Housing Minister Phil Twyford opens up a little more about the Unitec development in interview with Mt Albert Inc editor Bruce Morris

Current Unitec site

This article first appeared on mtalbertinc.co.nz and is republished with permission.


By Bruce Morris*

The Government is aiming to build 50 per cent more homes on its Unitec block than the target proposed under the original private scheme.

Wairaka Land Company, the Unitec subsidiary behind the initial plan to break up the land and sell it to developers, had drafted a masterplan envisaging 2675 homes on the 29 hectare part of the precinct surplus to its needs.

But that was before the Labour coalition came calling late last year to turn the project from a privately-developed estate into a Government launch of its KiwiBuild programmes, with state housing and private market sales thrown in.

HLC, the Housing NZ subsidiary used by the Government to scope the site’s potential, came up with a much more ambitious aim: 3000 to 4000 homes.

Housing minister Phil Twyford told Mt Albert Inc in an exclusive interview: “Our people doing due diligence concluded the site could comfortably carry significantly more density.

“We’re not talking about high-rise tower blocks – more like mid-rise and medium density… imagine the kind of street-scape at Hobsonville, with more three-to-four storey walk-ups in the mix.”

Mr Twyford originally said 63 per cent of the land would be built on, giving a density of 165 units per hectare on the basis of a 3000-unit development, and 220-plus units if the project is going to hit the 4000 upper level.

But now he seems to be pulling back, saying the 63 per cent was “an assumption the modelling was based on. It was not a cast-iron edict.”

At this stage, he’s not saying how far that 63 per cent might move, and perhaps it could shift to 70 or 75 per cent, intruding on potential green space. But even at 75 per cent, the density for a 4000-unit development will be 180 units per hectare (or 136 units per hectare for a 3000 unit build), and that’s getting up beyond medium density.

To those who believe it is all too much, the minister says “they’re wrong”, pinning his faith on the initial modelling work of HLC – the “single best collection of masterplanners that we have”.

He talks about a development of terraced housing, town houses and apartments but, with the tall targets, apartments seem certain to dominate much of the site across 30-40 per cent of KiwiBuild homes, 20 per cent state housing and 40 per cent at market prices.

Just how high will those apartments go? Not high at all, it seems, though there may be the odd block that takes advantage of the ability under the Unitary Plan to go to seven or eight storeys.

Rather, Mr Twyford’s vision – no doubt primed by the masterplan experts at HLC – is for three or four-storey “walk-up” apartments (no lifts trim construction costs). They are hardly unusual elsewhere in the world and becoming more common in Auckland as a new approach to urban living, though scrambling up two and three flights of stairs with a load of groceries won’t suit everyone.

He points specifically to Daisy, a new Ockham development on the border of Kingsland and Eden Terrace, where a 33-unit apartment block has been built on 320sq m. The big difference, apart from the pro-rata footprint allocation of 10sq m for each apartment: there are no carparks. Instead, Daisy has 12 scooter parks, 40 bicycle spaces and two shared cars for the use of residents, run through the Cityhop model.

Which brings us to cars and a past comment that, with Mt Albert’s “superb” transport links (and light rail to Pt Chev on the way) “developers might even take the view that you don’t need to own a car to live there”.

That was a bit of a throwaway line, but plainly cars don’t rate as all-important on the priority list of a Housing Minister who is also Minister of Transport.

“Part of our plan for Auckland is to create the opportunity for urban living that I believe people want and can afford,” he says. “We will be doing a lot of large-scale urban renewal projects, particularly around rail network.

“If you live in a community that has fantastic transport links, as Unitec will have - light rail, trains, cycle lanes and good high-frequency buses – well, with that, many people may choose not to own a car, or in a two-adult house have one car. Or you may have people for example who walk or cycle or catch a bus and who use a car-sharing service when they need a car.

“This is not about telling people how to live or telling people they shouldn’t have cars. It’s actually about giving people choices.

people don’t have the same insatiable hunger to own a car that our generation does. We are trying to build a city where, in a generation, you won’t be forced to own a car to live here, and Melbourne and Sydney are already like that.”

Mr Twyford says carparks are “incredibly expensive”, putting $50,000 or more on the cost of an apartment, and one of the innovations of the Unitary Plan was to get rid of the edict that developers needed to provide a certain number of parks.

“I think we understand that what we have now is not working. We have the most ridiculous urban land prices relative to our incomes. We have chronic gridlock even though we have spent a decade investing in more motorways. They just get filled up with cars. There has to be a different way of doing things.

“… We don’t have to reinvent the wheel – we’re talking about the kind of density Sydney has had for 40 or 50 years. When we visit our grandkids in Brisbane, Sydney, Perth or Melbourne we see cities that invest in public transport are much more liveable and also more prosperous as a result.”

The minister is a fan of Ockham, and uses his enthusiasm for their work to have a crack at critics.

“If you look at some of the finest housing work by Ockham – those sorts of apartment blocks [being built now in Hobsonville, Avondale and in another part of Mt Albert] … I think they are fantastic. If you think about townhouses and terraces and those sorts of walk-ups, I reckon that’s the sort of style you are likely to see on the site.

“It is a very urban site and can take density and has typography, with mature trees and interesting formations, and the sort of fevered ravings of people like Matthew Hooten and Mike Hosking likening it to Mumbai is just lunacy – backwards 1950s views.

“These people I think are locked in a 1950s time-warp where we are all living on quarter-acre sections in three-bedroom homes. The world has moved on and we are about to deliver the kind of urban communities that provide a mix of the kind of houses that people want at prices they can afford.”

Mr Twyford is satisfied the development will have plenty of green space: “If you are going to do more density, you have got to have more open space and green space. The wonderful thing about that site is it gives that opportunity.”

He is still working with the Tamaki Makaurau iwi collective, offering them the opportunity to be the main developers, but what form that partnership will take is yet to be settled.

“We see this as an enormous opportunity for iwi, and not just in Auckland but around the country. They are breaking my door down and saying they want to be part of the various urban develop and housing projects the Government is getting underway.

“Many of them have capital, land and lots of ambition and understand from their own people how important housing is. All those things would make them ideal development partners.”

How such an arrangement would be structured at Unitec is unclear, says the minister, and may take a couple of months to crystalise.

There were a number of options, with nothing settled, but they included:

The Hobsonville model, where Housing NZ subsidiary HLC completed the masterplan and created superlots to sell to private developers;

A Government land-for-housing programme where a developer took a commercial risk to produce a contracted outcome and didn’t pay for the land until the development was over.

One matter that remains up in the air, in the medium-term at least: the future of the Mason Clinic, which cares for mentally-ill offenders, including dangerous patients.

The clinic sits in the north-west of the precinct, adjacent to the old Oakley Hospital block, and that area may eventually be dominated by open-market houses.

The main Oakley building is heritage-listed and, with earthquake strengthening needed, will probably end up as an expensive conversion to “superior” apartments – sitting awkwardly alongside a forensic mental institution.

That may mean a new site for the Mason Clinic in the future, but Mr Twyford has other pressing issues to resolve in the meantime. “No decision has been made, “he says. “The Mason Clinic is staying right where it is at the moment.”

He is aware of strong local feeling about the whole project and real concerns at the traffic issues, but says no firm decisions have yet been made about “what community engagement will look like”.

But he expects full engagement with Mt Albert people, “who have a rightful expectation that they will be part of the conversation”.


This article first appeared on mtalbertinc.co.nz and is republished with permission. www.mtalbertinc.co.nz broke the story on the Government plans for the Unitec land and has since published a range of follow ups and analysis.

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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49 Comments

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Phil Twyford - "I think we understand that what we have now is not working. We have the most ridiculous urban land prices relative to our incomes. We have chronic gridlock even though we have spent a decade investing in more motorways. They just get filled up with cars. There has to be a different way of doing things."

There is an obvious way forward. Right up until the election there was a Labour policy (written by Phil) to remove the RUB, lower land prices and thus encourage people to build in Auckland by making it profitable.

Since the election this promise has vanished without a trace, Phil Twyford has no recollection of it and is today left wondering what can be done. Is there some way of getting our clueless building minister Phil Twyford (2018), in touch with the intelligent building spokesman Phil Twyford (2017)?

“This is not about telling people how to live or telling people they shouldn’t have cars. It’s actually about giving people choices."

This is exactly about telling people how to live and what to own ...comrades!
Who do you think you are fooling ?

The Unitech projects is looking more like a ghetto now, 20% HNZ, 40% desperate people renting from the Gov, and 40% unsold market priced empty units.

Shambles!

No, its quite simple, if you want to drive a car you rent/buy a place with a carpark, if you want to rely on public transport rent/buy a place that doesn't have a carpark and save money. Its not like they are going round barricading off existing carparks. Calm down man!

I am calm, thank you.
read again what you just wrote - that is exactly telling / Forcing people what to do in the name of offering them choices !

Poor people who cannot afford to buy or even rent at market prices have no choice and will take what is on offer ... that would be better than tents ATM.

However if kiwibuild is going to be developed on these principles then it is a shambles and they will build units no one will buy.

I challenge the clueless PT to put out these units for sale of the plans and see what response he would get before building a shed.

Jeez,you don't sound calm Echo...
"...Forcing people what to do in the name of offering them choices !"...now offering choices is a sin in your eyes.

Have an open mind and wait until we see what is actually mooted before jumping all over your imaginary slum...
Do you live in AKL,have you walked around Unitec?
I am neither for or against at this stage,but if they are built to an 'Ockham' standard,there is no reason why it can't be done in an appealing way.
The daisy which has just been completed,33 units,no parking,one bedddies from $540k,built in an industrial street with a rail line running past are all sold,the choice was given,some have obviously taken it up...

This is the sort of cr*p the private sector is currently providing to rent in this locale:
https://www.realestate.co.nz/3280005
vs what Ockham is currently building:
https://www.realestate.co.nz/3203141 & https://www.realestate.co.nz/3272168
I know where I would rather be...

How many of the Units in Ockham will be sold to or used by HNZ ? ?

There are plenty of apartment complexes in AKL with units already being leased to HNZ by private landlords on long term leases...whats new?

Where?, ... name me one such unit !

You have no idea of what you talking about ...

Just go through trademe listings for city apartments and it wont be long before you see one with "Rent gauranteed til x/x/2019 with HNZ Contract"

See Pragmatists response above...You are getting wound up,all those exclamation marks.
Do you live in AKL?
Sheesh,there are private apartments,motels,camp grounds,all sorts being utilised by HNZ etc...

Choices require money. If a person doesn't want a carpark there why require a person to buy one?

The current zoning laws and for decades past has forced the dwellings to be built the way they have - not actually responding to market demand. Set-back rules, minimum size, minimum carparks, height limits all force the current housing situation. I would prefer Mr. Twyford reducing regulation and allow a free market.

Geez, in this day and age, how the hell are you going to get around without a car???
Dreamworld if you think that Twyford knows what the hell he is doing!
Wouldn’t you think by now they would have an idea of what they can possibly build on the Unitec land,
Let’s just fit as many on as we can, go 8 high without car parking or garaging!
Twyford is going from one disaster to another.
On TV this morning g against Judith Collins he was out of his depth and came across as an absolute pillack!
Disasterous shambles of a government that is going to end up costing NZ dearly!

Calm down TM2....

Why would this story possibly get TM2 worked up? Oh yeah that is right, he is a landlord who makes a living out of scarcity of housing. He is worried Kiwibuild might come CHCH way next and have his tenants moving out or asking for rent drops. I can't see any other reason he would care so much.

"Won't someone think of the people who won't have car parks", seems to be the only rally call they can think of against this project. Hosking led the call, but who really listens to "I will never crash my car" Hosking these days?

Kiwibuild isn’t needed in Christchurch that market is deflating itself.

Nzdan, careful now. That deflating feeling will shortly arrive on your proud doorstep too.

Good thing we aren’t in it for gains.

Uh-huh, yeah-right......

Capital gains mean absolutely nothing to us because we only have 1 home, and would be buying and selling in the same market. Timing for us was everything because it has meant we didn't end up paying 20% more for a house 1 year down the track, 20% more interest dollars to the bank every month.

Nzdan, "Timing for us was everything because it has meant we didn't end up paying 20% more for a house 1 year down the track, 20% more interest dollars to the bank every month"

Yes, well, retrospection is a self assigned luxury on the way up, brutal punishment on the way down so it might pay you to buckle up.

I'm curious to know which NZ location has had a 20%pa price appreciation in the last 12 months? Sounds too good to be true ;-)

Masterton. January 2017 to January 2018 was an 18.6% average increase according to Q.V.. Not quite 20% but near enough. We also bought for near enough to 10% below our Registered Valuation and 5% below CV at the time, vendor wanted the place gone ASAP due to a bad experience with tenants.

Anyway at the rate we are paying off the mortgage it’ll be gone in 10 years. It’s only 3 x my annual income, I think we will be okay.

As for foresight/hindsight, I’m no astute investor so I didn’t sit here 12 months ago and predict the market but I did see an increase in attendees at open homes and a drop in the number of listings so FOMO kinda kicked in and we put in the effort to get a place.

Nzdan, the provinces have certainly played catch up. All the best with your purchase :) If capital gains are not important then neither are any unforeseen capital losses. Like your family, losses/gains are not important to my family either. Have owned and lived in the one home over twenty years.

Precisely. My earlier comments around the Christchurch market were purely aimed at TM2 because he's easily wound up and it makes for some light entertainment.

I haven't owned a car for years, it's very easy. Anywhere in Chch can be reached by bike, I can taxi or uber if I'm desperate, if I want to leave town I can hire a car. Saves me a small fortune and keeps me fit.

MFD, I feel sorry for you!
Couldn’t be bothered relying on your own pedal power, ubering or being ripped off by taxis.
If you think you are saving money then could for you, but convenience obviously isn’t on your agenda!

..dont feel sorry for him.. he's laughing at you. I too have biked all my life. The health and monetary benefits are huge - my employer even pays for my hot shower each morning. And is exceedingly fun passing all the work commuters stuck in traffic.
For most middle age male boomers cars are a phallic symbol anyway. Checked your heart,, bmi and blood pressure lately?

The bit about the cars with MEL and SYD is spot on. As I have said before we have lived in SYD for 10 years and never owned a car, which is a huge annual saving. That is impossible to do in AKL and as result you have a completely disproportionate amount of cars parked up littering the streets and gridlock all day everyday. To get anywhere is almost as bad as Tehran. Needs to change.

Yes, auckland has the chicken and egg problem with public transport. Not enough money & density to provide good public transport, and no one wants to go carless and high density because the public transport system is rubbish.

I don't see it that way, you have to provide the infrastructure first.

AKLD just need to get on and build it.

You just to raise a few tens of billions of dollars, silence the NIMBY brigade and other vested interests first. Have at it. :)

Correct Tui.
In Chch some developers are wanting to build multiple units without car parks or garages.
Should never get council approval, as the cars will fill up the street parking for business and hospital parking.
There is no way that people can live in Chch without a car as public transport is not great.
Councils and developers need to get real and you would be an absolute clown to buy into this concept!

I do live in Chch without a car, and I am not the only one. I know plenty of people who use the bus network and find it very handy.

Private companies can build but the regulations are all wrong.

To start with land is tied up by land bankers and council rules. Then the actual building itself is designed around a building code that is outdated. This joke building code is enforced by pencil pushing learn-resistant councils, built by limited liability companies out of a severely restricted set of monopoly prices materials and the handed over to the owner with a useless master builders "guarantee". Mountains of paperwork. Soil tests. Thousands of consent fees. End result is a cold ticky-tack house that grows mould on the windows and blows to pieces when the weather picks up a bit.

First Uncle Phil should focus on changing all this. Tax the land so it's available at a fair price. Update the building code so more products and building methods are accepted. Hold builders to account with mandatory insurance like Australia does.

Phil's ghetto is a waste of time. Like all bureaucrats he's only doing things to justify his own existence. PT is not actually interested in fixing the root of the problem.

PT promised his Kiwi build houses would be 50% Auckland and 50% the rest of the country. So far it is all about Auckland. This is an Auckland with 4377 properties listed for rent with 623 below $400 per week. There are many more not listed on Trademe. The problem is affordability not supply.
When will PT start on the other half of his promise to build south of the Bombay Hills.

The Joneses, FFS yes I am a professional landlord that does very well from his business.
Kiwibuild won’t affect us at all so no need to bring my business into it.
What I am saying is that this coalition has got no idea whatsoever in what They are doing.

Is it 3000 or 4000units, any garages or not, how many levels. How many Kiwibuild and how much?
Absolutely clueless is our Mr Twyford and it is showing every day.

TM2, “Criticism is an indirect form of self-boasting.”– Emmet Fox

"TM2, “Criticism is an indirect form of self-boasting.”– Emmet Fox"

Nothing indirect from THE MAN 2 about his self boasting. Considering he is THE MAN and he is

"a professional landlord that does very well from his business."

I wonder how someone like him feels when they meet a billionaire or someone with hundreds of millions, if your self worth is around money. My self worth is always around people I can call TRUE friends and meeting good GENUINE people. But hey each to their own.

Swapacrate, never met a billionaire and probably never will.
Wouldn’t have a need for billions myself as more than happy with current financial situation and lifestyle.
Myself and friends and family are all genuine and don’t need to put up a front!

Would you prefer the Government to hide away and only reveal the plans to the world when the diggers move in? Knowing what stage the planning process is at gives you an opportunity to give your input - it's very easy to e-mail an MP if you feel strongly.

The coalition of sore losers never misses an opportunity to whinge.

If the coalition supporters can not see the total incompetency then you are totally blind!

No crisis when you can sell your property for 20 million. Yee hah to old John Key, keep the policies to make him richer and a knighthood to boost, not to mention a few beers with the ABs after World Cup, which was very cringe worthy.

As long as its cheaper and easier and way quicker to get around by car than by bus , there will never be a move towards bus usage in Auckland .

The cost of getting my 2 children into Auckland University from the Shore was more expensive than using multiple bus (x2 return tickets ) that do not arrive on time , waiting in a cold wet windy bus shelter with wet shoes, not to mention a long walk in rain from the bus stop to the house in Greenhithe ( in an area not serviced by public transport ).

So I took them in each morning and my wife would collect them at around 2.00 pm .depending on when the lectures finished .

The result 4 trips in and out of the city each day ............... still costing less than the bus cost , but way more convenient than the buses and the ridiculously long time it took to take multiple busses and a long walk to get home

Cost is a huge barrier to effective public transport.

When the ARA ran Auckland transport up till the 1980s, it was cheap and easy to get around. The North Shore was exceptionally well-serviced between the ARA and Birkenhead Buses; and the Devonport ferry / bus service. Aucklanders used public transport in huge numbers back then because it was cheap and reliable. The shift towards car use in Auckland only happened after public transport was privatised. Another example of 'fixing' what ain't broke.

If there will never be a move towards bus usage in Auckland, can you explain who are the people driving huge growth in bus usage in auckland? And rapid transit growth has been double digits for over a decade.

Are you claiming the council is paying people to spend all day riding transit to inflate the figures?

Latest figures are to the end of Feb, which are always the worst as their starting point is March Madness.

 Overall public transport totalled 91.6 million boardings for the 12 months to February 2018, an increase of 6.9 percent, or 5.9 million
boardings, on the 12 months to February 2017.
 Rail boardings totalled 20.3 million for the 12 months to February 2018, an increase of 10.0 percent, or 1.8 million boardings, on the 12
months to February 2017.
 Bus boardings totalled 65.2 million for the 12 months to February 2018, an increase of 6.8 percent, or 4.1 million boardings, on the 12
months to February 2017.
 Ferry boardings totalled 6.1 million for the 12 months to February 2018, a decrease of 0.9 percent, or 54,000, on the 12 months to February
2017.
6. Boardings on the rapid and frequent network totalled 38.6 million in the 12 months to February 2018, an increase of 13.7 percent, or 4.6 million
boardings, on the 12 months to February 2017. In percentage terms, this increase was significantly faster than the 6.9 percent increase in total
boardings.

https://at.govt.nz/media/1976505/item-122-monthly-transport-indicators-r...

I presume that people buying apartments that don't have carparks, don't own a car, or have bought/rented off site carpark/s.

Street parking should be at a price that makes in available to all city residents based on demand, and with a limit on maximum park time.