Planner disputes Key claim

JANINE RANKIN
Last updated 12:00 26/01/2013

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Prime Minister John Key's calls for councils to fast-track planning processes and charge developers less is at odds with government demands to keep rates down, the Palmerston North City Council says.

City planner David Murphy said the mixed messages were unlikely to help achieve the government's aim of making housing more affordable.

Mr Key said in his state of the nation speech yesterday that a shortage of land for housing, delays and costs involved in gaining building and resource consents, and lack of infrastructure, were underlying problems putting the price of housing out of the reach of many New Zealanders.

But Mr Murphy resisted the criticism that local government was to blame for New Zealand's housing affordability issues.

While land supply might be a problem in other parts of New Zealand, there was no shortage of land zoned and ready for development in Palmerston North, he said.

The council would be asked in March to approve next steps in releasing more land at Whakarongo, which would boost the city's residential land bank to meet demand for more than a decade at current growth rates.

"But we can't control who owns that greenfields land, or when they release it, and what price they ask for it. It's the market driving that, not council."

Mr Murphy said liquefaction following the Christchurch earthquakes and flooding in other parts of the country had drawn government criticism of councils that did not take enough time and care in planning the release of land for housing.

Mr Key also accused councils of charging developers "whatever fees they want" and imposing "almost anything as a condition for the consent".

Mr Murphy disputed both claims.

He said councils were also blamed for over-spending, and were cautious about investing heavily in infrastructure - mainly roads and pipes - too far ahead of new development.

Unless councils recovered those costs from developers, eventually, and charged the true cost of processing consent applications, the ratepayer would pay.

Mr Key has signalled further reform of the Resource Management Act as a way to streamline planning processes, but Mr Murphy said constant change only added to the complexity of planners' roles.

He was already preparing a submission opposing aspects of proposed changes that he believed would make planning processes more litigious and limit the involvement of elected members in decisions affecting their residents.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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