22 Oct 2015

Productivity Commission's zoning proposal 'a pretty blunt instrument'

8:51 am on 22 October 2015

A government think-tank and Auckland's deputy mayor are at loggerheads over housing planning, after a report suggested zoning decisions be taken away from the council.

Auckland's northernmost local board Rodney includes Kawau Island and Kumeu/Huapai, Helensville, Warkworth, Matakana and Wellsford (pictured).

Huapai, on the Auckland fringe, is located to the south of Helensville. Photo: 123RF

The [Productivity Commission http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/287596/freeing-land-would-slash-housing-costs-report suggests rural land should automatically become residential,] once nearby land reaches a certain price.

Auckland Council deputy mayor Penny Hulse is cool on the idea.

She does not want the council to lose power over large-scale planning, and is worried about the potentially patchy nature of development.

"We can't have random areas looked at to say, look, the difference between zoned land on the urban boundary and the farm next door, it's suddenly reached such a high threshold that we want you to rezone it.

"That's kind of crazy and the cost of random growth like that would be huge. I don't think that's what the Productivity Commission were envisaging."

She said using price as a single trigger to re-zone rural land for development did not make sense.

"It sounds like a pretty blunt instrument to me, and the subtleties and the complexities of what drives cost and land value, particularly in a high-growth area like Auckland, is huge, and to simply look at when land reaches over a certain amount of value to trigger development in that area I think misses the point entirely."

The commission's report singles out Auckland's housing shortage and the city's struggle to meet demand.

Commissioner Graham Scott said the government would set the price-trigger formula, because of its role in tackling the housing crisis.

"It's starting to impose very high costs on the National government as it deals with the social policy problems that these high house prices cause, so it's legitimate for the National government at that point to say, 'Look, the way you're doing this development is imposing very high costs on the rest of the country.'

"There is reason and grounds for the National government to get involved.'"

Westpac chief economist Dominick Stephens is all for the market-driven approach.

"The flexibility allowed by either price-release triggers or development triggers is an improvement over the rather inflexible approach that we've got at present."

Mr Stephens said it was better for land to be made available as demand dictates rather than at pre-set times, which is the current approach.

"The population growth of Auckland has been variable and unpredictable, so a fixed timetable for land release doesn't make as much sense as land release upon certain amounts of development taking place."

But Monty Neal, a fruit grower on the Auckland fringe, worries he will be left in a "sunset" industry if the Commission's idea is adopted.

From his orchard and vineyard at Huapai, north-west of Auckland, he can see the sprawling city approaching.

"There used to be forty, fifty-plus orchards out here - now there's less than ten. Urbanisation's already having that effect, and we can see from that, that our infrastructure is struggling to cope."

Mr Neal is also the secretary of the Auckland Fruit Growers Association, and said sudden land rezoning could be too much of a temptation for rural land-owners.

"I do think a lot of people would take a serious look if land prices jumped up. You sort of become a sunset industry.

"It has happened to some growers closer to Westgate. But what you find is if they still want to be involved in the industry, they purchase land further out and carry on."

Housing Minister Nick Smith said the government would consider the Commission's recommendations.

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