Region to get new homes fast-tracked

New housing will be fast-tracked in some parts of Wellington in a bid to make homes more affordable, the Government says.

Wellington has been added to the Housing Accords and Special Housing Areas (SHAs) bill, which allows zones where consents for new homes will be streamlined, and where the Government can override council planning if necessary.

The move will see collaboration between the Wellington City, Hutt city, Upper Hutt, Porirua and Kapiti Coast councils.

Special housing areas already set up in Auckland are expected to deliver 39,000 new homes over the next three years.

Housing Minister Nick Smith said the affordability situation in the capital region - where the median house price is $420,000 - was not as serious as in Auckland, but did need intervention.

"The view I take of Wellington is that housing costs are too high. They're not as extreme as Auckland, but there are things we need to do here to improve affordability."

An international survey of housing affordability by Demographia, published in January, found Wellington was "severely unaffordable" with the median cost of homes around 5.4 times the annual median income, Dr Smith said.

No work had been done on where the SHAs would be set up, or how big they would be.

Dr Smith was dubbed "minister of sprawl" for his approach in Auckland, which critics argued was based on increasing the size of the city rather than intensifying housing.

He said he did not mind what type of housing was built as long as it was built quickly and to a good standard.

"I have no strong views about the extent to which Wellington intensifies or grows out, except that infrastructure and transport decisions are made in an integrated way."The override clauses in the act, which allow him to unilaterally declare an SHA if the Government and councils cannot agree, were only likely to be used as a last resort.

However, he had heard frustration from within councils and the market about the time it took for planning decisions to be made.

Wellington City Council buildings portfolio leader councillor Iona Pannett said she would welcome collaboration with the Government, but not at the cost of local democracy.

"It does need to be genuine partnership . . . it should not undermine plans or policies which have been decided democratically.

"Frankly, I'm not always convinced the Government does want to work in partnerships."

The council's urban development strategy calls for growth to be centred on the "spine" of Kilbirnie, Johnsonville and the CBD.

Development will be split between one third greenfield expansion, one third infill housing in the suburbs and one third in the CBD. The other councils have similar strategies for managing urban growth.

Porirua City Councillor and real estate agent Euon Murrell said the council would welcome efforts to lower prices.

"We're aware there is a need for new homes," he said. "What I'm not sure about is how we make them affordable . . . what can the council do differently than they do now to make it?"

The Government would have to put its hand in its pocket to ensure the cost of providing for the new developments did not fall on ratepayers, he said.

Labour housing spokesman Phil Twyford said the provisions for affordable housing in the act were too weak and more needed to be done.


Average house values in Wellington, November 2013:

Wellington City: $529,888

Hutt City: $371,398 Upper Hutt: $335,828

Porirua: $375,347

Kapiti Coast: $366,835

urrent population of Wellington: 489,000

Population by 2033: 540,000


The region's councils plan to allow intensification and urban growth focusing on: Kilbirnie; Johnsonville; Wellington CBD; Petone; Naenae; Waitangirua; Whitby; Camborne; Horokiwi; Trentham; Maymorn

The Dominion Post