Housing crisis: We need new towns

Last updated 05:10 09/10/2013

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We've asked our readers to tell us what they think should be done about the housing market in New Zealand. Brendon Harre says the solution to the housing affordability crisis lies in rural areas.

The solution to the housing crisis is to make housing supply more responsive, or in economic terms, elastic. This means making it so that an increase in demand leads to more houses being constructed rather than higher prices.

Often the debate at this point goes to either sprawl or intensification. But there are some other options, such as rural villages instead of just lifestyle blocks in country areas.

These need not be environmentally wasteful. Many environmentalists believe in a post-oil world the ability to meet daily needs of food, water and power from your local environment will be more important than being able to walk down to the shops in a city.

The likes of Donella Meadows have long championed eco-villages and co-housing as part of the policy mix for a sustainable world.

What I would like to focus on are satellite cities. Perth has grown by extending its motorway north with a commuter rail down the middle, putting new cities every 10 kilometres or so to places like Joondalup.

I think something similar could be done in Canterbury. Christchurch has the most acute housing shortage due to the earthquakes; both rent and house price inflation is in double digits whereas in Auckland rents at least are stable.

Canterbury needs some tens of thousands of new houses as soon as possible to replace the homes lost in the earthquakes.

Of course there are all sorts of new developments in Christchurch and the outlying townships, but I think there is an opportunity for a new town on the north bank of the Waimakariri, west of the existing bridge somewhere in or around Eyrewell forest.

If a new bridge was put across the river at this point the new township would have direct access to Christchurch and the airport - a growing area of employment.

The bridge would mean there was a direct connection between Rolleston and Rangiora, the two fastest growing areas of Canterbury.

Further the bridge would provide a natural State Highway 1 diversion, taking pressure off the congested Northern motorway, Johns Road, Main South Road route.

The township could be created with a view to being the end stop of a future commuter rail link that might serve the university and airport. The inner part of the town could have a dense core designed around a future commuter railway station.

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The government could acquire the land through compulsory purchase at rural prices, being say $50,000 hectare which translates to around $5000 per residential section.

This shows there is potential for affordable housing to be provided. Obviously a lot of services need to be provided too to turn the bare land into residential sections - water, sewerage, storm water, power, roads, local amenities like footpaths, parks etc. But given good property management these could be kept well under $100,000, meaning homes could be built in the $300,000 to $400,000 bracket for small to medium sized homes.

The big expense would be the new transport infrastructure - the bridge, the State highway 1 diversion, the road to Christchurch and any future commuter rail infrastructure.

A development fee on each section could contribute to this and the township residents could be given free use of the bridge/road in exchange, while non-residents could pay a toll to cross the bridge.

Of course Auckland has received taxpayer funding for needed transport infrastructure improvements so given this precedent Cantabrians should not be expected to meet the full infrastructure cost. Cantabrians pay a lot of taxes and should expect good public services in return.

Given the opportunities to provide affordable housing and to improve Canterbury's transport network I hope this idea is given full consideration.

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