Will the new National Policy Statement on Urban Development offer real housing solutions, or allow for unsafe, unsuitable housing blocks that will devolve into slums? 

OPINION: Wellington’s interference in the running of Auckland has been an ongoing frustration for some time now, and definitely since the Super City was imposed upon us. But there are elements in the latest disruption, the National Policy Statement on Urban Development, that I am finding particularly disturbing.

There is no question that there is a massive shortage of housing in Auckland that must be addressed, but I am not sure the NPS-UD offers a wise, well-considered and workable approach.  

It was recently reported that the number of people waiting for public housing has quadrupled in the last four years to 23,687 households. The Government says it will increase public housing from 67,200 units in 2018 to 81,300 in 2024; but even if the target is reached, this would only accommodate just over half those currently on the waiting list.

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After adjusting for inflation, residential rents in Auckland have risen by 45 percent since the year 2000, reaching an average rent of $564 a week in March this year. This is a dire issue for families who rent as rising costs force them to move frequently in search of more affordable options, disrupting their children’s education and socialisation.

There is a huge need for warm, dry, liveable and affordable housing, suitable for young families as well as seniors. But the NPS-UD has the potential to enable developers to build unsafe, unsuitable housing blocks that could devolve into slums.

For example, on the Te Atatu Peninsula, on one side of an existing street of single level dwellings, 63 three-level terrace houses are proposed over five sites. The proposed developments have no parking facilities and no requirement for accessible parking spaces. How happy will the neighbours be when their previously quiet street has cars parked all over the berms, and they have to struggle to drive safely out of their garage?

Apart from those with street frontage, these terrace dwellings have a long, narrow pedestrian access with a high wooden wall on the boundary. This 100m long, 1.5m wide pathway does not allow for mobility scooters or pushchairs to pass comfortably. Moving in or out of the properties will be a mission, negotiating the long, narrow walkway carrying furniture and possessions. For those dwelling in the units furthest from the street frontage, access for maintenance or emergency services will be difficult.

Lower-priced housing that is not liveable is not progress. Anyone buying into such a housing complex is buying into a disaster, made legal by the Government’s NPS-UD.

This pathway is the only access and the only shared space. There is no green space.

And what happens over time as the building requires maintenance: roof or plumbing repairs, or the walkway deteriorates? How will such shared problems be managed when there is no body corporate or housing committee? Our collective housing sector in is in its infancy, and New Zealand does not currently have co-operative housing legislation.

This NPS-UD also requires Auckland, Wellington and the other fast-growing “tier one” cities to fast-track the permits for six-storey-plus apartment blocks throughout their CBDs, and around their metropolitan centres and rapid transit stops.

When you drive along Dominion Road and Sandringham Road, you will see six-storey apartment blocks are already being built, and it appears the only condition they are meeting is that they are within the CBD. As Jonathan Milne reported in Newsroom, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Design is defining new “walkable catchments” of car-free apartment developments around shopping centres and transit stations, with ambitious new expectations of how far residents should walk each day.

It has research that shows most of those who require public transport will walk 1200m or more. This is fine for getting to and from work if public transport is available. But how far away is the local supermarket or greengrocer? How do you get home from the supermarket with a load of groceries for the week?

Benefits of the NPS-UD plan are quoted as lower prices for new housing market entrants, and developers able to maximise profits by turning over land to apartments that might otherwise have been needed for car-parking.

But lower-priced housing that is not liveable is not progress. Anyone buying into such a housing complex is buying into a disaster, made legal by the Government’s NPS-UD. Shame on them.

Dr Claire Dale is research fellow at the Pensions and Intergenerational Equity Hub in the Department of Economics at the University of Auckland Business School.

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