Kiwibuild isn’t working but the mega UDA will fix it

Phil Twyford hit a Kiwibuild low in Wanaka. Quote.

Only seven of 10 Kiwibuild homes in Wanaka have sold. The development has been controversial – the ballot deadline was extended because only 20 applications had been received.

Now it has been revealed that only seven sales will proceed.

The homes are in a subdivision called Northlake. The four two-bedroom and six three-bedroom homes are standalone houses priced between $565,000 and $650,000.” End of quote.

Heads up bargain hunters! Three unsold houses in Wanaka will have to be sold below their current pricing to come off the books and free up cash to build more houses.

Rather than admit Kiwibuild is a fail, Phil Twyford is merging it with Housing New Zealand as the Housing and Urban Development Authority (UDA). Quote. 

The idea had been canvassed for some years, and got serious early last year, when the then National-led Government called for submissions on the UDA concept.

….A UDA could be allowed to build along to far more generous planning rules than would otherwise apply to the surrounding area. One city, two rules. Maybe six storeys high instead of three, as a hypothetical example.” End of quote.

The Auckland City Council [ACC] submitted “largely in favour, but with plenty of conditions“.  Quote. 

[ACC] argues the council should have the right of veto on some issues, and that in Auckland council agencies such as Auckland Transport and Watercare, should have a role in determining the parameters of a development.

Also that as the name suggests, a UDA should only be able to operate in existing, or already planned urban areas, not in infrastructure-hungry rural sites.” End of quote.

We won’t know whether the ACC got what they wanted until more detail is released. Quote.

Cabinet papers about it would be released for public feedback.

The Ministry of Housing and Urban Development would report back to Cabinet on the plans within the next few months.

Legislation would then be needed to establish the authority through Parliament.” End of quote.

The UDA is duplicating work already done by the ACC’s Unitary Plan [UP],  which cost millions of dollars to blueprint Auckland’s development over the next three decades. The government helped make the UP happen by restricting the appeal process. Quote.

The government-driven Housing Accord (2013-16) created Special Housing Areas (SHA) that fast-tracked more intensive density rules still in the pipeline in the Unitary Plan. Appeal rights were severely curbed to ensure undisturbed progress.

The key difference between a UDA and an SHA though is important. SHA was a policy, leaving the free market to decide whether to take up the opportunity and build.

A UDA would be a government-driven entity, which itself would deliver the homes sorely needed in a city estimated to be 45,000 short.” End of quote.

The UDA is lining up to clash with councils but the government may have given itself the edge with the power of veto.

Environment Court judges will be empowered to force compliance and restrict the opportunity for litigation at the back end.  But what about the opportunity to litigate if a project deviates from its original proposal? Quote.

For some complex development projects, the UDA would have access to a range of statutory powers, funding infrastructure and development, bringing together parcels of land and reconfiguring reserves.

“The authority will transform the way New Zealanders live, work and play by building communities with a mix of public, affordable, and market housing, as well as the jobs, transport links, open spaces and facilities people need,” Twyford said.” End of quote.

A move to centralise housing development sounds efficient, but let’s not pretend the public will be enthusiastic about reduced access to the decisions made about their own backyards. Of course, the government sees this as a plus. Quote.

[Appeals] would be mitigated by having much more community consultation up front, leading to “much less litigation at the back end“.

“The community can still have a say. We’re going to have an independent hearing panel headed by an Environment Court judge.End of quote.

It’s hard to imagine how we could have much more liaison with the centralised and mega-sized UDA than with local council. Councils are forced into some accountability each election but who makes the giant UDA accountable?

Does less litigation mean that problems are actually solved at the start of the process or is it going to be an opportunity for a judge to simply reduce the opportunity to litigate?

And where does that hugely cumbersome, much in need of an overhaul, RMA fit in? Will the UDA override it to suit itself? Wouldn’t it be better to overhaul the RMA?

On top of these significant issues, Twyford is already overpromising.  Quote.

Twyford said the UDA will have two key roles: leading urban development projects and being a public landlord.

“Our plan is to reduce the amount of time it takes to go from concept to build – that currently would be five years or more – to one year.

This would be achieved by “streamlining” the RMA planning process for larger development projects, which he admitted could result in limited appeals.End of quote.

Reducing a house build to one-fifth of the current timeline on the larger projects sounds more than a tad optimistic.

If you are wondering just how the government is going to achieve the shorter timeline, the answer is that the mega-sized UDA will have the authority to override council regulations. Removing roadblocks will certainly speed up the process but how do people feel about also losing their right to dialogue about what happens in their neighbourhood?

There seem to be a lot of questions to be answered, or this could turn out to be just another fail but on a bigger scale.


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