and reconfigure public reserves. This is an unwarranted and disproportionate response to the housing supply shortage.
Reserves are protected by legislation to ensure everyone has access to green space and to conserve this country's ever-dwindling flora and fauna. The Bill's provision of this power is in complete opposition to the global calls for action to limit disastrous climate change.
New Zealand's housing supply undeniably has its issues, but do they justify losing our hard-won rights of meaningful consultation and private property protection to the extent proposed? Once these rights and protections are lost, we are unlikely to see them again.
It is a classic case of putting a very large and powerful fox in charge of the chicken coop. The Urban Development Bill as it currently stands will give Kāinga Ora very long, very sharp teeth – all the better to bite us with. Is this the kind of beast we really want unleashed on our unsuspecting communities?
• Sir Harold Marshall is a fourth generation resident and advocate for Mt Albert and former Chair of Mt Albert Residents' Association. Linda Holdaway is a property specialist and Mt Albert resident, both are current members of the Mt Albert Residents' Association committee.