Despite the feeling that the council and the government entering into a housing accord is a little like a shotgun marriage…neither party particularly in love with each other at the moment…I definitely think it is an idea with merit.
No one disagrees that there is a huge need for more houses to be built in Auckland. We need 13 000 more dwellings each year for the next two decades at least and almost 30,000 to cover the existing shortfall. What is most essential though is to get more affordable, housing choices available for our diverse communities.
The stability and success of communities is based on stable long term neighbourhoods made up of well housed people who are able to live in homes that meet their needs and allow them a good, safe, warm and healthy lifestyle. The answer is not simply more and more quarter acre house sites on the fringe of the city.
The original housing accord proposal appeared to be focussed only on opening up new Greenfield land to build more houses. A single approach to try and clumsily bring down the house process in Auckland by doing nothing more than “building more product” in paddocks was not the answer.
After meaningful discussions between the Mayor, myself and the Minister, Wellington officials started to understand the complexity of the housing affordability issue in Auckland and that quality, diverse and affordable brownfield and greenfield development is needed across the region.
The accord as drafted now contains very clear expectations of housing development in urban and rural areas, with a focus on affordable housing.
The sticking point however is the continuation of the “override clause”. This clause allows for government to step in over the top of the council and council’s planning processes should the development and progress of Special Housing Areas and Qualifying Developments not deliver to government’s expectations. I believe that this is totally unnecessary and shows a remarkable lack of good faith as well as a lack of understanding of how local government works.
Local government is not a department of central government and has its own mandate and democratic relationship with its local communities. One would have to say that if an accord was not able to be developed by a council maybe there would be good reasons for that. A city like Dunedin that has appeared on the list of councils’ government has in its sights for an accord process, certainly does not have an obvious housing crisis and may well view this process with suspicion. Should they have a choice about whether or not to enter an accord? I believe they should, and should not have the threat of a government override to force them to sign on the dotted line.
Auckland will continue to work with the government to ensure that we get some momentum on the provision of affordable housing but we also need to retain our sovereignty as a council representing our communities in Auckland.
The government is now very keen for us to notify the Unitary Plan as they know the Housing Accord will not be activated without it in place. Council is very reluctant to enter the Accord until the legislation to enable it is moderated. It is an interesting case of who will blink first. I am ever hopeful that by sitting back around the table we may resolve this. It is the future of our people and our city and my passion is to get the best and most innovative outcomes we can. Let’s keep our people in charge of the future of our city, planning from Wellington is not an option.