Council accused of capital gains bid by stealth
Auckland Council is eyeing taking another slice out of rising property values and may seek a change in the law to do so.
The council is calling the proposal "shared land value uplift" but its critics are blasting it as a thinly disguised capital gains tax.
And if Auckland proceeds with the plan, it could open the door for other councils to follow and broaden their revenue bases.
The proposal is contained within an addendum to the council's draft Auckland Unitary Plan, which is likely to result in zoning changes that would allow higher-density housing in many parts of the city and possibly also extend the city's urban limits.
Properties that have their zoning changed from low density to high density housing, or rural properties on the city's fringes that are rezoned as urban, allowing housing or commercial development, would almost certainly benefit from a significant increase in value.
"At the moment in New Zealand, any increase in land value resulting from the rezoning decision remains with the landowner," the council's draft plan states.
But under its "shared land value uplift" proposal, the council would be able to take a slice of those capital gains. It outlines several possible ways the council could obtain money from owners or developers whose properties were rezoned.
These could involve the council negotiating with developers on a case-by-case base over the size of a fee they would pay, or introducing a uniform across-the- board levy.
Alternatively the council could estimate the likely profit a development would produce and how much of that was due to zoning changes, and then negotiate with the developer to retain a portion of the profit.
The council could also directly acquire land that was to be rezoned, and on-sell it to developers at a profit once rezoning had taken place.
Possible uses of the money raised could include spending on infrastructure projects or providing affordable housing.
However, Property Council NZ chief executive Connal Townsend sees it as a tax grab.
"This is a capital gains tax," he said. "One needs to be very cautious about arguments that this would have benefits for housing affordability. I don't buy that for a minute.
"I think this has been dressed up in housing affordability arguments without any real analysis. I think really what it is, is an attempt by the council to tap into another revenue stream. It's a capital gains tax and I expect it would be very inefficient."
Townsend believes that instead of making housing more affordable, it will ultimately make it more expensive, because it would add an extra cost to each development.
Property developer Tim Manning also said the proposal would push up housing costs.
Manning's company, Norwich Property, has built around 2000 homes throughout the country, many of them the types of higher- density developments such as terraced housing and apartment blocks which the Auckland Council is trying to encourage.
"It's another layer of costs and those costs have to be worn by someone and eventually it's the end purchaser," he said.
"They [the council] think turning a bit of farmland into a residential development is easy. But you've got to get umpteen dozen reports, you've got to consult neighbours and often pay them money."
Often developers had to hold land for five or six years and pay interest costs and other expenses, sometimes millions of dollars, with no certainty, he said.
"You could get to the end and the Environment Court says no, and then it's goodbye. You are left with a bit of land that's worth half as much as you've already spent.
"So if you can get it over the line you've got to be rewarded for that because it's so bloody hard to do. For such a high risk there has to be an upside for the developer. Otherwise why would they do it?"
Auckland Council's manager of financial policy, Andrew Duncan, said the council was still preparing a financial assessment of the proposal, to help decide whether to proceed.
"I think the council would want to think about how such a mechanism would affect the housing market and land market and developers and what sort of revenue might be involved. And then, if it wanted to think about it further, it would want to think about how it [the money raised] could be used," he said.
However, before the policy could be put into into effect the Local Government Act would need to be changed and if that happens, it would allow other councils to adopt similar policies, potentially opening the door to a capital gains cash grab throughout the country.
Townsend believes the current Government is unlikely to support the necessary law change. "We know this Government has no appetite for a capital gains tax."
Sunday Star Times