New zoning laws are set to bring more homes to a street near you. But as a number of South Auckland politicians point out, whether that will have a positive impact on their communities remains to be seen.
We’re in a housing crisis driven by a chronic shortage in affordable homes, so with Labour and National coming together to promise an easing of zoning laws, what’s not to like?
A lot, according to Manurewa Local Board chair Joseph Allan. He says the government’s proposed Resource Management (Enabling Housing Supply and Other Matters) Amendment Bill will do more harm than good. “Everyone wants to have affordable housing. But is this the right way to do it? No. This is being put through by stealth and there’s nothing we can do.”
Allan, who’s lived his entire 52 years in the suburb, says it’s building costs that are driving house prices, not supply issues. He’s seeing around 20 new resource consents being approved every week thanks to the Auckland Unitary Plan (AUP). “Sometimes it’s as high as 80 consents, so the intensification is already happening at a pretty alarming rate”.
Despite declining home ownership rates in Manurewa, he believes the negative impacts on areas like Hill Park, which has many historical and architecturally significant homes, outweigh the potential benefits of this legislation.
“When people are coming to New Zealand and they stop-over in Auckland, they might have a drive around Ponsonby or stop in Hill Park to look at our character areas, but all that protection is going. Groups in Hill Park worked really hard to keep the special character overlay here, and so the government needs to respect that.”
He also expects backyard privacy will be lost through this legislation. “For someone who’s built a deck in their backyard and wants to relax in private,” he says, “one metre from their neighbour’s boundary, a new house can be 11 metres high so all your sun will be lost.”
In response to his concerns, housing minister Megan Woods says the government isn’t removing protections on historic homes and trees, but is instead requiring councils to provide “more extensive and detailed analysis to determine special character”.
“They can’t just apply a blanket approach across whole suburbs,” she says. “Fixing Auckland’s housing crisis is about building more houses. Yes, the AUP and the mixed housing urban zone resulted in some more homes being built, but one of the biggest problems with it is that it didn’t incentivise enough volume.”
She says analysis work done by the Auckland Council chief economist unit, backed up by PWC and Sense Partners, showed the AUP consistently enabled development in poorly connected, less desirable areas.
“Where the AUP did result in more houses being built, it mainly enabled development that was far from the city centre and in less accessible areas. This is not good enough. Increased urban sprawl and clogged up roads aren’t something we want for Auckland’s future.”
Given much of Māngere, Ōtāhuhu, Ōtara and Manurewa are already zoned mixed housing urban, Ōtara-Papatoetoe Local Board chair Apulu Reece Autagavaia says the legislation “levels the playing field” by ensuring his district isn’t the primary focus for developers wanting to build infill housing.
“Having all these special character areas [in central Auckland] has actually forced outer areas to intensify, even though they have less quality infrastructure and less public transport access, whereas isthmus has all the best infrastructure, more jobs and better public transport.”
While he generally supports the new law, he’s concerned it’s “driven by quantity over taking a holistic view of planning our neighbourhoods”. He points out that the removal of minimum car parking requirements will “see developers building car parking in nicer areas, but in places like Ōtara they will just cram as many units in as possible”.
“It can’t just be dictated by the market and who can afford what. So we’d like to see more detail around that.”
For Māngere-Ōtāhuhu Local Board chair Lemauga Lydia Sosene, anything that improves the chances for her constituents to buy a home is a good thing.
“First home buyers have become so disheartened and it’s probably worse now with houses in our area going for over a million [dollars]. We’re generally supportive of the intent of this bill but we’ve also got some concerns.”
To balance the negative impacts of the new laws, Allen, Autagavaia and Sosene want to see central government invest more money into areas like South Auckland to match the increased demands intensification will bring. “We can’t be left carrying the can for all the new infrastructure,” Allan says.
Sosene says a recent town centre upgrade project in Ōtāhuhu had to be scaled back because it cost over $5 million to fix the area’s ageing pipes. She says it’s an example of how “we have really suffered in the south” and hopes an injection of central government cash could rebalance things.
“Our people deserve good services, good facilities and public amenities but it’s a struggle for council coming out of our fourth lockdown and we’ve had to have some really hard conversations around our revenue, so we would support more resources for our communities.”
Woods points out that extra infrastructure requirements have been signalled for some time, “so any extra costs should already have been well anticipated by councils”.
“We also can’t shy away from the reality that council planning decisions have failed to keep up with the amount of infrastructure investment needed to fix failing or aging infrastructure, and to provide new infrastructure to cater for population growth, and address climate change.”
She also highlights the government’s recent $282 million dollar boost to fund infrastructure in Auckland to enable up to 1,260 additional homes.
“We’re investing more than any government has done since the 1970s on earthworks, pipes and roads to speed up the pace and scale of building homes all over the country, but central and local government have to share the responsibility.”
Submissions on the bill closed on Tuesday and it is expected to be passed into law on December 16, with the changes taking affect in August 2022.