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Rod Oram on the RMA and spin

Written By: - Date published: 9:58 am, April 5th, 2015 - 66 comments
Categories: Conservation, sustainability - Tags: , , ,

An excellent piece by Rod Oram in the Sunday Star Times:

Government sledges the RMA, but the facts tell a very different story

… Various ministers are angry. They say the RMA is impeding New Zealand’s progress. Bill English believes the RMA is the main reason for housing unaffordability, Steven Joyce argues it blocks economic development and Nick Smith, the minister responsible for the RMA, says it is a disaster. …

There is plenty of reliable analysis on how the RMA really works. It happens to be compiled by Smith’s own Ministry for the Environment. But he and Amy Adams, his predecessor, never quote it. Adams even left it out of her paper on radical RMA reform in 2013.

MfE has been monitoring councils’ RMA performance every other year for 20 years. The latest report was released last April. But it was the last. In 2011, this government decided to replace the biannual survey with a new monitoring system. But four years later it’s not yet working.

This is further evidence of how the government buries data that contradicts its spin.

Likewise, the government released this week the measures for its environmental report this year. But it omitted New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions.  …

Of course the RMA is complicated because so many difficult economic and environmental factors are involved in the big issues processed through it. But since it became law in 1991, councils have steadily improved their handling of it, as the MfE surveys show. …

Since the RMA became law, the number of cows in the country has doubled and the number of people in Auckland has increased by 50 per cent. That’s progress but at some environmental cost.

Imagine what the country would look like now if the RMA had been weaker.

Plenty more in the full piece, should be required reading for anyone involved in the RMA debate.

66 comments on “Rod Oram on the RMA and spin”

  1. Incognito 1

    You just have to laugh at Dr Nick Smith with his “towering stacks of local council plans, totalling 80,000 pages”. Does Dr Smith have a suggestion as to how many pages would suffice? I’d be very suspicious if the total were 30 pages, for example. In any case, the quality of the RMA documentation is not the whole story; the implementation is a key factor. Obviously, we don’t want to end up in an “anything goes” situation.

    • Lloyd 1.1

      The government could easily reduce the total volume of district and regional plans if it introduced National Environmental Standards for zoning to be included in future District and Regional Plans. The reason continuing governments don’t do this is that it would take at least 10 years for the new standards to take effect in re-written district plans = no immediate political benefit.
      Perth, Western Australia has about 30 local bodies! All the district plans for Perth when stacked up are no thicker than the Auckland City Isthmus District Plan alone – Reason? All the plans refer to the State Standards for each of the zones. Anyone looking at a district plan in Western Australia just needs to refer to the State Standards to find out all the zoning rules -simple – efficient -equitable.
      The RMA provides for this. It is government inaction in not COMPLETING THE RMA , not basic faults in the RMA that is causing the friction Nick Smith refers to,

  2. Bill 2

    So am I correct in thinking that the TPPA would gazump provisions in the RMA if the RMA had a negative effect ‘on business’?

    If so, then is the government basically indulging in a bit of pre-emptive shenanigans?

    If the RMA is already gutted, ie – ‘lined up’ in terms of the TPPA, then any popular reaction to international actors riding rough-shod over domestic laws will be averted, yes?

    I can imagine thinking along the lines of it’s going to be easier to contain reactions to the government itself gutting the RMA (obfuscate, divert, lie) than it would be to contain a potentially much broader and deeper reaction to outside actors quashing it under the weight of trade agreement clauses the government agreed to.

    • Olwyn 2.1

      I think you may be right Bill – it makes sense that they would try to rearrange domestic laws in advance so that the TPP “doesn’t really change anything.” It sometimes looks as if the New Zealand political class, having once been the teacher’s pets of the British Empire, are happy to go along with the requirements of any English-speaking bid for empire, at almost any cost.

    • Draco T Bastard 2.2


    • Matthew Hooton 2.3

      No, you’d be wrong.

      • Pat 2.3.1

        and you’d know that Matthew because of course unlike everyone else you have read the draft document and can therefore categorically state what it does and dosnt provide for…

      • Bill 2.3.2

        Which bit is wrong Matthew?

        • Matthew Hooton

          Modern trade agreements now Include rules around labour and environmental standards that lock in higher labour and environmental protection rules. These are pushed by the likes of the U.S., Japan and EU as a way of preventing third world countries from being able to use lower labour and environmental standards to compete. So the TPP is far more likely to require South East Asian countries to raise labour and environmental standards than require NZ to reduce ours.

          • Tautoko Mangō Mata

            “So the TPP is far more likely to require South East Asian countries to raise labour and environmental standards than require NZ to reduce ours.”
            No it’s not, Matthew!
            This is so that large corporations can outsource work to the cheapest labour supply without any impediment such as having to deal with any laws that require local workers to be used.

          • Foreign waka

            Good luck with that. If it comes to it, NZ has identified itself as an Asian Pacific aligned country, boots and all. This also means that labor and environmental laws can (and will) be aligned with the same categorization of country “clusters”(nice term invented by multinationals). Since NZ does not have a ratified constitution, better still! Now all that is needed is to convince the stupid locals that all is for their best. (pet, pet the head).

          • Skinny

            Which you can credit Japan for more so than America who have favoured their corporations, Japan practice’s job protectionism and thus have dragged their heels on the TPPA.

            American workers have suffered significant job losses as a result of corporate influence, however that is changing their Unions/workers won’t easily tolerate further erosions of their rights.

            Personally I prefer the likes of the Swedish model and other Scandinavian countries, who still practice the 40 hour week which is sacrosanct, any hours worked outside of normal hours includes the incursion penalty rates. None of this zero hours nonsense. You pay through the nose for a drink but such is the price of a quality society.

          • Tracey

            Surely Cabnet can just amend regulations in the RMA, not requiring consent from parliament to remake the RMA to reflect anything that TPP requires of NZ?

          • Tracey

            “So the TPP is far more likely to require South East Asian countries to raise labour and environmental standards than require NZ to reduce ours.”

            Which South East Asian countries have been “required” to raise labour and environmental standards since entering a FTA in the last 15 years? Please cite the provision which required it and the law which reflects that change.

            Why do you keep including comments about TPP with prior FTA’s when TPP is clearly not comparable due to additional provisions not existing in the FTA?

            • Sacha

              Yes, TPP is not a ‘free’ trade agreement. Even it’s most faithful boosters stopped calling it that many moons ago.

            • Matthew Hooton

              Read any recent trade and economic partnership deal you care to choose.

      • adam 2.3.3

        “No, you’d be wrong.”

        Hubris, or fatuous statement there Matthew? Or something else ? – To me, it appears to be both, in one, four word – almost statement.

        And the right wonders why we call them disingenuous.

  3. I would be suspicious of anything that Dr Sick Mith has to do with.

    Most of the results of his endeavours have been disasters to say the least and the sooner he is put out to pasture the better it will be for all concerned.

  4. Tautoko Mangō Mata 4

    This National government are prepared to sacrifice the environment for short term financial gains. They have already done more than enough damage without further weakening the RMA, as the problems associated with more intensive dairying are becoming more obvious. In case anyone missed an excellent article by Dave Hansford, here is an excerpt:

    “Depending on soil type and topography, it can take up to 100 years for nitrogen to leach into the nearest waterway, and that’s the zinger right there. Many of our waterways are already saturated with nitrogen (and its evil twin, phosphorus), such that regional councils are spending tens of millions of ratepayers’ – and taxpayers’ – dollars trying to clean them up. But we haven’t even begun to see the worst of it. Beneath every dairy district, there is a subterranean tidal wave of nitrogen seeping inexorably downhill, into groundwater, into creeks, then rivers, then estuaries. As it goes, it whips plants into superfertile overdrive: freshwater algae run riot, exploding into blooms of sometimes-toxic scum.

    All this comes at the expense of other creatures: studies show that high levels of dissolved nitrate can stunt development and reproduction in aquatic invertebrates and fish, or straight-out kill them. People cannot swim, or fish, or paddle, or drink the water. By any sane measure, it becomes clear that New Zealand reached Peak Dairy years ago. It has to stop; councils know it, and now some farmers understand it too.
    Endlessly citing the familiar litany of dairy pollution, though, doesn’t get us any closer to a solution. We need to understand the position some farmers have found themselves in. The Government has saddled them – dairy farmers in particular – with the responsibility for resuscitating a moribund economy (don’t confuse the cost of earthquake rebuilds for prosperity). Under the terms of the Primary Growth Partnership, ag minister Nathan Guy wants primary sector export receipts to double in value by 2025. Given that they have already wrung monumental production increases from their properties – an average 57 per cent per hectare between 1992 and 2012 – that demand in critical markets like China has flattened, exchange rates routinely swing against them, and international dairy prices tumbled more than 50 per cent last year, the only practical thing left for dairy farmers to do is to stock more cows.

    That, of course, is precisely what regional councils don’t want them to do – and nor does the public. But farmers find themselves in a crossfire of signals. The Government, like some Harlem pusher, is doing everything it can to coax farmers into still more expansion. It has adopted fresh water quality standards so lax they would give the filthy, lifeless Yangtze a clean bill of health. It removed the obstacle of a democratically-elected regional council in Canterbury that was proceeding on water issues with a caution mandated by voters. Instead, it installed pro-irrigation, agri-business-friendly “commissioners.” It has devoted $35m of taxpayers’ money to facilitating irrigation schemes. It granted agriculture exemption from the Emissions Trading Scheme on what is unfolding as a perpetual basis.

    That’s only a small part of the onus on dairy farmers to intensify: many operate on land valued at close to $40,000 a hectare, with assets – stock, plant and machinery – worth an average $1.2m per farm. These costs are far in excess of what their international competition must meet, and the result is breathtaking levels of debt. Over the past decade, dairy sector debt almost trebled to around $32b – an average of more than $2.2m per farm (but debt is in reality heavily concentrated: around half of it is held by just 10 per cent of farmers). There are cases of individual farmers presently more than $10m in the hole. With that much riding on assets so exorbitant, there’s a powerful incentive to produce as much milk as you can.


    This government are quite simply eco-terrorists.

  5. Poission 5

    The so called economic constraints imparted by the RMA is a false flag operation by the nats.

    Peters succinctly got to the causal mechanisms behind the constraints on regional (read heartland) economic development.

    Peters downplayed the need for RMA reforms, referring instead to the more urgent need for reform of the Reserve Bank Act.

    Peters told Morning Report regional New Zealand was struggling because of high interest rates and a high exchange rate, while the big cities forged ahead on a consumption boom.

    “The RMA is now made as the excuse for the lack of progress. It is not the cause of the lack of progress. The central thing up here goes to the heart of the Reserve Bank Act and the fact that people up here in farming and fishing and forestry, as in so many other parts of the country, are trying to compete in circumstances very unfavourable to them, and their incomes are declining,” Peters said.

    “The RMA has always needed reform. It always would need reform in a modernising economy, but you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and say that’s the reason for the present demise,” he said.

    “You have a look at the central circumstances where farmers up here face interest rates six, seven times higher than their international competitors, and that’s just got to stop. I hope the Government got that message on election night.”.

    The underlying problem with the RMA is that it is being used to gain an economic advantage (read enhance oligarchic organisations) such as seen with the supermarket circus.


  6. tracey 6

    When you get down to the nitty gritty of WHO despises this RMA you start to see what motivates the current drive for change. It is almost entirely developers who hate the RMA… people who want to pillage the environment to line a particular set of pockets.

    • Sacha 6.1

      Rod Oram also notes how one-sided the RMA already is:

      In 2012/13, the last year surveyed, consent applications totalled 34,055. This was down 38 per cent from 2003/04 despite substantial economic growth.

      Of all the applications, 95 per cent were non-notified. This continued a sharp decline over the years in the number of applications notified, that is open to challenge by interested parties.

      Only 0.27 per cent of applications were declined in 2012/13, half the rate five years before. There were only 317 objections to decisions in the country, down from 480 in 2010/11. There were only 239 appeals, down two-thirds from 2010/11.

      In contrast, [Nick] Smith argues that the RMA process is highly confrontational and needs to become a collaborative process between parties.

      Truth worth repeating.

      • tracey 6.1.1

        I heard a guy on the radio the other day, head of the irrigation council or something bemoaning that people could appeal decisions… yet another person of self interest annoyed at democracy getting in the way of their objectives.

        • Foreign waka

          One of the Agriculture Managers (sorry forgot his name) mentioned the other day that there ought to be a system whereby farmers can have “water that was bought but not used brought forward in a kind of bonus system”.
          Well, I was rolling on the carpet with laughter about so much stupidity. Up to now I only joked about these farmers living in the land of “deliverance”, but now I know it is true. The worst part is that these people actually decide on the future of NZ.

  7. Stickler 7

    The Nats have a two-pronged bovine trickle down policy: cowshit, heading for the water tables, and bullshit in Parliament.

    Their environmental policy essentially boils down to: Screw the environment, I wanna be stinking rich. They’ve worked hard on the first objective.

  8. Brendon Harre 8

    There is a lot of confusion about housing affordability out there, as indicated by this article.

    http://www.interest.co.nz/opinion/74849/eric-crampton-warns-unexpected-consequences-and-costs-using-tax-system-right-perceived .

    Read the article and especially my comments starting with a First Labour government political poster.

    Link to poster here


    • Sacha 8.1

      Crampton is a neoliberal ninny. No surpise he is now with a neoliberal ‘thinktank’.

      • Brendon Harre 8.1.1

        So that is sensible debate these days -name calling. No comment about the link/discussion about one of the most successful governments in NZ’s history. The 14 year First Labour government.

        • Sacha

          Really? Selfish Libertarians deserve no more from any of us than disdain. Waste of oxygen.

          What did you expect me to say about the first Lab govt that hasn’t already been said? They saw a problem, thought strategically, and fixed it accordingly. NZ was the wealthiest country on the planet several decades later.

          • Brendon Harre

            Maybe Sacha you could acknowledge that conditions in the housing market seem similar to 1920s and it would be appropriate for current Labour party to reprint NZ Labour Party Leaflet No.9 and campaign on the same issues.

            • Sacha

              I’m no mindreader, like most voters. Need to be more explicit about the answers you recommend.

              And Labour likewise. Use those paid comms and strategy staff to digest the topics into engaging lines. Or get your arses kicked yet again by others who do. And let down millions who depend on you.

              • Brendon Harre

                Sacha I am not paid to engage in this debate, I am not part of some big Labour comms and strategy organisation.

                I am a psychiatric nurse trying to get something done about unaffordable housing. I think the issue needs a higher profile in our collective democratic debates. That is what I am trying to do rather than explicitly telling people what to do.

                • Sacha

                  I’m not suggesting you are. You seemed to expect a certain response and I couldn’t tell what it was, is all.

                  • Brendon Harre

                    Sorry for being cryptic Sacha.

                    Here is a list of actions on housing the government could do with cross party support to improve the housing situation right now.


                    Labour’s efforts to make sure renters live in healthy homes were stymied last night.

                    National and Act together made sure Phil Twyford’s Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill didn’t get past its first reading, although all the other parties voted in favour of it.


                    “Labour remains willing to consider the proposals on housing affordability on their merits and will work constructively with the Government if they stack up.

                    Nick Smith has blamed the RMA for the housing crisis. That is nuts. It is yet another attempt to scapegoat others for the failure of National’s housing policy. Under National, Auckland building rates are 40 per cent less than they were under Labour in 2004 – under the very same RMA.

                    Today’s underwhelming consent data shows building rates are persistently falling far below what Auckland needs just to keep up with population growth.

                    Labour’s view is a National Policy Statement under the RMA on affordable housing is the best way to change how Councils administer the Act.

                    But if the Government has other ideas on RMA reform that will ease the housing crisis, we are all ears.”

                    These facts show that National and Act will do nothing like their Tory forefathers because they represent the short term selfish interests of ‘landlords and houseowners’ and it is up to the progressive parties of left to solve the problem like the First Labour government did.

    • Tracey 8.2

      The poster is fascinating… replace racketeers with banksters and you could be in the same country 100 years later.

      • Brendon Harre 8.2.1

        That is what I thought Tracy. I saw the poster on page 29 of “Beyond the State: New Zealand State Houses from Modest to Modern” and luckily I was able to find it by Mr Google.

        I recommend the book to anyone interested in the social/political history of NZ. It is an easy read with great thought provoking pictures.

  9. Scintilla 9

    Brendon: interesting article in North & South (April) on Auckland housing. Points out there were 22,000 EMPTY, as in unoccupied, houses in Auckland recorded at the last census in 2013. These aren’t homes where folks have gone on holiday, they appear to be land-banked. Landowners are making at least 10% a year in capital gain without renting them out. They don’t want the bother of renting out. Apparently the shortfall of homes to rent is in the order of 20,000 – so is there really a housing shortage?

    People who can leverage off existing equity in their own home(s) can buy investment properties, sit on them for a year or two and rake in heaps tax-free. Ditto overseas investors who buy up large and effectively use housing as “a financial commodity” according to Keith Rankin, instead of places to live, causing a market failure. He suggests a land-bank tax on unoccupied or under-occupied properties.

    I agree that the problem is at heart one of seeing housing as investment instead of “somewhere to live” – you know, fulfilling the basic human need for shelter. Worse, it’s non-productive investment, no tangible product, business or jobs created, nothing to build upon. And why would those with money to invest pass up a passive investment that reaps large amounts with what appears to be so little risk?

    • Brendon Harre 9.1

      Scintilla I have read the North and South article. I didn’t agree with all of it and it should be remembered that MSM have a big incentive to maintain the status quo for the existing capitalists -they pay the advertising, the owners are of the same capitalist class…..

      Note 22,000 empty houses would house about one years immigration growth and is about the number of houses we are building a year. We also have some natural population growth that also needs to be accommodated. So empty houses is a significant issue but in itself would not solve the problem.

      Certainly if the expectation of capital gains was eliminated there would be less speculation, so less buying homes and leaving them empty while waiting for capital gains. My preference for eliminating the expectation of capital gains is to build more affordable homes.

      Re whether there is a housing shortage -if people are couch surfing, living permanently in caravan parks and garages, having multiple families per house or live in substandard cold and mouldy housing it indicates there is a shortage of affordable good quality housing.

      My preference for dealing with land bankers is for rates to be on land value only. I would also support government or councils compulsory purchasing a small number of farms at rural values for housing, especially if this could be tied in with medium density housing around public transport hubs/links. A modern version of Lower Hutt.

      • Scintilla 9.1.1

        Yes, I understand that there is not enough affordable housing and all the couch surfers and overcrowding indicates that – but dealing with the land value issue is the key. How can anyone build affordable housing on land that’s worth such ridiculously vast amounts?

        I would much prefer to see the state take the lead instead of divesting itself of social housing. Build eco-friendly, people-friendly habitats on land it already owns. We could do state housing so much better than the old nappy valley model – yet use the same principles of “old Labour” where contemporary villages are created using our own resources and expertise. i remember an old Kevin McLeod building prog that showed a German firm who made prefab panels out of ply, with wool insulation between layers, that could be locked together to make various sizes and designs of house. They exported them around the EU. We have the timber, the wool, the expertise …..

        FWIW, my bet is that the Auckland housing bubble will burst big time in the not too distant future.

        • lprent

          How can anyone build affordable housing on land that’s worth such ridiculously vast amounts?

          Build medium density apartments like mine. It is amazing how the land cost drops per residence when you do so.

          • Brendon Harre

            Lprent the evidence is that in land supply constrained urban markets the value of the urban land goes up faster than what the market can add in increased density. Land prices can inflate massively from $50,000 a hectare for good quality farmland to many $millions per hectare for land zoned for urban development. This means apartments etc end up more expensive than what they could be.

            The First Labour government new that and that is why they built out in places like Lower Hutt as well as some high density inner city apartments around Wellington’s CBD. But if they had just built inner city apartments or row housing like James Fletcher was encouraging them to do the economics of their State housing programme would not have worked.

            • lprent

              I suspect that it is a whole lot slower than that. I’ll have to go back through my ratings to see the relative valuation growth in my apartment (because they separate the land valuation from the building).

              But my impression was that it hasn’t shifted that much compared to building value from 1998 to now. Looking at the valuation from the assessment….


              Ummm land value went from ~$68,000 to $115,000. Improvements from ~$100,000 to $140,000. The ~ indicates what I remember it as

              Hard to say, it looks like they are both rising. Obviously if you had a larger land area than the small amount that I have in this vertical block of one bedroom apartments, then you’ll see most of the increase in land.

              But we have vertically 3 apartments on the same bit of land. I’d point out that I live just outside the Auckland CBD and the land valuations here are about as bad as you get anywhere in Auckland.

              • Brendon Harre

                Lprent currently New Zealand is building about 20,000 houses a year, 1/3 in Auckland, 1/3 in Canterbury and the remainder in the regions.

                What do you think would happen to land values in Auckland and Christchurch central areas if that was the only place in those two main cities that houses could be built?

                Who would benefit from that?

                Would housing be more or less affordable?

                • Brendon Harre

                  LPrent this is not theoretical economics this is the reality of what is happening in NZ.

                  The government and Treasury after the Christchurch earthquakes were worried about a drop in CBD property values so CERA purchased something like a 1/4 of the land within the four Aves. Using a weird cargo cult justification – successful cities have high property values so for Christchurch CBD to successfully recover from the earthquakes property prices must be high.

                  Who was meant to benefit -friends of National like Philip Carter the brother of David Carter the National government Speaker of the House, who owns the land around the convention centre -surprise, surprise.

                  How did this plan to increase the land rent curve work out? Well businesses like law firms left the CBD and set up away from CERA rebuild control in places like Lincoln Road and Victoria Street.

                • lprent

                  When you say houses, you are being foolish.

                  My current dwelling is a single “house” building permit for a building with 60 bedrooms. The 3 bedroom town house I was living in in 2012 was a single building with about 45 bedrooms in it. Both were done on single building permits (I looked them up at one stage)

                  New houses in Auckland on greenfield sections are for people who want to drive 27+ kilometres to the CDB (and hopefully less to work).

                  Think bedrooms as it is a much more useful measure of housing.

                  In Auckland over the last couple of decades, the majority (probably the vast majority – I’d have to look up some stats) of new bedrooms has been going into an area that is less than 10km from the CDB (and remember that Auckland radiates about 50km from the CDB). The greenfield developments have mostly been out past 20kms in the last couple of decades.

                  The inner 10km has in infill housing (ie putting extra houses on larger sections), apartments, and terraced housing.

                  But get this, they aren’t building on virgin land. They just build lots of bedrooms in the same space as inefficient villas or old commercial or old light industrial or old retail.

                  Most of the bedrooms going into Auckland are brownfield – on existing urban development. The greenfield is just overflow, mostly for the crazed families who like MacMansions and a lot of driving.

                  I knew the place where I now live when it was the premier inner city renovation junkyard. It was where you went when you needed an old villa window. That villa it came from was torn down and a pile of apartments or townhouses were built in its place.

                  Infill – when I was organising pamphlet numbers in the election campaigns in MT Albert through the 90s, we’d have to increase the numbers past our 5% buffer on each run at least every 3-4 months. That was when the backs of the sections from the late 1940s and 50s were having an extra house added to the section. Mt Albert got close to doubling its density in about 15 years.

                  Apartments – I only need to walk about a 4-5 block square east of me at present to see a good 500 bedrooms being built right now and another 500 or more advertising for pre-build buyers.

                  What is driving this is that people are sick of the damn commute. So a lot of new immigrants from NZ and elsewhere tend to go into the inner 10k. Kids do it. And the elderly do it.

                  Houses with all of the maintenance are for families. We have more the good stock of them already. What is hard to find is the good flatting and living stock with one or two bedrooms. Which is why a lot of flatting goes on in the desperately sought 3 or 4 bedroom houses by nesting couples.

                  Who gives a damn about houses? Think bedrooms because that is the limiting factor. What is happening in Auckland is that we are reusing the same land area more densely.

                  If greenfield developers want to put in housing outside of town, then fine. So long as they or the central government pay for ALL of the services including roads, then who cares (apart from the people already out there I guess). I don’t want to pay rates for developers benefit.

                  But most people I know of want to buy in the inner 10km (and inner 5km preferably). That is where the steep rises in housing price are, and that is where the new bedrooms are going into in Auckland.

                  Basically Nick Smith is an idiot using a stupid measure “houses” to lie with. People measure houses by bedrooms. There is a reason for that.

                  • Draco T Bastard

                    Houses with all of the maintenance are for families.

                    Much better to have medium to high density housing with excellent parks where kids and adults can play and socialise. The old quarter acre, pavlova paradise was always a load of bollocks as it breeds isolation and competition both of which are detrimental to society and community.

                  • felix

                    “…premier inner city renovation junkyard….”

                    Stable Ln?

                  • Brendon Harre

                    Lprent I get that as cities grow they increase in density. I get that ‘RMA reform’ needs to be about making intensification and spreading out more affordable, that it needs to address the Epsom NIMBYs as much as it does land bankers on the rural urban boundary.

                    I also get that cities need a range of housing choices to satisfy all the different demands for ‘bedrooms’ -apartments, row houses as well as traditional stand alone housing.

                    Cities also need a range of transport choices, something that the NZ taxpayer has generously although belatedly provided for Auckland in the last decade with the provision of electrification and double tracking of passenger rail and the Northshore bus expressway. We should be doing more of that and taking the opportunity that this sort of dedicated public transport corridor adds to intensify. There should be opportunities around these public transport hubs for significant intensification. If the private sector is not doing it quick enough then maybe some State organisation needs to step in?

                    I also believe Auckland has an option to sensibly spread out.

                    I used to live in an apartment 23km from Helsinki’s CBD it took 25 minutes by train, I knew other workers who went the same distance in similar times by using express buslanes. If Auckland has development opportunities on affordable land 28km+ then extend passenger rail or express buslanes out to them. Don’t limit people to driving 28km+.

                    As I have said before use the whole urban land rent curve. Stop the National party tinkering with the housing /urban development problem. The country cannot afford Auckland’s housing bubble. It is causing inequality and distorting our whole economy.

                    Lprent you are an intelligent person -think outside of square, remove the ideological blinkers and realise that this is a problem that can and should be solved.

                    • lprent

                      Having the city spread is no particular problem if there is a decent urban transport system in place and it allows transport between the different parts of the city.

                      But in Auckland it simply doesn’t. We have a crap system despite the physical improvements in the last decade (all of which were initiated by Labour apart from AT). With the best will in the world, it will be for at least another decade – probably more likely to be two before it gets up to adequate for the existing area. That is because it has been deliberately neglected as a deliberate matter of National party policy since the 1950s.

                      National governments stand directly in the way of public transport and for building more roads. It is part of their short-term profit mentality. When Auckland finally managed (after 2 decades) to get a local transport tax on fuel, National immediately chopped it and then cut any future planned work (that hadn’t been started) from the transport fund for public transport.

                      Instead National are building more motorways further out, and a few additional fixes to the existing national roads inside the city. But the local ratepayer roads that we have now are as congested as hell inside the existing city, and there is no way to fix them.

                      Screw National. Auckland ratepayers need to stop subsidising National’s greenfield developer friends because they only make the issues worse. If National wants to do that kind of shit, then they can pay for those developments up front with the local roads and other infrastructure from taxpayer funds (ie collected Nationally) or get their developers to pay for them.

                      The only thing that reduces our local roading congestion is to move people to public transport, and the way to make that efficient is to increase housing densities in the inner suburbs. That allows the subsidy costs to go down per passenger and allows reinvestment in public transport despite anything that bloody National want to do. It also happens to coincide where people want to live at present.

                      I suspect that you might need to look outside the box at ALL the costs associated with developments.

                      We may need new suburbs at 27kms AFTER the public transport system can support them in a few decades. We don’t need them now. We can’t support them without some bloody big investments in basic infrastructure like water, sewerage, power, roads, shops, council offices, libraries, etc in the back of beyond. Especially when National also constrains the fiscal envelope with legislation that the council can pay for those developments with.

                      We have all of that infrastructure already in the existing city. But why should existing ratepayers pay to create them for National’s developer and land banking mates? We’d be better off increasing densities in brownfield sites and improving public transport to get cars off the road.

                      I think that you simply aren’t thinking about Auckland as it exists today. I can’t see how thinking outside the box helps when you can’t get rid of the constraining fiscal box. Perhaps you need to look at the reality of the actual city?

                    • Brendon Harre

                      Lprent National are useless, they are the party of the status quo. If we want change then it will have to come from the left.

                      I think regional taxes going to a regional transport body -the supercity in Auckland’s case is the answer. With the regional body directed to maximise the productivity gains from transport while minimising the housing costs. Perhaps using a National policy statement in the RMA. Google Alain Bertaud for more detail about this sort of urban planning.

                      If you want to talk about Auckland what is stopping a progressive government buying up farm land around stations like Swanson that after CRL will be 40 minutes from a whole loop of CBD businesses and building affordable housing, alongside all the facilities that communities need.

                      This is what Mr Lee did in Singapore turning a third world island into a modern prosperous city. Google Bernard Hickey’s discription of Singapore.

                      Or maybe we could let transit agencies get into the property development game. In Atlanta for example the revenue from leaseholds around there train stations is a significant revenue source and pays for a significant proportion of the infrastructure.

                      There is lots of outside the square options for Auckland and even more for places like Christchurch, Tauranga and Hamilton. NZ doesn’t have to accept the status quo.

  10. Brendon Harre 10

    Completely agree Scintilla, we need a modern version of nappy valley -better designed urban areas with a mixture of medium density housing, good public transport, modest but well thought out housing using local materials and labour wherever possible. Check the following out.

    Here is a NZ house to be made from solid wood with woolen insulation. http://www.makersofarchitecture.co.nz/portfolio/harre_house/

    The house will be constructed from solid wooden panels -about 25 tonnes worth (think a wooden version of concrete tilt slab), using the latest CAD software and CNC machines.

    It is a small scale operation now but imagine if the thousands of extra houses we need were produced in factories like these using skilled workers trained in the latest carpentry, design, engineering and architectural skills…..

    One day NZ might be so good at producing ‘wooden’ houses we could export them in prefabricated form instead of exporting raw logs to be turned into concrete boxing (Bernard Hickey originally discussed the amount of concrete China was used post GFC).

    There is more discussion about this on interest.co.nz

    • Scintilla 10.1

      Brendon: thanks for the link to makers of architecture – is that your house on there? Very nice indeed. I also liked the Warrender one with the drawers in the staircase risers – very nifty idea. That whole efficient prefab building thing is great – we could do it so well here and adapt it for a variety of sites/environments.

      I reckon there’s also great possibilities in shared utility spaces ( kitchens, laundries, maybe communal dining areas) a bit like the old kiwi camping ground, i suppose, then each family/group/individual could have a set of private rooms and an outdoor space of their own even if it’s just a courtyard….and a communal garden. Probably not a CBD plan but further out it could suit quite a diverse range of people.

      Have you seen this – pretty cool urban living Italian style.

      Vertical tree house Turin

      • Brendon Harre 10.1.1

        Yes that is our house design. A lot of thought has gone into it. It isn’t high spec and in a lot of ways is quite modest -one living room, no ensuite or walk in wardrobe. But that allows us to get a really modern designed house for a standard build budget.

        The thing about prefabricated houses is the manufacturers are taking a risk that they will be able to sell x number of houses that keeps them in the sweet spot of economies of scale/profitability. It is easy for a traditional kiwi building company that is more about marketing to lay off some contracted workers in a economic downturn. Not so easy if you have a factory to pay for.

        NZ’s construction industry has been a boom/bust industry and consequently it hasn’t invested in skills and improved processes like -prefabrication.

        I believe the boom/bust nature of the construction industry is related to constrained supply of land, in-elasticity of supply in economic terms and very long planning/consenting processes to get housing supply onto the market so that supply does not match demand.

        This is discussed in the following article that compares land supply constrained UK urban markets with more liberal supplied German markets. I think it is no coincidence that Germany is the more innovative in the construction field.

        P.S Cool Turin tree house apartment building.

        • Scintilla

          The comparison between the German and UK housing models is very enlightening, thanks. It’s amazing coming from a NZ perspective to see in action what good legislation and a commitment to housing as a social necessity and a social “investment” can be, rather than a speculative playground. I couldn’t get over the graph showing the value of German housing remaining steady over recent decades! I notice they are not bogged down in endless planning permissions and tenancy is treated with respect. No wonder they are innovative and imaginative people when they no longer have to waste precious time and energy fretting over finding a decent home and paying the exorbitant rent/mortgage to the detriment of all else in their lives.

          Sometimes I think our language has just been stolen and regurgitated in a broken mess with little coherent meaning. I’m thinking of words like freedom, choice, society, stability … do we all share the same meanings when we use these words anymore? Seems to me the Germans understand very well what stability and society really mean and that they are the bedrock to build upon.

          • Brendon Harre

            Thanks for your comments Scintilla. I hope kiwis will one day be

            “innovative and imaginative people who no longer have to waste precious time and energy fretting over finding a decent home and paying the exorbitant rent/mortgage to the detriment of all else in their lives.”

          • Scintilla

            You’ve got me wondering now whether there’s a market in southeast Asia for prefab kiwi-style buildings …. maybe in those crowded urban areas …. I followed a link you had somewhere else, on a Herald letter page I think Wood apartment Finland which started me thinking about that whole idea. We are so used to steel and concrete that wood seems outlandish.

            Also found this TED talk from Michael Green which you probably are aware of but others might find it interesting Michael Green

            This is exactly the kind of value-added production we should be doing, instead of shipping fricking logs.

            • Brendon Harre

              Sorry I couldn’t follow your links but I think I know the ones you are referring to. I cannot see why NZ couldn’t in the future export prefabricated housing to the Pacific Rim.

              Did you know that Japan many years ago adopted the Canadian building code as a back up to there own so in the event of a natural disaster,if Japan was struggling to rebuild then they could import houses directly from Canada.

              CLT apartment buildings like the one you referred to have been tested in Japans earthquake testing facility and they passed with flying colours.

              • Scintilla

                Cheers, Brendon. sorry about the links, must have screwed them up somehow … it’s been a great discussion and really good to imagine the possibilities. Wish i could give some politicians and business people a mega shot of imagination.

  11. Brendon Harre 11

    Lprent I think we have had this argument about high versus low density, which is the wrong way to look at the housing affordability problem.

    There is a lot of confusion about the urban land rent curve and how that affects housing prices.

    A few comments from Eric’s blog Offsetting behaviour might help. http://offsettingbehaviour.blogspot.co.nz/search?updated-max=2015-03-27T07:00:00%2B13:00&max-results=7

    The standard spatial urban economics model indicates https://people.hofstra.edu/geotrans/eng/ch6en/conc6en/landrent.html “you get a nice price gradient in the standard simple model where housing close to downtown amenities is very expensive to housing farther away, with the slope of the gradient depending on things like the ease of commuting and the desirability of the amenities. At the edges of the city, the cost of a house should be the cost of building it, plus the cost of providing basic infrastructure, plus the underlying base value of land in its next best alternative use.”

    “So median house prices relative to incomes can tell us a few different things. High prices would be associated with strong amenity values. But if there are also very high prices at the city fringes, or if the very high prices persist for a long time, there’s also something else going on – something related to building new houses and apartments. You don’t get sharp drop-offs in land values at metropolitan urban limits, or apartment buildings built to only 10 stories when another 5 stories would cost less to build than the apartments’ sale prices, unless something else is up.”

    This isn’t neoliberal economics. Really this is just a standard description of any city in existence. Land with the highest amenity value, usually central locations cost the most and prices decline towards the periphery. This sometimes being referred to as the land rent curve. A government that wants to provide affordable housing needs to move that curve down its entire length. So at all points along that curve is cheaper to build.

    Proposing to just build apartments around the CBD will not change the curve and will not ultimately change the affordability of the housing market. Doing something like what the First Labour government did will.

    • Sacha 11.1

      State housing worked partly because the government retained long-term ownership. The use-value of the land increased due to building communties on it and transport infrastructure connecting it. That increase in value went to the state, not a private developer/landlord.

      Therer’s nothing to stop a smart government from doing the same again by buying property where people want to live and intensifying it. Sprawling into the productive countryside is last century’s thinking.

      • Brendon Harre 11.1.1

        Sacha I agree with the first paragraph, in particular in Auckland areas around passenger rail hubs could be both intensified and retained in government ownership or maybe a quasi-state body that develops passenger rail and housing, some sort of Public transport/housing developmental trust.

        But to get the best value all development options must be open. Development should be able to occur anywhere on the land rent curve, that is the way to make the whole curve cheaper. As soon as you limit development to one part of the curve you are handing market power to the land holders in that part of the curve.

        • Tracey

          Thanks to you and others for this debate. Have enjoyed reading and perusing many f the links

        • Sacha

          All development options will never be open except in a free-market fantasyland. The idea is for the state to be one of those land holders in the long-term beneficial interest of citizens. Around rail hubs makes sense, yes. Development corporations are perhaps a politically more likely form than trusts, though the function is the same.

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