“New Zealand’s two major political parties are coming together to say an emphatic YES to housing in our backyards.” This is how Nicola Willis of the National Party described the historic moment of bi-partisanship when National and Labour came together and committed to the Medium Density Residential Standards, taking serious action on the housing crisis. Chris Bishop described it as an “historic day, as Labour and National join forces to speed up housing supply.”
We agree. National and Labour’s bipartisan support for making it easier to build more homes was an inspiring moment of political unity and a major step forward towards thriving, sustainable, affordable cities.
We are deeply disappointed by National Leader Christopher Luxon’s indications that he no longer supports this transformational policy. We urge the National caucus to come together and re-commit their party to supporting a better future for our cities, for all New Zealanders.
New Zealand has one of the most unaffordable housing markets in the world because of density restrictions that make it hard to build enough homes to keep up with our growing urban population. These new standards will enable us to build more desperately needed homes in well-connected, existing communities where people want to live. This policy is world-leading and other countries are now looking to New Zealand for guidance – we’re on the global stage.
Suggesting that New Zealand should allow councils to opt-out of building enough homes is a slap in the face for anyone who wants affordable housing or cares about the environment. Young people should rightly despair for their future if this backdown from Luxon is the new direction for housing policy in New Zealand.
Luxon’s preferred alternative is the status quo: greenfield development. He is proposing most new housing should be built on the city fringes in lonely, isolated suburbs. This will come at a cost. Servicing low-density greenfield developments with public transport, pipes and electricity is expensive and councils around the country are already facing infrastructure spending shortfalls in the billions. His plan will make the infrastructure deficit worse. Building homes closer together in existing suburbs makes better use of the infrastructure we already have, and means new infrastructure can be delivered more efficiently.
Under Luxon’s vision, the cities in Aotearoa will continue to sprawl outwards. House prices and rents will continue to sky-rocket, locking our young people out of secure housing futures, and pushing more and more vulnerable people into poverty. More sprawl will force people to be dependent on their cars, spending hours a day stuck in traffic. His vision means more congestion and more carbon emissions – it will become impossible for us to meet our zero-carbon commitments. Paving over more nature-spaces for low-density housing is wasteful and will only make our stormwater run-off problems worse. Haven’t we learnt a lesson from the Auckland Floods?
The Medium Density Residential Standards have already been subjected to sensible changes that were widely supported. These included adding appropriate recession planes to allow light to neighbours, and ensuring developers are not prevented from providing car parking for new builds if they want to. Councils are also already implementing exemptions in areas prone to seismic risk, sea level rise, and flooding, and areas with colonial character they want to protect. Luxon wants councils to have more control to restrict development in the wealthy villa-belts. But councils already have enough control – they don’t need more.
Changing track now is bad policy-making. It would pull the rug out from under councils around the country that have already done so much work to implement the new standards. It would set a worrying precedent, and create a culture of uncertainty in the planning system during a time of economic unease. Home-builders are already gaining consents, making investment plans and building houses under these new rules. Making a change now would hurt their business at a time when their margins are already thin.
Backing down on supporting this policy is not only bad for our cities and our people, but also bad for the political culture in Aotearoa. We all like seeing the politicians we elected come together and collaborate constructively to build a better future for all of us. We don't like seeing them turn our futures into a political football. The housing crisis harms everyone and it will take a long time to fix. We all need to do our parts and stand together to create positive change.
Primary contact: Scott Caldwell
Coalition for More Homes
Email: [email protected]
Joint press release with Generation Zero, A City For People, Coalition for More Homes and Greater Auckland.