To Bill English – Auckland Council is not responsible for the housing crisis

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Len Brown welcome to Auckland

By Greg Presland

Yesterday morning on National Radio Bill English blamed Auckland Council for Auckland’s increasing housing problem. He said that Auckland Council was not making sections available quickly enough and essentially said that Auckland Council and not the Government was to blame.

No doubt he was responding to the criticism from the day before of the Salvation Army’s Major Campbell Roberts who complained that Housing Corporation was that badly resourced that it was sending clients to the Salvation Army for housing. Labour’s leader David Shearer had also recently commented on the issue and made the very valid point that poor housing is the primary cause of a number of major social problems. It is clear the Government is feeling vulnerable on the issue, particularly after Labour’s announcement of its housing policy.

So English chose to try and put the blame on Auckland Council. Particulars of the blame are hard to work out but English seems to think that Auckland Council could and should make more land available, could process resource consent applications more quickly and could just do something to help.

The trouble with the first claim is that Len Brown reported that there are currently 20,000 sections available in the greater Auckland area to be built on. This is enough land for the anticipated demand for the next two years and with land in the East Tamaki, Silverdale and Massey becoming available the demand for the foreseeable future should be taken care of. Besides making more land available would require a Plan change.  It was a huge ask by the Government of Auckland post amalgamation to complete the Unitary Plan which not only has the colossal job of consolidating seven district plans but also has to make plans for the future. This is not something that can be achieved overnight.

The second claim is also difficult. Brown stated that 95% of applications were being processed on time. Another consideration is that Auckland Councils and the rest of the Local Authorities throughout the country have suffered massive losses because of leaky home problems. Haste is the last thing that should occur in processing something as important as a building consent. And besides there is no evidence that processing times are providing an impediment to the construction of houses. As English previously admitted

[I]t’s very complex, so any explanation is partial, but it looks to us as if there’s a number of problems. One is the cost of building. That does appear to be pretty high, particularly compared to Australia. There’s a lot of work being done on why that might be the case. More scale, building regulation – all of that can be improved, and that process is underway. We’re also concerned about the supply of housing coming to the market. It does look like the councils have got a very difficult job ensuring that there’s enough new land but also enough development within our cities of more dense housing to enable enough housing to come on to the market to stop prices rising unnecessarily.

One of the problems identified by English in that interview is that compared to the average wage the cost of a house is high, way higher than in many other countries. Perhaps he should concentrate on improving the average wage.

The third claim really had me scratching my head. Recently the Government has changed the purpose of Local Government. Previously the purpose was to enable democratic local decision-making and action by, and on behalf of, communities and to promote the social, economic, environmental, and cultural well-being of communities, in the present and for the future. The Government in its infinite wisdom has changed this so that the purpose now is the provision of good quality local infrastructure, local public services and performance of regulatory functions. Apart from processing resource consent applications quickly you have to wonder what if anything Auckland Council can do about affordable housing given the directive to concentrate only on “core activities”.

The provision of adequate housing for all of our citizens is an absolutely important job.  But English would achieve a lot more if he worked with Auckland Council rather than trying to shift the blame for what clearly is a major Central Government problem.

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