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PoliticsFebruary 21, 2024

Wellington District Plan panel’s views on affordability ‘wrong’, says housing minister


The evidence is clear that upzoning ‘matters a great deal’ to housing affordability, according to housing minister Chris Bishop, who says he will make an announcement about the District Plan in the coming weeks.

Housing minister Chris Bishop says the independent hearings panel for Wellington’s new District Plan is wrong when it comes to housing affordability. 

“The evidence is extremely clear that zoning and land supply, both inside our cities and at the edges of our cities, matters a great deal to housing affordability. And those who claim that zoning doesn’t matter are wrong,” he said, when asked about Wellington’s District Plan at parliament yesterday. 

Bishop avoided naming the panel specifically. When The Spinoff pointed out that was describing the panel’s findings, Bishop repeated: “Those who claim that zoning doesn’t matter are wrong.” 

The panel’s reports repeatedly cast doubt on the idea that upzoning or intensifying would help to increase housing supply and affordability, with conclusions including: We agree that enabling intensification does not, of itself, improve or even address affordability.”

The panel relied heavily on the advice of Australia-based economist Tim Helm, who argued upzoning for additional housing capacity “does not change housing supply or affordability” – a position that was criticised by mainstream economists. Trevor Robinson, the panel’s chairperson, told Wellington city councillors last week Helm’s arguments “appeared credible to us”. 

Bishop said his office was still studying the independent hearing panel’s reports, and he would make an announcement about Wellington’s District Plan in the coming weeks. 

“It’s really important that we incentivise councils to see housing not as something that’s bad, or a burden on them, but that councils see housing as a good thing, because abundant housing lowers the cost of living, improves productivity, and very importantly, reduces the fiscal costs to the Crown,” Bishop said. 

“As a government, we spend over $5 billion per year on housing subsidies across emergency housing, accommodation supplements and income-related rental subsidies. Every dollar that is spent on housing subsidies is a dollar that can’t be spent on the police, the health system or worthwhile public goods that the government should be spending money on. So sorting out our housing crisis is extremely important.”

The eight members of Wellington’s independent hearings panel

Labour’s housing spokesperson Kieran McAnulty told The Spinoff he wanted cities to embrace density. “We need more housing, and we need more intensified housing, particularly in cities,” he said. 

When asked if the government should intervene if Wellington didn’t enable enough housing, McAnulty responded: “We’ve got to look at that.”

“But we also don’t want to trample on local government processes either and I’ve got a lot of faith in local government,” he said. “I think councils around the pump in general do need help from central government, and I don’t think they’re getting it.”

He criticised the government for scrapping reforms of the Resource Management Act, which he said would have enabled more housing growth. “They’ve removed the thing that would have helped with that, so they need to justify that decision.”

Wellington City Council will vote on the District Plan at a meeting on March 14, where they will have the choice of accepting the independent hearings panel’s recommendations or overturning them with amendments. 

Any amendments that differ from the panel’s recommendations need to be signed off by environment minister Penny Simmonds, though Bishop is expected to be involved as well.

How to follow along

If you want to stay on top of everything that happens throughout this process, subscribe to The Spinoff’s War for Wellington newsletter. Every week, we’ll send a roundup of the most important stories about the District Plan process and the future of housing in Wellington. It will include highlights from our own coverage, perspectives from experts and activists, and the best reporting from other media around Wellington. Sign up here.

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