By Alex Tarrant
Latest: Bill English says reform of New Zealand's urban planning rules would be done with the aim of avoiding future sharp housing market cycles.
Speaking to media on Tuesday morning, English expanded on comments made Monday about National's aim to separate urban planning from the Resource Management Act.
"If we do a good job of it, we should be able to avoid sharp housing cycles happening again," English said Tuesday. "If we do a good job of it, it should be easier for businesses to get up and running at reasonable cost. It should be easier for councils to accommodate growth, because a lot of councils are still adapting to the fact that their towns and cities are growing," he said.
"They need to accommodate, they need to make land available, they need to deal with the local environmental issues so that people can have reasonably priced housing."
See the rest of his latest comments in the video above.
A few years of work, though
On Monday, English said it would likely take a few years to consult, work through and legislate for the new urban planning laws National is eyeing to speed up the building of more affordable housing.
This is despite a blueprint already existing in the form of the Productivity Commission’s 500-page report on urban planning released earlier this year. While that report will provide the backbone for proposals to separate urban planning from the Resource Management Act (RMA), English said the “few years” timeframe would be required to find consensus on how to overhaul city planning systems.
You can read more on the Productivity Commission’s report here. See its comments specifically on Auckland here. And watch a video interview with Commission chairman Murray Sherwin on urban planning here.
A National-led government after September 23 would endeavour to have new law in place by the time the next election rolls around, English told media in Wellington on Monday. He was speaking after National pledged new “fit-for-purpose” planning laws so that the RMA couldn’t impact urban planning.
Labour housing spokesman Phil Twyford, and environment spokesman David Parker, attacked National’s announcement as a wild goose chase. “National’s announcement of a new urban planning law is an admission that after a decade of blaming the RMA for expensive housing they have failed to fix the problem,” Twyford said.
“Nick Smith’s constant tinkering with the RMA has only made it more complicated and cumbersome. National has been blaming the RMA and Councils for expensive housing but they failed to do the two things that would actually make housing more affordable,” he added.
“They could have used a National Policy Statement under the RMA to require Councils to free up the planning rules, get rid of the urban growth boundary, and use a smarter approach that allows our cities to make room for growth. They didn’t but Labour will.
“They could have turned on the tap for infrastructure financing by adopting Labour’s policy of using bond finance serviced by a targeted rate, instead of wasting years fiddling around trying to give lend money to Councils who cannot take on more debt. They didn’t but Labour will,” Twyford said.
New rules for towns/cities larger than 20,000
Under National’s plan, new rules would separate planning laws for towns and cities with populations larger than about 20,000-30,000, English said. They would clarify what planning law applied in these areas. Boundary issues would be important to work through, but were only one set of issues, he said.
“The important thing here is…clarity of intent. That, if we become the government, then we will set out on the process of creating separate urban planning legislation so that we can deal better with the success and strength of New Zealand.”
“We want people to be able to afford housing, we want to see businesses get the opportunity to grow at reasonable costs,” English said. There was a broad consensus that if New Zealand was going to have growing cities with high environmental standards, while maintaining the strength of the economy, then government needed to look at a separate urban planning system to the RMA.
Detail in the Productivity Commission’s report was “aimed at our cities being able to be more responsive to growth,” he said. “We’ve seen, with the large number of Kiwis staying home, with pressures in the housing market, that the planning system has not been able to respond.”
English said the government has had to legislate to bypass restrictive planning laws each time there had been a significant requirement for change – including in Christchurch after the earthquakes regarding infrastructure and housing. “The system we’ve had in place hasn’t dealt well with what are now dynamic and growing cities. And that’s why we want to change it,” he said.
National would not look to repeal the RMA, however. “You need more in place to deal with all the work that’s going on at the moment. There’s extensive construction and building of homes, roads, schools, hospitals. So, we would want to see that continue while the work is done on what would be an alternative regime for urban planning.”
He said National anticipated creation of an urban planning process which dealt with issues like infrastructure and housing density; dealing with settings which, because they added so much time to planning processes, had created pressure in the housing market by raising costs.
“A lot of the work would be about creating the environment specifically for our growing cities. We’ve taken some measures, like the policy statements on urban planning assist somewhat, but when you’ve got New Zealand in a strong position, jobs being created, more Kiwis staying home, a big construction boom with more houses being built, we want legislation that’s more fit for purpose.”
English said National would like to gain consensus across environmental groups, business, farmers and the infrastructure industry on the proposals, all of which agreed that “we could do a better job of this.”
“And [that consensus] is backed up by some of these studies that show, for instance, that the red tape in our planning system can add up to 50% to the cost of a house. Now, that affects families, and we need to be able to do better here in New Zealand to support families, make sure their housing is achievable and affordable.”
The Productivity Commission report would be the backbone of work to be done. “We’d get started straight away. A number of years’ work have been done, and I would imagine over the next two or three years we would make considerable progress, bearing in mind you have to turn all this into legislation. That takes a bit of time,” English said.