Monday 29 May 2023

National promises more housing uncertainty [updated]


DESPITE RISING INTEREST RATES and falling housing demand, New Zealand remains in the grip of its decades-long housing affordability crisis. 

“New Zealand is not short of land," said National's Chris Bishop yesterday, "but restrictive planning rules and a broken funding system have driven up the price of land and housing, creating a social and economic disaster."

He said this while announcing National would backtrack on its own bi-partisan policy to free up restrictive planning rules just a little bit in New Zealand's most unaffordable cities -- a policy that has already been successfully introduced, in association with the Labour govt, and operating for nearly a year. Those new "3-storey" density standards (called MRDS) are a blunt instrument, sure, but they allow city property owners to build taller housing in greater densities in larger numbers than ever before. They have been the only relaxation of restrictive planning rules since ... anyone can remember. And Bishop wants to overturn that.

What a fuckwit.

The MRDS standards were finally introduced only last year -- and more houses and apartments are already being planned and built and lived in under those new standards -- building up instead of out -- buyers seeing large falls in prices for entry-level dwellings, consistent with increased supply enabled by the MDRS and related changes. 

In the way of these things however, with the uncertainty this policy announcement will now make, almost all that planning will now stop while everyone waits to see what happens now -- with all the further implications for housing unaffordability.

What a complete fuckwit.

Christopher Bishop is backed up in this fuckwittery by both his leader, Christopher Luxon, who signalled the backtrack last week ("I think we've got the MRDS wrong," said the fuckwit), and by the leader of the opposition David Seymour, who on this issue abandons his pseudo-liberalism and becomes instead the "Minister for More Rules and Restrictions" -- and by Seymour's thoroughly confused deputy Brooke van Velden who says "The right answer is to leave planning to councils."

What a pack of total fuckwits. NIMBYs to a man and woman.

No news yet on how National's deputy thinks about all this, who's just been thoroughly undermined, i..e., Nicola Willis, who co-sponsored these relaxed density standards with Labour's Megan Woods -- a rare dose of bipartisanship and possibly the only good move on housing any politician has made in at least half a century. So good that all politicians bar those from ACT's illiberal wing could support it.

Oh yes, Bishop couched his announcement of backtracking on relaxing restrictions within cities with a policy to have planners "release" some land on green fields outside them*. Building more out instead of up. Eventually. (And probably easily averted by the planners' art.) But he's hanging his hat on the headline writer's spin that something is being done.**

National has form on this. Before he was elected as Prime Minister, National's John Key announced he would "improve housing affordability by ... changing the building regulatory regime ... and [fix] the Resource Management Act." And voters believed him. Of course, once appointed, that fuckwit did no such thing, watching instead as house prices soared, and planning and building restrictions mounted -- and he was heard to declare that the house price inflation he had helped create would "fix" the leaky homes crisis by inflating it all away.

Who cared what that did for first-home buyers. Certainly not the Prime Minister.

SO WITH HOUSING ONCE again a political football, we await an election to sort out which fuckwits where get to tell us where and how we're allowed to build, planning rules in and around our city are once again completely up in the air -- as they were while we awaited certainty around the MRDS. And without that certainty, it's impossible for developers and builders to make real plans, uncertain as they are as to how council's planners might be allowed to curtail them.

Sure, freeing up any land or planning restrictions anywhere will help housing affordability eventually. But it's not clear that the Christophers' city-edge botch-up is the solution, even if it were to free up anything at all.

Up or out? Why not both.

And why give those planners any bloody power at all?

* * * * 

* Bishop's policy is to require planners "to zone land for 30 years’ worth of housing demand." Those measuring whether this is achieved will be the same planners who wrote the rezoning rules - making it easy for planners to avoid. And he ignores that simply "releasing" land on its own does not necessarily make land cheaper.

The RMA's requirement for planners to undertake a cost-benefit analysis before writing new rules, easily fudged, and Auckland Council's continued fudging over the MRDS requirements demonstrates on their own how easy it is for planners to wriggle around these kind of requirements, and how willing councils will be to back them up.


** And Auckland Councillors are already "confirming" that no new land will be rezoned as a result of this -- the Auckland Unitary Plan, they say, already has all that Bishop asks for.

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