Labour and National’s latest housing fix will only make a small dent in the number of new houses, says Auckland councillor

The Government’s radical new housing policy announced today has been panned by a senior Auckland councillor, who says it will make only a small dent in the number of housing consents.

Planning committee chairman Chris Darby said the real impediment to building houses is the lack of investment in infrastructure, supply chain challenges and a shortage of skilled workers.

He was responding to claims by Labour and National, who have joined forces in a rare act of unity to tackle the housing crisis by coming up with a plan to see as many as 105,500 extra new homes built in less than a decade.

The Government said the Housing Supply Bill will allow up to three homes of up to three storeys built on most sites without the new for a costly and frustrating resource consent.

Darby’s prediction was not shared by professor of construction management at AUT, John Tookey, who called today’s joint announcement “a significant step forward”.

“The new policy measures, when followed through, will likely generate substantial positive uplift in housing provision,” he said.

Auckland mayor Phil Goff was cool on the latest directive from the Government on how to build more houses in the city, although he did back the objective of building more homes more quickly.

He said the council is aware of the longstanding crisis of housing shortages and unaffordability, but also wanted to create attractive neighbourhoods.

“Aucklanders also wish to retain the best of Auckland’s character and heritage. This needs to be balanced with the need for more housing.

“It is also concerning that while the announced changes focus heavily on quantity, they do not adequately address the need to guarantee the quality of built outcomes,” said Goff, citing growing concerns about poor design outcomes.

In recent months, Goff has credited the Unitary Plan, the planning blueprint for the city since 2016, with “soaring” numbers of building consents to boost housing supply and reduce unaffordability in the city.

“Building consents issued, around 20,000 in the last year, are the highest in the city’s history. In August this year, 70 per cent of dwelling consents issued were for multi-unit dwellings, such as apartments and terrace housing,” he said.

Darby said the council will be providing feedback over the next three weeks and advocating strongly for improvements.

Today’s announcement is a follow-up to a national policy statement on urban development released earlier this year requiring more intensification across the city.

Under that plan, developers will be able to demolish homes and build apartment blocks of at least six storeys deep inside many of Auckland’s traditional suburbs.

Both of the Government plans appear to give the council discretion to protect the city’s inner city special character suburbs, like Ponsonby, Herne Bay, Freemans Bay and Devonport on the North Shore.

Environment Minister David Parker said today’s plans would include some exemptions to the medium density rules, “in areas where intensification is inappropriate, such as where there is a high risk of natural hazards, or a site has heritage value”.

He told the Herald for sites to be exempt they would have to be listed in the heritage schedule of the Unitary Plan. The council will need to carry out a site by site assessment to determine if each house in the character overlays should be exempt, he said.

This is already under way under the intensification plans in the national policy statement.

Heritage campaigner Sally Hughes was pleased the main political parties had agreed to work together to address the housing crisis.

She is the spokeswoman for the Character Coalition, an umbrella group of more than 60 heritage, historical and community groups who “care deeply about the city”. She also chairs the council’s heritage advisory panel.

Hughes was concerned today’s announcement would give people less time to address the threat to character, given it brings forward the policies and rules for intensification by one year to August 2023.

“I was heartened to hear Minister Parker mention heritage as one of the things that could be taken into account,” she said.

Hughes said work done by the Character Coalition found just 11,000 of the 70,000 homes captured in the national policy statement for intensification were character properties.

“It would be losing a lot of historic neighbourhoods that tell the story of Auckland to gain very little housing, let alone affordable housing. Intensification in those areas will not produce one affordable house,” said Hughes.

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