Labour's Twyford lays down two crucial tests for govt's urban planning directive

Phil Twyford said the government was showing dangerous signs of agreeing with the Auckland Council's approach to relaxing urban limits.

The government's imminent National Policy Statement with new directions for urban planning must deal with infrastructure financing and avoid encouraging speculation in undeveloped land, says Labour's housing spokesman, Phil Twyford.

Speaking ahead of the expected release of the NPS by Environment Minister Nick Smith tomorrow, Twyford said the government was showing dangerous signs of agreeing with the Auckland Council's approach to relaxing urban limits.

The draft Auckland Unitary Plan, due to be finalised by mid-August, proposes incrementally adding 11,500 hectares of new land supply over the 30 years of the plan's life, in response to demand. The NPS is widely expected to require local governments to make land available for housing when imbalances between housing costs and average household incomes go beyond certain ratios of affordability.

"What we think is wrong about that is that ... if you just add bits of land every couple of years, you're feeding the beast," Twyford told BusinessDesk. "The speculators and the land bankers will just gobble it up. The boundary itself ... is what creates the speculative dynamic that has given us the dysfunctional urban land market that we have.

"That's why we've proposed getting rid of the boundary altogether and replacing it with a much smarter way of managing growth."

That included sweeping aside current restrictions on medium density housing within existing city limits, especially when close to town centres and public transport routes.

"If they leave in the myriad controls on density and height currently in the draft plan and they free up land on the fringes, then it will be a charter for sprawl," Twyford said.

A second key test of the NPS would be its approach to financing roading, water and other infrastructure required to connect new suburban developments to existing services.

Labour is proposing financing infrastructure with long-term local government bonds recovered over decades by a targeted rate on the properties in a new development. That system is "cheaper, fairer and more efficient" than charging developers a levy that partially covers infrastructure costs, which is immediately reflected in higher costs for the houses in the development, Twyford said.

"If it (the NPS) simply deals with land supply and doesn't address the infrastructure question, it will be a clear fail."

Labour supported the government's intention to use the prescriptive powers of an NPS, issued under the Resource Management Act, if the Auckland Unitary Plan failed to deliver a blueprint for handling Auckland's rampant property price inflation and growth needs, but Twyford noted the government had promised an NPS on urban development in its 2008 manifesto.

"They've wasted eight years on a wild good chase while they failed to win support to reform the RMA," he said. "Seven years ago, if they'd written an NPS as they promised, the Auckland housing crisis probably wouldn't be nearly as bad as it is."


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