Caution needed on housing creep

There will be mixed views on the rezoning of land on the outskirts of Mosgiel to make way for more housing.

The 39ha on the western side of Mosgiel near Wal’s Plant Land could be developed into about 500 lots, possibly a mix of apartments, pensioner flats and stand-alone houses.

There is some way to go before any subdivision is approved, but many are welcoming the prospect of more land being freed for development in the area, given the housing shortage which is being felt in Dunedin in common with other urban centres.

Some are hopeful any development eventually approved will attract more than just retirees, adding to the vibrancy of the town and counteracting any suggestion Mosgiel is increasingly becoming just a place for superannuitants.

Those who have shaken off the rose-tinted spectacles may not be so sure too many young families will be able to afford whatever may eventually be on offer, particularly under the current lending rules.

Questions have also been raised about the wisdom of further concentration of housing on flood-prone land and the short-sightedness of building on land with high-quality soil when there is a shortage of such land available across the country for horticulture.

Indeed, chairman of Dunedin City Council’s planning and environment committee David Benson-Pope has been dampening down hopes for more big housing development on the Taieri Plain, citing the flooding risks, the use of the high-quality soils and the need to consider the impacts on infrastructure such as water and sewerage.

Moves to get better national management of areas with high productive soil have been painfully slow, and we wonder how much more good productive soil will be consigned to sit under housing developments before tangible progress is seen.

A year ago, we highlighted the urgency of the situation, pointing out that when only about 15% of our land is ideal for food production, it is disturbing to realise the amount of highly productive land lost to housing increased by 54% between 2002 and 2019. Further, it was estimated that over the next 35 years up to 31,270ha of Auckland’s most productive land could be gobbled up by houses.

When desirable land is not available for agriculture, it means less suitable land is used, requiring more fertilisation and irrigation which can lead to adverse environmental impacts, something we are all too familiar with from the dairying boom.

Horticulture NZ chief executive Mike Chapman said a year ago it was getting nearly too late to do things which will make great sense.

A National Policy Statement for Highly Productive Land, which went out for consultation in 2019, was expected to be finalised by the end of last year but now supposed to surface mid-year. This is not expected to provide absolute protection of highly productive land but would require local authorities to proactively consider the resource in their region or district to ensure it is available for present and future primary production.

It is frustrating this has not been given the urgency it deserves.

And another thing

Covid-19 again showed it is no respecter of status, afflicting Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the weekend.

The diagnosis and the subsequent isolation required comes at a more than usually inconvenient time for the Prime Minister as we head into Budget week and the Emissions Reduction Plan is due to be announced today.

Ms Ardern, who was already in isolation after her fiance Clarke Gayford and then daughter Neve contracted the coronavirus, is due to travel to the United States on a trade mission at the end of the month.

Her engagements there include delivering the commencement address to graduates at the prestigious Harvard University.

We hope her symptoms do not become serious and we join those wishing her a speedy recovery. Her job is difficult and stressful enough without the added complication of illness.


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