Rich people 'block' housing growth

MICHAEL FOX
Last updated 05:00 08/06/2014

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The Government is taking aim at wealthy landowners on city fringes who it claims are blocking efforts to build more homes in order to protect their lifestyles and multi-million dollar property values.

Housing Minister Nick Smith cited the case of a development in Richmond where wealthy landowners were preventing the land being sold in parcels of less than two hectares.

"And the truth is the only people who can afford two hectare block on the margins of Nelson are millionaires and you get very large houses on those and they're very lovely and everybody would like to live next door to a millionaire but the reality is that completely runs contrary to wanting to get more affordable housing for average families."

Councils are also moving to restrict the public's right to oppose individual developments in order to make it easier to build more homes and to prevent self-interest from blocking new developments.

National has proposed major changes to the RMA which it says are necessary to speed up the building of new houses but which opponents - including its support partners the Maori Party and United Future - say undermine the core principles of the Act.

The Government has been forced to park the bill until after the election due to a lack of support, despite of a belated offer from Labour to support the changes if the bill was split into two parts.

Smith singled out wealthy landowners living on city fringes for blocking much-needed developments.

"There are lots of examples of lifestylers on small rural blocks using the resource management act to the nth degree to block new subdivisions in their area, even in some cases arguing they don't want anybody less than millionaires living in their community. The law at the moment enables them to hold up new residential developments for up to a decade and that's why the law needs to change."

Councils also want to see major changes.

Auckland deputy mayor Penny Hulse said Auckland Council consulted widely on its unitary plan and knew what the community wanted and that council should be able to OK developments deemed to fit within that plan without having to notify the public.

"This might not be greeted with huge acclaim and enthusiasm by the community but if we are going to get on in areas like Auckland where we desperately need more houses to be built, we're pretty keen that we look at a more streamlined process," she said.

Councils had "moved past" the need to go through lengthy consultation processes and to cater to those guilty of "the nimby thing" - opposing developments because they are too close to their own homes, even if they benefit the city.

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Auckland Council wanted to see the RMA changed to reflect this. Auckland City was currently acting as the test case for other councils and was advising other councils to let them iron out the kinks before attempting to roll it out, she said.

Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby said the proposed change would also suit his council, which was currently identifying areas to build more cheaper homes.

Tauranga's Growth Management Plan was developed following wide consultation and should provide the basis for the city's development.

"There's no doubt that the RMA creates many barriers in terms of time frame of delivery and both councils and the private sector get quite frustrated with that. I hope that with the Auckland experience and maybe our experience . . . the government can look at making some permanent changes."

His council would still consult on special housing areas "the difference is we wouldn't be caught up in court processes after that".

Labour's housing spokesman Phil Twyford supported the changes. "The RMA wasn't written to encourage more and better urban development it was written to protect the natural environment and in our cities we've got to find ways to speed up and lift the quality of urban development."

- Sunday Star Times

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