The National Housing Plan is not much different from the Action Plan

Housing development in major cities like Auckland under the next National government will not be much different than it was under Labour, an urban planning and land use economist says.

“This doesn’t make me famous when I say these things, but it (the national housing plan) is 80% the same as Labour’s plan,” said Shane Martin, chief economist at transport consultancy MRCagney.

As part of the election campaign, National pledged to make Medium Density Housing Standards (MDRS) optional for local councils.

The MDRS allows people to build up to three homes, and up to three storeys, on most sites without the need for resource consent. These rules were announced jointly by Labor and the National Party in October 2021. The National Party withdrew from the bipartisan agreement in May.

However, National continued to support the National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS-UD) which requires councils to designate residential density zones along rapid transit stations.

The results of this can already be seen in Auckland, where many parts of the city have seen detached detached homes replaced by townhomes as part of Auckland’s Unified Plan and subsequent ongoing updates to that plan, Martin told Q+A.

Martin – who moved from the US to work as an economist at Auckland Council in 2017 – said when he first moved to the city, people were talking about up to 70% of new development being in brownfields. Brownfields are places where the land is already developed and has infrastructure in place.

Meanwhile, up to 40% of new development is planned for greenfields, land that has never been built on before or has been used for things like agriculture.

In fact, it’s been more of an 80-20 split between brownfield and greenfield development ever since – and that’s the case even as large parts of the suburbs closer to Auckland’s CBD are excluded from further densification to protect their “character”, he said. Martin.

The NEP has also proposed creating a $1 billion fund to reward councils that deliver more housing. The party is also calling on councils in major towns and cities to allocate land to meet 30-year housing demand immediately.

In many places, such as Auckland and low-growth cities, that level of demand has already been established, Martin said.

“We could divide the entire North and South Island into ‘mixed residential areas’ and we would have a 10,000-year supply of developable land. But that wouldn’t actually accomplish anything.”

“You can specify what you want, but if it’s not in the right places and in the places people want to be, it won’t do anything. Put it in the right places in the key.”

He said there was not much guidance in National’s plans about where those “right places” would be located apart from some requirements for further densification around rapid transit routes.

For most places, focusing them around rapid transit will be enough, Martin said. However, he said it would not be available to places like Auckland and Wellington.

People are increasingly trading the dream of a quarter-acre for a smaller home with better access to downtown, where many jobs are located, he said.

But for some, Martin said there seems to be an established view of what housing is meant for — detached, with a large backyard.

“There’s a lot of trying to keep that at almost any cost.”

He added that there was also a desire to retain the villa look elsewhere.

The difficulty with this is that most cities grow from the center outward, which means the oldest suburbs with characterful homes will be in the best locations for jobs, Martin said.

“You can’t do much there because of the themed overlays that are meant to preserve the classic villas that everyone loves to see. But there are, at last count, close to 20,000 of these residences in these themed areas. This really is It takes a lot of places where a lot of people want to be.”

“This is not me advocating, ‘Let’s get rid of all the heritage and all the special characters.’ But there is a trade-off here.

“Maintaining that means people have to live further out. This makes prices higher and makes it so that only wealthy people can afford to live closer to the city.”

(Tags for translation) Property

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