By Pattrick Smellie
Jan 25 (BusinessDesk) - The government will intervene to free up land for housing unless local governments, especially Auckland, plan to do so themselves, Prime Minister John Key said today in his state of the nation speech in Auckland.
"We want to work co-operatively with local councils and I believe our goals in the end are the same," said Key. "In particular we are keenly awaiting the Auckland Council's spacial plan, and I'm expecting it to include multiple options for both greenfields and brownfields residential property developments.
"But if councils aren't able to change their planning processes, then the government would have to get a lot more proactive, because we are very serious about resolving this issue."
Productivity Commission and other recent research suggests New Zealanders face far higher housing costs than in comparable developed countries, owing to a combination of costly regulatory processes, uncompetitive building materials markets, restrictive urban limits and the absence of uniform home designs to drive down building costs.
The government has focused particularly on the cost of land, especially in Auckland, where it wants to see the existing Maxiumum Urban Limit relaxed, as well as more intensive "in-fill" housing within current urban boundaries.
"We need more houses built in New Zealand, at a lower cost," said Key, contrasting the National Party-led government's approach with Labour and Green Party policies to build more houses and create incentive schemes for home ownership.
"We need more land available for building, more streamlined processes and less costly red tape.
This doesn't require the Government to spend a lot of money. We are already a huge player in the housing market and I'm very wary of spending more of taxpayers' money."
Instead, barriers to private investment in housing needed to come down, he said.
"It's ridiculous, for example, that developers can wait six to 18 months for a resource consent.
It's ridiculous that we allow councils to demand almost anything as a condition for the consent.
And it's ridiculous that we allow them to charge whatever fees they want.
"Unless these sorts of issues are dealt with there won't be more affordable housing built," said Key.
Making resource consents easier to obtain for housing will be part of a wider push to reform the Resource Management Act in what Key said was a drive to make New Zealand "a magnet for investment."
"I want to see big improvements in this area and it's going to be a high priority for the Government this year," he said.