The government is “willing to shake up anything” to help Auckland meet the demand for serviced land for house building, Prime Minister Bill English says.
That could include the way government, Council and WaterCare interact, English said at his weekly post-Cabinet press conference.
He was responding to suggestions made by the Auckland Mayoral Taskforce on Housing, which Monday reported a number of high-level suggestions for boosting housing supply in the city.
I asked English about the Taskforce’s finding that the key barrier to scaling up supply of stand-alone housing was the availability of serviced land. The Taskforce argued for more collaboration between developers, the council, government and organisations like WaterCare and Auckland Transport.
Does getting WaterCare around the table, and potentially shaking the organisation up a bit, sound plausible to the government?
“Well, yes, it certainly does,” English replied. “I think we’re willing to shake up anything that’s going to help to meet the need.”
Issues such as how land could be serviced with infrastructure like waters and transport was now being dealt with particularly through discussions on the government’s $1bn Housing Infrastructure Fund, English said.
Council and central government had gained a better understanding around the detail of decision making that determined “the day that someone’s going to actually dig a hole and put a pipe in it so that we can go and then build the houses.”
“[The HIF discussion] won’t be negotiating the future of WaterCare, but it will be throwing up all the issues around who pays for what and when, which in a way hasn’t really been tested really hard before.”
Talks were helping the parties to understand why councils were cautious about building infrastructure ahead of demand, and how they charged for it. A good platform was being set for larger scale planning reform, English said.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister was asked whether central government would back Council in the use of targeted rates to pay for specific infrastructure projects.
This was not a new idea, he said. “They’ve had that capacity in local government; it’s been there for years.” As a local MP in Southland English said there had been arguments about flood protection schemes that involved targeted rates for those who benefited from the schemes paying higher rates, directly connected to the costs of that scheme.
Councils also have the capacity for value uplift rating, English said. While calculating that was “pretty tricky,” in principal Councils could look at using this type of rating scheme.
Asked directly whether he was encouraging councils to use value uplift taxes or rates, English said: “We’re quite happy to see the councils use the powers that they have. And they’re getting much more focussed on using those powers because I think these are quite legitimate ideas.”
English said that “by and large” the Mayoral Taskforce housing report was addressing the right sort of issues. While some would have been controversial in the past, they now needed to be dug into for the process of boosting supply to work.
The report showed Auckland Council was having a “deep think” about how to sort funding issues out, he said.
One idea the government is not keen on is GST sharing, English said. Government hadn’t seen any serious proposal for the model. In any case, the most important factor was what the revenue was used for, he said.