105,000 new homes in five years (Image from Kiwibuild website)

The Labor government is to be joyfully rubbing its hands following the announcement earlier this week of its housing deal with the National Party.

Suddenly, it took increasing the availability and accessibility of housing – issues for which the government was becoming increasingly vulnerable on the political agenda, as well as to bury the specter of its own much ridiculed Kiwibuild program. .

Kiwibuild has failed to meet Labor’s overly ambitious goal of 10,000 new affordable homes per year for ten years. However, without being discouraged in the past, this week’s deal offers the even bolder prospect of 105,000 new homes in the next five years alone. And, if this plan fails, the responsibility will be shared equally between the two old parties that designed it. In the meantime, for this reason, neither will be prompted to criticize the other on this matter, which means that the provision of housing has effectively been taken off the short to medium political agenda.

The different issues

The pressures on both the Labor Party and the National to make this deal work are strong, but not the same. For Labor, this deal is an opportunity to regain some momentum in housing, given the failure of Kiwibuild, soaring house prices showing few real signs of a significant slowdown despite various changes government taxes and tighter Reserve Bank of New Zealand lending rules; and steadily increasing roaming rates. For National, it’s much more about being taken seriously once again, which is important for its own credibility and relevance as more and more of its supporters seem to be defecting from ACT.

The importance of the deal for both sides is underlined by the fact that it surprises the supporting partner of Labor, the Greens, and the mayors of big cities whose own housing development plans have now been compromised.

As might be expected, the Labor mayor of Auckland, while complaining that he was not aware of the deal until it was announced, immediately lent his support with sycophancy even before he got it. seen the details. Wellington’s mayor was grumpy that this new plan overlaps with his own council’s densification strategy, which is still being finalized. But since Wellington City Council’s plan appeared to want to sacrifice the heritage aspect of many Wellington suburbs to multi-story Neo-Stalinist apartment buildings, the National / Labor deal reducing this madness may not be a bad thing.

Nicola Willis, spokesperson for the National Housing and Urban Development Party, National Party Leader Judith Collins and Housing Minister Dr Megan Woods announcing the Labor-National Partnership (Photo Newshub)

Beyond some cynicism that this week’s deal will actually mean a lot, given the number of national and local elections and the possible outcomes over the next five to ten years, there is nonetheless a a number of concerns as to what appears to have been agreed. The emphasis on building more housing is an understandable public policy priority at the present time. However, the intention to void the law on resource management and good planning and the environmental guarantees it provided will likely be regretted in time.

RMA and urban land

The rush to free up urban land to allow developers to build up to 3 three-story units on existing sections on a non-consent basis has serious implications. Not only is this effectively an open invitation to developers and speculators to do whatever they want, but it also has the potential, as a result, to further drive up house prices, as well as change the character of many. of our suburbs forever. The allure of quiet suburban streets giving way to more and more apartment buildings side by side, with more cars parked on the streets and less play space for children where houses, lawns once stood and gardens, is likely to be short lived.

However, it is the future for which Labor and the National are effectively committing us. While New Zealanders are concerned about housing and want to see real action to improve both affordability and affordability, too many, over time, are unlikely to drive fundamental change. in the nature and shape of our big cities, not to mention the consequences of lifestyle changes, the New Labor / National Plan will engender.

In this regard, it is extremely worrying that such a potentially significant change in our way of life has been developed by both sides, effectively in secret, without any public or local consultation.

Kiwibuild regularly brings new homes to market (Image from Kiwibuild website)

While the collectivism inherent in close, multi-story living, with little private outdoor recreational space for people to develop as their own (a breeding ground for airborne viruses like Covid19 if there ever was one) , might be closer to Labor’s ideological core, it runs counter to National’s historic policy of promoting a proprietary democracy, with its implicit commitment to land, space and opportunity.

Benefit for speculators and developers

If one of the intentions, at least from a Labor point of view, and now implicitly it would seem that of National as well, of this policy is to create greater equality by eliminating over time the diversity of our suburbs, it is almost certainly doomed to fail.

Indeed, it is likely to have the opposite effect – currently, attractive suburbs are likely to become even more attractive, thus pushing up their prices, and thus pushing up prices in the rest of the housing market. The only long-term winners will likely be the speculators and developers whose many-year-long rush to get rid of the resource management law should have been a warning to note, rather than adopting what it is. now.

For Labor, however, none of this apparently matters. By the time these new policies bear fruit, if they ever do, their time in government will likely be up, so the consequences will no longer be their responsibility. By securing National’s buy-in to these plans, Labor not only removed a contentious issue currently under discussion from immediate debate, but thus once again snooked National.

This is yet another sign that politics has always been at the forefront of this government’s agenda.

Peter Dunne is a former Minister of the Crown in the Labor and National Governments from November 2008 to September 2017. He lives in Wellington.

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