'I think we've got it wrong': Luxon wants to change housing rules

Christopher Luxon speaking at his "Back on Track" public meeting in Birkenhead. Photo: NZ Herald
Christopher Luxon speaking at his "Back on Track" public meeting in Birkenhead. Photo: NZ Herald
National's leader Christopher Luxon has revealed he intends to change the rules on housing density if his party forms the next government.

“Greenfields development”, which means converting farmland into suburbs, will be favoured.

The rules Luxon wants to scrap allow three-storey dwellings on all residential land in the main cities.

Known as the Medium Density Residential Standards (MDRS), they are designed to prevent urban sprawl. They’re contained in the Resource Management (Enabling Housing Supply and Other Matters) Amendment Act, which all parties in Parliament except Act voted for unanimously in December 2021.

Luxon was the National leader at the time of the vote and his deputy, Nicola Willis, was one of the bill’s principal sponsors.

Although Luxon says density along transport corridors would be retained, this is a backtrack on his own position and the position of his party.

He revealed the change of heart during question time at a public meeting in Auckland's North Shore suburb of Birkenhead today, where he said: “I think we’ve got the MDRS wrong.”

Questioned later by The New Zealand Herald, he said he was “ruthlessly obsessed” with building more houses, but would prefer to see a much greater focus on greenfields developments.

He was not formally announcing new policy just yet, but he and the party’s housing spokesperson, Chris Bishop, would have something to say within a few weeks.

“Watch this space.”

The lunchtime meeting was the first in a nationwide series called “Get NZ Back on Track”. Luxon spoke at the Birkenhead Bowling Club, where about 250 people crammed in to hear him deliver a half-hour speech on his three priorities.

They were: “fix the economy”, “restore law and order”, and “improve health and education outcomes”.

But most of the questions he received afterwards were expressed as complaints about other issues, especially race relations and the role of Māori in society.

Luxon seemed to be walking a fine line with his answers.

“Where do you stand on the fact that the Māori language is given priority?” asked a woman called Rita, who said she had emigrated from Britain 20 years ago. The audience applauded.

Luxon made it clear his party stood for “one person, one vote”. It would “scrap the Māori Health Authority” and say “no to co-governance and separate systems”.

“That is not to say you can’t have innovation within the system,” he added. He gave the example of charter schools, some of which had a clear Māori focus.

But on the language, he told the largely elderly and overwhelmingly Pākehā audience: “I want to remind you that the average age in this country is 38. That means most of us came through school with some degree of familiarity with the use of te reo.”

However, with some government agencies using Māori names, he said it could be “really difficult and really unfair when people don’t know who to contact”.

“Having said that,” he added, “if you want to learn te reo, that’s fantastic. I’m trying to do it myself.”

Another questioner asked: “What do we do about that radical organisation, the Waitangi Tribunal, which has done nothing to assist race relations?” He was applauded too.

Luxon responded that his party wanted to “improve outcomes for Māori and non-Māori”. He suggested most Māori are more concerned with the cost of living than co-governance.

But, he added, “Māori rangatira have tended to do a good job administering local resources”. He didn’t explain how that relates to co-governance.

He said: “Most New Zealanders are on board with the Treaty process,” but then said “we need to move on” and “the thing that unites us is being Kiwis first and foremost. That will be my approach.”

Luxon pushed back more directly on some of the questions. To a businessman who complained he was earning too much to qualify for childcare support, he said National was focused on helping “the squeezed middle”.

On climate change, he said if there were any sceptics in the audience: “It’s time to give it up.”

Asked later if he was worried about the nature of the questions, he said it was important to “disagree without being disagreeable”.

From time to time, he slipped into hyperbole. The Government is “killing the agriculture sector”, Waka Kotahi is “spending all its money on te reo road signs,” and, “it’s very hard to do business here”.

In fact, dairy is booming, Waka Kotahi spends most of its money on maintaining and upgrading state highways and the World Bank consistently ranks New Zealand best or near-best in the world for ease of doing business.

Late in the meeting, a man asked about age.

“There’s no doubt young women got Jacinda Ardern elected,” he said, “but you look at the people here today. How are you going to bring young women back?”

“I can assure you,” Luxon said, “we are attracting younger people.”

The general election will be held on October 14.