Government versus Mayor again.

It’s only a week since Auckland Mayor Len Brown officially launched the Auckland Unitary Plan and even before its official unveiling government ministers have been rattling their sabres and threatening to have another go at dismantling democracy in Auckland.   As Brian Rudman explained earlier this week, both the Minister for Housing and the Minister for the Environment have been loud in their criticism.

The rehabilitated Housing Minister Dr Nick Smith has been loudly declaring to all and sundry that the council needs to free up the rules in the Unitary Plan so that more green field development can occur.  This would mean that the rural edges of the Auckland region get  swallowed up by new suburbs and – as I said last year – costs twice as much as developing housing inside the city’s existing boundaries because of the expense of building new roads, water and waste water supplies and providing transport options all from scratch.  Invariably this cost is born by the ratepapyers and the developers who make the profits from the subdivisions tend to benefit.

And now he’s also saying that the notification rules around housing developments should be set aside so that they can happen more quickly – essentially cutting out the democratic process enshrined in the Resource Management Act (RMA) that gives citizens a say on what gets built in their communities and how it will impact on them.

And ominously the Environment Minister Amy Adams – who is responsible for the current process of eviscerating the RMA – has been hinting that the government could set up a new crown enterprise to take over the planning functions of the Council in order to release more land for development.

At the same time both ministers have accused the Council of being anti-democratic for wanting to take a fast track approach to implementing the Unitary Plan.  The mayor maintains that this would that would still involve community engagement and the ability for the Plan to be challenged.

The accusations of lack of democracy seem a bit rich coming from a government that seems determined to undermine Auckland democracy at every turn because this criticism comes on top of the government’s insistence that they (the government) will appoint the members of the Unitary Plan’s hearing panel.  Given the Government’s propensity to cronyism this doesn’t bode well.

The government is doing its best to undermine Auckland Council at every step despite the Council and the Mayor jumping through every hoop that this government set them with the legislation that forced the council amalgamations in 2010.  Guess they’re still punishing us because we got the Mayor we wanted in those elections.

19 thoughts on “Government versus Mayor again.

  1. Gerrit – I’m under NO illusions that the council is doing anything right. The farmer “rated” off “his” land? How many things are wrong here? At least 2 – The concept of owning land to start with. The act of taking it off the guy by changing the rules. Then not doing anything with it. COUNCIL should do the infrastructure development and make the sections pay for that development over time using rates… and of COURSE Fletcher is in the house building business and I notice you didn’t come up with a number for the prices of those houses it is building.

    No Gerrit, it isn’t JUST one problem. There are a lot of pigs feeding at that trough.

    If you want to build 30,000 houses you’re going to build them with some standard designs and some efficiencies of production that we’ve not taken advantage of here. I have watched houses go up. Every stick-built never-the-same designer house is a labour intensive nightmare of coordination. Mostly unnecessary. It is NOT as hard as people are making it.

  2. BJ,

    Problem is that the farmer who owned the land was rated off it by the council. Simply council rezoning to the residential rating rate meant that it was not viable to continue to milk cows on the property.

    Fletchers fronted with the money to buy the farm land from the farmer and is paying to install the infrastructure, all the whilst paying council rates for the whole property at the residential rates rate.

    Councils are quite happy with this arrangement as it means higher revenue for no outlay.

    Fletchers is in the business to build houses, not sell sections on land development.

    Now if Auckland City Council want to get into land development they can start anytime, but I don’t think it is a primary objective. Much easier to set up council owned companies (like Watercare) and try and keep rates down.

    Council owned property does not produce any revenue stream property rates (or for that matter Land Taxes revenue).

    When you do the maths required to build 30,000 houses like Labour wants to, one really needs to put a timeline on it to see how long it will take versus not just land but more importantly locally available resources of labour and material.

    The reality may well be that cheap houses cannot be build fast enough to satisfy demand and as such prices will continue to skyrocket.

    Even a “cheap” $300K house will instantly be worth $450K the minute the owners are able to sell.

  3. Twelve years to build 900 houses? One house every 5 days. Figure a couple of years to put in the infrastructure first.. so maybe 1 every 2 days? Seems sort of reasonable but they are in fact working on, thus using the site.

    I think I will agree that there are fishhooks. That doesn’t make it a lot worse than any others. The unused banked land is an issue. The profits made by people just for OWNING something are an issue. Money is about work done. If there isn’t work done, the folks involved should not get any money.

    I think the land TAX proposal is more reasonable… because what happened with Fletcher is that they bought up ALL that land, and thus prevented anyone else from building on it… while they build at their rate.

    No parallel development. No independent development. Moreover, they are the ones putting in the infrastructure, not the council, so if someone wanted to connect to the water supply, power, plumbing whatever… they’d be apt to have problems.

    Why can’t individuals buy sections? Fletcher did the infrastructure and as a result Fletcher owns them.

    Why wasn’t Fletcher contracted by council JUST to do the infrastructure? The developer’s requirement is to get the most money possible… so what is the average price of the house being put on those sections?

    Council SHOULD be doing the infrastructure, not Fletcher and that’s another part of the problem. A thing that Council SHOULD do that it does NOT do.

    pppphhhtt! So knotted that nobody could untie it without recourse to an axe.

  4. GregorW,

    On the end of the our peninsula here (Wattle Cove), Fletchers have been building a 900 house subdivision for the last 12 years.

    The second the last lot is just being build on now.

    You saying that Fletchers would have lost the remaining un-built on subdivided land for not completing the 900 houses in the first five years?

    Big call.

    What will, and has actually happened is that Fletchers developed the Karaka Lakes subdivision off higher costs housing ahead of the Wattle Cove housing development (lower cost).

    You could argue that they should do both but I guess they figure the money is in higher cost housing.

    Plus the fact that resource wise, we don’t have the capacity of skilled people, equipment, raw materials, etc. to do the CHCH rebuild and build houses in Auckland.

  5. Gerrit – if it’s on one title no problem.
    If it’s got grass and cows on it, no problem.

    If it’s multi title / sub divided, it being prepared for building.

    The intent from that point is clear. 5 years from the time that sub division is granted is long enough. Any longer is speculation.

  6. GregorW,

    Define use it or lose it. Have friends who are have let 4 acres of land return to native bush.

    Having basically weeding out non natives and planted natives over a period of some 4 years. This is now complete and the bush is regenating nicely. No more work is required.

    However it is not being “used” by the present occupiers/owners (except to enjoy the bird life and the serenity). Will they lose the 4 acres plus the 1/2 acre with their house and gardens on it?

    Land is in one title (but council zoned to be capable of subdivision).

    Will the council force-ably subdivide the land, sell of the 4 acres of native bush simply to implement a “use it or lose it” policy.

    Full of fish hooks that proposal.

    If one owned a tract of subdivide-able land, simply plant grass and run stock. Using the land in other words.

  7. It’s actually pretty simple to stop land banking.

    Implement a 5 year max ‘use it or lose it’ policy. No improvement, forfeit the land.

  8. Kevyn: History back to front? I don’t think I said anything back to front. I simply said London is looking to reform [what needs to be reformed] to liberalise land supply.

  9. As an Auckland property investor, I fully support the councils strategy, and the Greens, and the high density advocates.

    Personally, I agree with Andrew.

  10. Andrew Atkin – “Why can’t the density lovers create their version of paradise, and the low-density lovers create theirs?”

    The problem is that the density lovers want “other people” to actually live in the high-density apartment buildings. Len will stay in his huge house, on his large grassy section, catching the train to the city once a year when the cameras are watching, with his mayoral car and driver dropping him at the station and pcking him up from Britomart.

  11. Andrew has got his history back to front. It was the low density campaigners who won the vote to introduce the Town Planning Act. Existing wealthy landowners used the Act’s zoning powers to stop the sprawl of medium density housing along the tram routes thereby protecting their large properties in places like Merivale from succombing to market forces. The after WWII property developers and owners of farmland not within easy walking distance of tram lines persuaded the government to subsidise detached house subdivisions. The RMA was supposed to have consigned land zoning to history but the big property developers used their armies of lawyers to outmaneuvre the councils and made the consenting process so expensive for councils that the councils reverted to land zoning as the core of their city plans. Everybody loses except the property developers who buy cheap fringe land and then spend vast sums on lawyers to persuade councils to grant variations to rezone the land residential and the cost of the lawyers is added to the price of the land making housing unaffordable.

  12. Quote: “This would mean that the rural edges of the Auckland region get swallowed up by new suburbs and – as I said last year – costs twice as much as developing housing inside the city’s existing boundaries because of the expense of building new roads, water and waste water supplies and providing transport options all from scratch.”

    Complete bullshit. Demolish-and-rebuild for capacity is far more expensive than add-on’s at the fringes.

    Now let’s get another fact in your brain. Sydney is making aggressive moves to establish affordable housing again, now that they have discovered (the hard way) that urban containment policy is a social disaster (London is doing the same thing, for the record). How will that then affect the Kiwi exodus…when metropolitan Australia offers new houses on its fringes for $200,000?

    http://www.newgeography.com/content/003574-sydney-abandon-radical-urban-containment-policy

    Auckland council cannot be allowed to hold this nation to ransom, in the name of saving something like 0.1% of farmland over the next 10 years or so. What you call democracy is actually years of propaganda and lies being fed into the public. Or, probably more likely, people who own land today voting to stop people who don’t own land escaping their hyper-inflated market…and all in the name of “democracy”. Make me sick.

    The reason why the government is coming down hard on Auckland council is because they finally understand how serious this is.

  13. Once upon a time there was a city called Auckland. It was a funny little city. About half the people wanted to live in a detached home on a quarter acre section, whereas the other half wanted to live like they do in London. So they went to war. They went to the polls and voted.

    As it happened, the high-density lovers came in stronger numbers to the polling-booths and defeated the low-density lovers with a 55% majority. They won the vote. Auckland was to be force-densified into a new-London!

    But then a freaky hairy guy called Andrew Atkin (me) came skipping into Auckland, and asked: Why are you all voting on how each other must live? Why can’t the density lovers create their version of paradise, and the low-density lovers create theirs?

    And for the first time in human history the people of Auckland realised that the function of democracy can be abused.

  14. Thanks for the helpful over simplification photonz1.

    Is it not that there are ~2000 sections ready to be built on now, but ~13,000 “sections” being sat on by land banking developers? The land is there.

    Freeing up more land doesn’t solve anything if it’s just going to be swallowed up by more land bankers who can’t even pull together a business case to develop the swathes of land they’re already sitting on.

    Heaven forbid we had something like a land tax to encourage productive use of land.

  15. You are very right Denise it is also a bit rich coming from a minister who has been instrumental in closing down a democratic institution namely Environment Canterbury (E-can)!!!

  16. Is that the democratically elected Mayor who claimed there was 15,000 sections ready to build on in Auckland, but had to admit he overstated by 750%?

    Not every family (i.e.Pacific Island family with 6 large kids and 4 grand parents) wants to be boxed into an inner city apartment.

  17. Makes you wonder why they bothered with the supercity if they are determined to undermine the council wherever they possibly can.
    I think the way National treats local government is disgraceful. If local govt dares to disagree with them, seems like they will just legislate to force councils to do what they want. Its appalling.

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