Govt 'may intervene' on housing

MICHAEL WRIGHT
Last updated 05:00 30/10/2012

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A "fundamental culture shift" is needed at the Christchurch City Council to meet Government plans to make housing more affordable, a councillor says.

Cr Glenn Livingstone, chairman of the housing and community facilities committee, said the council would "have to change its culture completely" to avoid the Government intervening to solve any problems.

Finance Minister Bill English yesterday announced plans to ease the ballooning cost of house building and hinted that if councils could not implement them, the Government would.

The measures included freeing up more land for building, a six-month time limit on council processing of medium-sized consents, better provision of infrastructure to support new housing and improving productivity in the construction sector.

That may prove too much for the city council in its current state, Livingstone said.

"The council would have to change its culture completely because the [housing] issue is a grave concern,'' he said.

"The cost and the time frame through which to get consenting is so prohibitive."

The council needed a culture that said ''yes".

"This isn't business as usual. In my view, there's a crisis, and we need to become more efficient in the provision of housing," he said.

A spokeswoman for English said the Government may step in to remove obstacles to housing development if local authorities could not.

"Their first preference is to work alongside councils to achieve that but they've kind of reserved the right to look at how they could move it along if they thought the councils were the obstacle and needed a bit more direction."

Exactly how it may intervene had not been decided, she said.

"It's not like the Government will come in and buy up the land and build the houses, but [it] will expect the council to be removing impediments, and if it doesn't, then the Government will look to see what it can do," she said.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker was unavailable for comment last night.

Roy Hamilton, of Maxim Projects, which is developing the 2100-section Highfield subdivision in north Christchurch, welcomed the announcement but warned the measures would need wholesale buy-in to be effective.

"The local authorities and the building industry itself would have to have quite a large hand to play in making this happen," he said.

Christchurch property commentator Hugh Pavletich said the Government's four key aims were "generally fine" but too long in coming after the Productivity Commission finished its housing report in March.

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"We're heading in the right direction but we should have been coming into the home straight here,'' he said.

"The last thing we need to see is a government being dilatory in dealing with the issue because we run the risk of house prices inflating more, requiring greater mortgage debt.

"We have to restore the right environment for those potentially hugely efficient production builders to get back into the market."

After the earthquakes, 22,000 potential sections were identified in the Christchurch area as suitable for residential development.

About 9000 have since been rezoned for housing, while another 2100 sections in the planned Highfield subdivision are being rezoned through a plan change.

In total, more than 2770 sections in large subdivisions - those with more than five sections - have been consented since the February 2011 quake, council figures show.

- The Press

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