Developer praises new housing fund

Alastair Porter
Alastair Porter
A prominent Queenstown property developer says the Government's $1 billion housing infrastructure fund, announced at the weekend, is a big opportunity to accelerate new housing development in the resort.

Alastair Porter commended the Government last night for "thinking outside the square'' about ways to overcome obstacles to building new homes.

Prime Minister John Key, in announcing the fund at the National Party's conference in Christchurch yesterday, said the Government would borrow up to $1 billion to bring forward new roading, water and other infrastructure needed for new housing.

A one-off contestable fund will open later this year to applications from councils in high growth areas such as Auckland, Queenstown, Christchurch, Tauranga and Hamilton.

The Government is also considering establishing Urban Development Authorities (UDAs) to help speed up the supply of new housing.

UDAs have streamlined powers to override barriers to large-scale development, including potentially taking responsibility for planning and consenting.

The Government has not ruled out including in those powers the use of the Public Works Act to take land from an owner who resisted development inside a UDA area.

Mr Porter said UDAs could "push ahead'' development now constrained by councils' narrow interpretation of the Resource Management Act.

"I know councils don't intend to be a hindrance, but their interpretation of the RMA is very cautious and results in enormous hold-ups to development.''

UDAs should not to be given "carte blanche to run roughshod over land'', but be subject to appropriate constraints.

While the council needed to look at opportunities for new roading, water and sewerage projects, there was limited scope for new roads.

The council was already committed to the eastern arterial road in Frankton, while upgrading the resort's worst bottleneck, Frankton Rd, would be "extremely difficult and expensive''.

Instead, he urged the council to talk to the resort's developers about ways to reduce congestion on existing roads, such as park and ride facilities, shared car-pooling, public bikes and passenger ferries.

Queenstown Lakes Mayor Vanessa van Uden said the council would consider how to take full advantage of the new fund.

"We will certainly be right in there looking for projects that match the criteria when they're given to us,'' Ms van Uden said.

Although it could enable new housing projects desperately needed by the community, there was a "tension'' between the council's roles of facilitating urban development and protecting the environment, Ms van Uden said.

Apart from a "heads-up'' about the announcement two days ago, she had not been part of any discussion with the Government about the fund.

Finance Minister Bill English said the Government would invest up to $1 billion up front, but councils would have to repay the money within 10 years or buy back the infrastructure assets once new houses had been built and development contributions had been paid.

Infrastructure and its financing was one of the three key constraints to building more houses, alongside land supply and consent requirements, Mr English said.

"Councils have strict debt limits, which means some lack the headroom to invest in infrastructure now and then wait for future development contributions to recover the costs.

"The fund will help provide more infrastructure sooner, by aligning the cost to councils with the timing of revenue from development contributions.''

Building and Housing Minister Nick Smith said the fund would be available only for new infrastructure that supported more housing, not to replace existing infrastructure.

To access the fund, councils would have to outline how many new houses would be built, where they would be built and when they would be completed.

There could be other conditions, such as faster processing of resource consents, Dr Smith said.

 


What they said:

Labour Party leader Andrew Little: "Councils can already borrow this money for themselves so it's really just more smoke and mirrors by a Government that has no real answers.''

Green Party co-leader James Shaw: "National's loan seems heavily focused on building more roads, rather than actual houses. More sprawl and motorways will not solve the housing crisis, it just means more traffic, pollution and higher transport costs.''

Act leader David Seymour: "National's policy is designed to get the number $1 billion in the headlines, but it will not actually affect the housing market at all because councils still have to pay the money back.''

Property Institute of New Zealand chief executive Ashley Church: "The Government now needs to announce a series of initiatives designed to encourage the private sector to step up to the plate and do the 'heavy lifting'.''


 

 

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