A street in Kawerau, which is seeing rapidly rising house prices (Wendy Brandon)

The Bulletin: High house prices a small town issue now

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Latest QV figures show huge house price rises in smaller towns, new study shows terrible bottom trawling impact, and nurses give natural disaster warning.

Concerns are being raised about small town house prices, with the view that they too are steadily becoming unaffordable. It comes off the back of the latest QV figures, which Interest has published a full list of. They show some pretty remarkable climbs over 12 months for some pretty out of the way places.

That’s got some small town and district mayors worried, reports Radio NZ. Prices in Kawerau, Wairoa and Ruapehu have all leapt by more than 20% in the year – even though each place started from a low base, that’s still a ridiculous jump. In both Wairoa and Ruapehu, the local mayors indicated that investors were among the buyers leading the demand, and Wairoa’s Craig Little said it was making things more difficult for first home buyers.

There is a flip-side to this as well though, outlined by Kawerau’s mayor Malcolm Campbell on Newstalk ZB. That is that economically, the town is seeing serious signs of recovery, after a long hard spell of suffering from high unemployment. Kawerau in particular has experienced some extraordinarily tough times. This piece from long term resident Helen McNeil from 2016 shows that, as do the revealing details in this beautiful essay about growing up there by Morgan Godfery. The town’s name sort of became a byword for small town depression and malaise. But now industries are coming back, and while that means the housing supply is under severe pressure, it makes rising house prices more a symptom of success than anything else.

There are a lot of other interesting data pieces in the QV figures that are worth pulling out. In general the more rural parts of the South Island aren’t seeing huge rises, though prices are going up. Prices in Dunedin are inflating quite seriously – up 14.3% over the year. Taken together, the whole Hawke’s Bay area is up massively – though just up the coast Tauranga is pretty flat. Whakatāne is up 11.1%, while half an hour’s drive away Opōtiki is down. And the sleepy seaside hamlet of Auckland is where the market seems the most depressed, with pretty much every region seeing declines.

One explanation for the mismatched rises is that buyers are shifting in order to be able to afford to live and own somewhere, meaning the many years of the market being highly distorted towards certain areas is starting to flatten out. That’s an explanation given in the Manawatū Standard for the “steady and strong” growth in the Tararua region – up 21% for the year. As well as that, a lot of those people are understood to be retirees, looking to downsize or move somewhere quieter for their twilight years. There was a 2013 Stats NZ report on how the ageing population could affect New Zealand’s property market, and while it only looked at possible projections rather than drawing firm conclusions, it would be fascinating to see some more follow up work on how demographics will affect housing markets.


The enormous damage being done to marine ecosystems by bottom trawling may be irreversible, according to new research reported on by Stuff. A new study has looked at sections of the ocean floor a full 15 years after they were trawled, there was no evidence the ecosystem recovering at all. That means coral, which sustains a whole web of life, is simply gone. According to an industry lobbying group though, we don’t know for sure there was any coral there in the first place. The findings have led to some environmentalists renewing their calls to ban bottom trawling.


Nurses have given a warning about their capabilities in a natural disaster, based on where they’re having to live. Radio NZ reports the nurses union has told a parliamentary select committee that because nurses can’t afford to live near hospitals, in a mass emergency situation they might be limited in how they can respond. One example given was Wellington hospital workers who have to live as far afield as Upper Hutt and the South Wairarapa – if a massive earthquake were to hit, would there be any way for them to navigate the trip into town?


The government has saddled up and passed a law change to crack down on filthy varmints who rustle livestock, reports The Country. Livestock theft is estimated to cost the farming sector about $120 million a year, and justice minister Andrew Little says successive governments have been called upon to make rustling penalties harsher. Mr Little said the new tools would enable police to “rope in the rustlers,” presumably while wearing a sheriff hat.


The new Auckland Art Gallery boss is facing allegations of workplace harassment from his previous job in Canada, reports The Spinoff. Gregory Burke, a New Zealander, is having a complaint filed against him investigated by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission. Regional Facilities Auckland say they are aware of the complaint, but won’t comment further. Mr Burke has been a highly acclaimed art curator for more than two decades.


Hospital bosses want a major public health campaign to be launched to counter the messages of those against vaccinations, reports Radio NZ. Immunisation rates have been falling slightly across the country since 2017, when they hit a plateau. Speaking personally, I appreciate the frustration of health professionals here, given vaccines are incredibly effective for public health. But after I wrote this piece about measles, a lot of the negative feedback against vaccinations rested on the idea that officialdom can’t be trusted. So I’d be incredibly surprised if an official campaign had any positive impact on those people.


Whatever could it be? Queenstown paper Mountain Scene reports that the local District Council is making a mysterious announcement today, which will have national significance as well. I won’t engage in speculation about what it could be, but suffice to say if the announcement is actually a big deal I’ll include an update tomorrow.


A quick milestone announcement. Today is a really proud day for me, because on this day a year ago, the very first edition of The Bulletin was sent out. I had a look through the mailing list yesterday, and by my count there’s well over 3000 of you who signed up for that first edition, who are still on the list now. That’s incredibly cool to see how many people have stuck around all this time, and I remain so very grateful to everyone who gave us a boost right at the start. Thank you to all of the Day 1’s, thank you to every one of the many thousands of people who have joined since, and thank you to both Vector and The Spinoff for enabling my dream of being paid to be a news nerd. Here’s to another year.


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Steven “Kiwi Way” Adams. Illustration: Toby Morris for RNZ

Right now on The Spinoff: Mark Daalder argues that jihadist Mark Taylor shouldn’t be left in a Syrian prison – he’s our problem and he should be in a New Zealand prison. Madeleine Chapman writes about the play Wild Dogs Under My Skirt, and how it allows the full breadth of life for Samoan women to be shown. Our two freelancers finish the series with a discussion about how they should probably get a will.

And in less serious stuff: Are there dramas at your office about how warm or cool the air-con should be? Here’s an expert view from three leading scientists.  And finally, Elle Hunt goes in search of the Kiwi Way of Life – and all the things we end up hurling that term at.


Today’s feature is an incredibly strange and unsettling story about a respected charity allegedly funding human rights abuses. Buzzfeed has reported on the World Wildlife Fund’s payments and support for anti-poaching forces, some of which have then gone on to torture and kill people as part of their efforts. The charity, which has a New Zealand arm, denies the allegations and say they have no tolerance for human rights abuses. Here’s an excerpt:

Shikharam’s alleged murder in 2006 was no isolated incident: It was part of a pattern that persists to this day. In national parks across Asia and Africa, the beloved nonprofit with the cuddly panda logo funds, equips, and works directly with paramilitary forces that have been accused of beating, torturing, sexually assaulting, and murdering scores of people. As recently as 2017, forest rangers at a WWF-funded park in Cameroon tortured an 11-year-old boy in front of his parents, the family told BuzzFeed News. Their village submitted a complaint to WWF, but months later, the family said they still hadn’t heard back.

WWF said that it does not tolerate any brutality by its partners. “Human rights abuses are totally unacceptable and can never be justified in the name of conservation,” the charity said in a statement. But WWF has provided high-tech enforcement equipment, cash, and weapons to forces implicated in atrocities against indigenous communities.


It might be time to get excited about a kid who is set to take on Shaun Johnson’s old position with the Warriors. The NZ Herald have profiled Chanel Harris-Tavita, 19, who is likely to get a lot more runs in the halves this year than he otherwise would have. He has at this stage never played first grade, but is considered to have come on a lot over the off-season. Handily for the club as well, Harris-Tavita is a local lad, having played his junior footy for the Pakurunga Jaguars.


From our partners: Climate change has already affected how electricity gets delivered to customers, and it’s only going to get more challenging. Vector’s Chief Networks Officer Andre Botha outlines what the lines company is doing to respond.


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The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed, free daily curated digest of all the most important stories from around New Zealand delivered directly to your inbox each morning.

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