High cost of housing the result of environmental protections, says PM

The high cost of housing is a result of the efforts to protect the environment in Auckland and other big cities, according to Prime Minister Bill English.

As reported in the NZ Herald, English used his keynote speech to his party's Bluegreens forum - which is National's advisory group on environmental issues - to point the finger at environmental concerns as a major driver of house prices. Te Matapihi agree that the planning system is to a large degree (but by no means solely) responsible for Auckland's current housing crisis, however targeting environmental protection is a mis- (or at the very least, partial) diagnosis of causation and sets the scene for a potentially dangerous policy agenda that pits environmental protection against affordable housing.

Prime Minister English stated that the Auckland Unitary Plan will address many of these issues. Te Matapihi was both a submitter and a further submitter on the proposed Auckland Unitary Plan. Unfortunately, both the affordability provisions (which were an important first step, but as demonstrated in our report on affordable housing would not substantively improve housing affordability for Māori) and the identification and protection of sites of cultural significance to Māori were removed from the Unitary Plan through the public notification and hearings process.

We agree that the Unitary Plan - with its focus on transit-oriented and mixed-use development and increased density provisions - will go some way to improving housing affordability generally and over time, however the lack of targeted provisions mean that making housing in Tāmaki Makaurau affordable for Māori will continue to be a significant challenge. In the absence of strong targeted provisions or a government-owned monopoly provider, Māori will continue to be disproportionately affected by Auckland’s housing affordability crisis.

Recent project proposals by Tāmaki Makaurau iwi, such as Ngāti Paoa’s Point England housing development, have demonstrated that a larger percentage of social and affordable housing (20% social and 20% affordable) can be provided by iwi developers than the affordability provisions (10% relative or 5% retained affordable) that were subsequently stripped from the proposed Unitary Plan. This percentage could be further increased through direct government investment. Given that Māori home ownership rates are much lower than those of the general population, (whilst assisting their own uri in the first instance) could also be an opportunity to assist mataawaka and other Māori into home ownership. This has huge potential to improve housing outcomes for Māori in Tāmaki Makaurau.

Prime Minister English also referred to the Productivity Commission inquiry into urban planning, which will soon present its final report. The Prime Minister said the Government would be taking action related to the report. Te Matapihi input into the inquiry was invited by the Productivity Commission, with our guidance focussed on how papakāinga can be supported and accommodated by the planning system, including specific reference to urban papakāinga by mana whenua and papakāinga-style development by mataawaka.

We advised that any provisions relating to the development of papakāinga-style housing by mataawaka should specifically consider the role of iwi/hapū in consenting processes, and interaction with any iwi or hapū management plan relating to the rohe. Additionally, specific consideration should be given to the development of provisions for developing papakāinga on Treaty settlement land, returned under either cultural or commercial redress.

Iwi-led housing precedents are urgently required to demonstrate that it doesn't have to be either/or - we can have affordable housing and enhance our natural environments. It is our position that Prime Minister English should be supporting these kind of developments, rather than promoting potentially damaging affordable housing vs environment rhetoric.

Te Matapihi will continue to advocate to central and local government for greater support for iwi-led housing development as a solution to the housing crisis in Auckland and other urban areas. We are currently preparing our submission on the proposed Urban Development Authorities, and have initiated a conversation with the Mayor's Office regarding Māori representation on the newly-established Mayoral Housing Task Force.