N.Z. in lock down: DAY 13


Yesterday was DAY 13 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

As a result of the course work for my university paper, I have been doing some thinking about how what I have learned about urban planning in the last 48 hours could affect my own views. Having had a diverse range of people speak to myself and my class – economists, council planners, N.G.O. and government agency staff – I feel as though my whole understanding of housing policy and the challenges it poses has been revamped.

There is no simple or singular solution to the challenges facing New Zealand housing, but a combination of changes as laid out below will certainly be a start. They are an attempt to acknowledge the legal, economic, market, policy and societal needs. Understanding how they are interconnected and understanding what the ebbs and flows are in terms of how these needs output and receive input is important.

In terms of legal obstacles or challenges that I think are potentially significant is in the area of covenants on land. Many are well established, and place restrictions on the nature of the housing that can be constructed, such as perhaps requiring nothing smaller than a 4 or 5 bedroom home to be constructed. That excludes potential buyers who might have been wanting to have a 3 bedroom house and a big enough area that they could later subdivide. Covenants might also be used to keep the “riff raff” out – people who come from lower socio-economic classes, but who might have, through a combination of hard work and assistance, to know how to get some finances together and enter the market.

There might well be good uses of covenants as a legal instrument – I would be keen to hear them – but I think I have just demonstrated that something that has uses, also has abuses.

One of the notions that I am certainly not sympathetic to is the market idea that all houses need to be 4-5 or more bedrooms in size. Multiple speakers pointed out that there is now a glut of large houses and it also does not represent an emerging trend that is expected to grow of smaller families after 2-3 bedroom dwellings. Developers want their money’s worth, so they build bigger more complex houses, which may be beyond the ability of most New Zealanders to purchase, or their needs.

Developers, perhaps unwittingly or perhaps deliberately, through not sharing data they have with council planners make it quite difficult for councils to anticipate land use needs. Because of that land use zoning, which normally requires a plan change, public submissions and a hearing to determine the suitability of the change, sometimes becomes an unintentional snag.

It is not to say that planners are always correct as sometimes resource consent applications are not properly notified – i.e. the consenting council underestimates the potential adverse effects and goes for either a non-notification or partial notification. This is never a welcome outcome for a council because it means a now potentially hugely expensive hearings phase with public submissions, reports summarizing those submissions and so forth. And it does happen – Mackenzie District Council is currently facing a legal challenge over a proposed hotel in Tekapo that was not publicly or partially notified.