New Zealand Labour Party

Government should abolish Auckland urban growth boundary

The Government should rule out any possibility of an urban growth boundary in Auckland Council’s Unitary Plan if it is serious about fixing the housing crisis, says Labour’s Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford.

“Over 25 years the urban growth boundary hasn’t prevented sprawl, but it has driven land and housing costs through the roof. It has contributed to a housing crisis that has allowed speculators to feast off the misery of Generation Rent, and forced thousands of families to live in cars, garages and campgrounds.

“Labour’s plan will free up the restrictive land use rules that stop the city growing up and out. It will stop land prices skyrocketing, and put the kibosh on land bankers and speculators.

“Nick Smith is talking up his soon to be released draft national policy statement under the RMA. But to avoid it becoming yet another of his long list of his ineffective stunts, he needs to stop land bankers by doing away with the urban growth boundary – and make sure it doesn’t re-emerge under a different name.

“The urban growth boundary creates an artificial scarcity of land, and drives up section costs. Land inside the boundary is up to ten times more valuable than rural land.

“It is not enough for the Council to progressively add more land zoned for development here and there. That just feeds the speculation that is an inevitable result of having the boundary.

“There is a smarter way to manage growth on the city fringes by properly integrating land use with transport and infrastructure planning. There should be more intensive spatial planning of Auckland’s growth areas in the north, north-west and south. Land of special value can be set aside, like the northern coastal strip or Pukekohe’s horticulture soils. Corridors should be acquired and future networks mapped for transport and other infrastructure.

“This requires bold reform. Freeing up growth on the fringes needs to go hand in hand with allowing more density – so people can build flats and apartments in parts of the city where people want to live, particularly around town centres and transport routes.

“It is also essential to reform the way infrastructure is financed. The cost of new infrastructure must rest with the property owners of new developments to prevent the ratepayer carrying the can for expensive infrastructure investment in places where it's too expensive to build. Labour proposes using bond financing paid back by targeted rates over the life of the asset. This can range up to 50 years in some of the jurisdictions using this mechanism.

“Nick Smith and Bill English have been playing politics with the RMA and Councils for years, blaming them for expensive housing. However, National have done next to nothing meaningful in eight years in government to tackle restrictive land use rules that drive up land prices and choke off the supply of affordable housing.

“Fixing planning rules on their own won’t solve the housing crisis. It also needs to go alongside cracking down on property speculators, and a massive government-backed building programme.

“With the Budget coming up, the Government has a chance to finally do something to genuinely rein in Auckland’s housing crisis. But unless Nick Smith deals to the urban growth boundary –
and its proposed watered-down replacement – integrates transport planning and investment, frees up the density rules, and reforms infrastructure finance, his national policy statement won’t amount to much,” Phil Twyford says.

Background Questions and Answers:

Won’t this lead to more sprawl?
No, it will manage sprawl because development and investment decisions will be carefully planned. Auckland must grow to accommodate another million people over coming decades. However arbitrary lines on the map where land owners can virtually strike it rich thanks to the stroke of an Auckland Council planning pen is clearly not delivering a quality, compact city – or affordable housing for young families.

Are you saying the Government should override Auckland’s Plan?
Restrictive land use rules like the urban growth boundary and density controls are a major contributor to the housing crisis that is locking young people out of home ownership. It is entirely appropriate that central government should have a say on behalf of them and future generations. While the detail of planning decisions is a matter for local councils, housing affordability is a matter of national interest.

Hasn’t Auckland Council agreed to get rid of the old Metropolitan Urban Limit?
Auckland Council has replaced the old Metropolitan Urban Limit with a new more flexible rural urban boundary which progressively releases more land for urban development. They are now talking about replacing the rural urban boundary with zoning. It is nothing but a semantic response.