By Alex Tarrant
Prime Minister Bill English has welcomed the Auckland High Court’s ruling on the city’s unitary plan, saying the decision opens the way for an increase in the number of houses on Crown land from 27,000 to 69,000 over the next decade.
The government is set to ramp up building on Crown land in Auckland, with medium density development potentially in Avondale, Mt Roskill and South Auckland in addition to existing developments in Tamaki, Hobsonville and Northcote, English told media at his weekly post-Cabinet briefing Monday.
The High Court earlier ruled that the Auckland Unitary Plan Independent Hearings Panel’s approach to “scope” for residential zoning in key test case areas was lawful. The move can be appealed.
The decision as it stands will probably allow for the building of slightly more than 69,000 new houses on Crown land in the city, English said. The bulk of the new houses will be sold to the market, English said.
However, he warned the building programme is still at the mercy of Auckland Council’s consent process. The government “still can’t build a house until the council says we can,” he said.
Building activity in areas like Mt Roskill and Avondale would depend on the council, English said. Community views would also have to be taken into account, he added. English declined to discuss the timing of the potential new projects.
Asked whether New Zealand’s labour force could handle the uptick in potential building activity, English said lessons from the Christchurch earthquake rebuild showed the construction industry had proven to be flexible and responsive. “People will be showing up,” he said.
An influx of workers as seen in Christchurch, for example with Irish and Filipinos coming in, would be expected as construction activity grows, he said. English said he would expect interest from foreign construction firms for large-scale development projects, as had been the case with procurement for existing ones.
Capital for the building plans on Crown land should not be a problem, English said. “That’s all under discussion [between government and councils] now,” he said. The government has already put $1bn on the table through its housing infrastructure fund. “Councils were saying they were short of funding. We’ve provided this funding,” he said.
Meanwhile, English noted there is a range of estimates for New Zealand’s housing shortage between 10,000 and 20,000. The Labour Party on Monday morning claimed a Treasury paper last year indicated a shortage of 60,000 houses, although the claim appears to be erroneous, English said.
Following the ruling, Auckland Council announced:
The High Court has today released a decision ruling that the Auckland Unitary Plan Independent Hearings Panel’s approach to “scope” for residential zoning in key test case areas was lawful.
The decision follows a preliminary hearing held in November 2016 which considered whether the Panel approached the matter of “scope” correctly in relation to certain areas of residential zoning in the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.
The court was formally asked to rule on seven agreed questions of law. The issue at the heart of the preliminary questions potentially affected approximately 29,000 properties originally zoned Single House and Mixed Housing Suburban in the notified Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.
The Court addressed the matter of scope by focusing on residential zoning in a number of test cases in Mt Albert, Glendowie, Blockhouse Bay, Judges Bay, Grey Lynn, Takanini, Howick and Parnell.
The court ruled that the IHP has approached the matter of “scope” correctly, with the exception of two site specific test cases – 117-133 The Strand, Parnell (relocation of viewshaft), and 55 Takanini School Road (notified as Industrial and rezoned Residential).
In his decision, Justice Whata said: “The purpose of resolving the test cases was to provide affected appellants with guidance on the issue of scope. It will be for them to decide whether and to what extent they wish to pursue their appeals in light of my decision.”
Auckland Council’s Director Legal and Risk, Katherine Anderson says: “As the decision has implications for appeals that are still before the courts, the council will not be making any further comment at this stage.”
Character Coalition, which challenged the scope of the unitary plan, said:
Today's decision by the High Court in Auckland to disallow the Character Coalition's appeal against parts of the Unitary plan means thousands of homeowners have been denied a say in what happens to the streets they live in.
Character Coalition chairperson Sally Hughes said " While we accept the Judge's decision, we are very disappointed with the outcome. We do not feel that the 29,000 homeowners, on whose behalf we made the appeal, have had an opportunity to be heard."
"It will now be death by a thousand cuts as developers move in over time, and destroy the character of some of Auckland's most beautiful streets.
Already historic villas in Onehunga in streets zoned THAB are being removed for intensive development and properties for sale are being advertised as development sites."
The Court's decision means that the last minute move by the Auckland Council to change the zoning of many streets that were single house zones in the unitary plan to multi level dwellings will now stand.