Is it time of a KiwiBuild switch?

The Government probably didn't get the reaction it was hoping for recently when it announced its KiwiBuild scheme would expand into central Queenstown.

The news 100 KiwiBuild houses would be built on the former Wakatipu High School site should have, if the scheme was going to plan, been met with considerable fanfare in a town struggling with housing affordability. That it wasn't suggests KiwiBuild has already lost the hearts and minds of those it was earmarked to help.

KiwiBuild was first announced in 2012 under Labour's then-leader David Shearer. It would, he claimed, lead to 100,000 homes being built - over and above the homes which would have otherwise been built - across a 10-year period.

Five years later, the plan was still core Labour policy, so it is entirely reasonable to expect a party with half a decade to fine-tune a headline policy would do so and, upon election to government, hit the ground running. That did not happen, and the scheme now appears to be in tatters.

Since 2012, KiwiBuild critics have suggested building so many houses was not as simple as was being touted. Where were the extra tradespeople who would construct them? Where was the extra land? Land was already fetching high prices as demand outstripped supply.

It has turned out those criticisms were warranted. But that doesn't mean there wasn't value to Mr Shearer's policy, nor does it mean there is nothing to salvage from the scheme as it stands today.

We have a peculiar expectation around housing in New Zealand. We appear to expect each house to be of bespoke design, while shunning ``cookie-cutter'' construction. Yet we energetically protect what are essentially cookie-cutter housing estates - like those in Auckland's leafy inner suburbs - as they are deemed to be of historic, cultural and aesthetic value.

We do have a history of such housing and, given time, it seems we grow to like it. That is just as well, because bespoke houses are generally more expensive to design, build and get consented than mass-produced models built to standard plans inside purpose-built factories before being shipped to site and rapidly assembled.

Factory-built houses are constructed out of the elements, can be built quicker, cheaper, and create far less waste than standard homes. They could be an answer to the high-cost housing New Zealand is grappling with. In Europe, America and other parts of the world, the concept of building houses in factories to standardised and modular designs is gaining traction.

But establishing such factories is not just a new idea to many New Zealanders. It is also hugely expensive. While such house-building plants do exist in New Zealand, the factories dominating overseas markets are at a scale and design far beyond what New Zealand can currently muster. They have larger markets to service and more certainty of demand. Investors like certainty, and in New Zealand, that certainty has yet to materialise.

This is where KiwiBuild, with the scale and certainty government backing provides, may yet prove to be a significant salve to this country's housing dilemma. While supporting the factory-built housing industry was and remains part of the KiwiBuild plan, it has been overshadowed by ongoing political blundering.

Perhaps, then, it is time KiwiBuild's champions accept defeat, drop the last of their targets and instead embrace pragmatism - by focusing the Government's heft, with guarantees of funding and demand, solely on ensuring a powerful factory-built housing industry grows in New Zealand.

It is not too late for a KiwiBuild shift away from its initial promises towards a market-led, Government-backed solution. Forget the targets, build the factories. After all, such a public display of pragmatism could bring considerable benefits to many voters. And that is surely the outcome all governments want.


 

Comments

We all have found out how good kiwi build is/ another government flop / / also wheres the 100000 pine trees/ etc/

 

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