Perspectives on New Zealand’s proposed Urban Development Authority

Perspectives on New Zealand’s proposed Urban Development Authority

What do London, Melbourne, Sydney and Toronto have in common? Dense and expensive housing. Following the footsteps of these big cities we have a love/hate relationship with, the New Zealand Government recently launched consultation on proposed legislation to give powers to a new arm of government, Urban Development Authorities (UDAs). So how will UDAs affect New Zealand’s housing and development growth?

The Urban Development Authority – a mirror of Auckland’s Unitary Plan

The proposed legislation has been recommended by the Productivity Commission as part of the solution to Auckland’s housing/growth struggles. It all seems to make sense except the proposed legislation follows closely on the heels of Auckland City’s Unitary Plan which has focussed squarely on housing and growth.

The Unitary Plan had the task of revamping and integrating all previous plans, rezoning the city to enable the projected population growth by 2040 of up to 1 million. The task of coming up with a Unitary Plan was written into the legislation that created the Auckland Council and work on it has been ongoing for almost five years. A proposed version was tabled back in 2013 and a government-appointed panel has since conducted near on 250 days of hearings with the discussion culminating with the panel coming up with a new version. That’s a massive amount of work focussing on the pressures of growth in Auckland.

The alternatives

Was there always a feeling that the Unitary Plan wasn’t going to be enough? Former Housing New Zealand Manager and current Goodman Development Director Leonie Freeman launched a discussion in late October 2016 proposing a not-for-profit organisation to work with and coordinate every player in the Auckland housing sector, from private developers, iwi, charitable organisations to local government, and government agencies (read article here). Freeman’s perspective was born from a vast and intimate knowledge of the Auckland problem, yet her efforts failed to elicit a response from government. Perhaps that is because the Urban Development Authority legislation was already in the pipeline.

In particular, I am interested in the approach taken by each tool to come to a decision. The Unitary Plan undertook a lengthy consultation and promised ongoing discussion. Freeman’s proposed structure also featured key players mucking in together to find solutions. However, Nick Smith’s UDA does not promise collaboration and discussion with communities of interest. The UDA will have the power to force development, to frog-march decisions past councils that are still required to go through lengthy consultation to produce plans.

Perhaps the UDA proposal is a pragmatic solution, or perhaps it is paternalistic. Certainly, the argument that UDAs have worked well in great cities like London, Melbourne, Sydney, Toronto and Singapore is dubious. There is widespread literature attesting to these cities being some of the least affordable in the world. So I am left asking myself a whole pile of questions. Do Smith’s claims that UDAs will “enable faster and better quality regeneration in our major cities” even aim to affordability? Is housing and land development actually the problem? What about immigration policies? Mm mm interesting times.

Councils, the community and business leaders have until 19 May 2017 to make comment on the proposal. The Government’s discussion document and more information can be found here.

Do you think the proposed UDA is the future to New Zealand’s housing and development problem? Let us know!

.id is a team of demographers, population forecasters, spatial planners, urban economists, and data experts who use a unique combination of online tools and consulting to help governments and organisations understand their local areas. Access our free demographic resources here

Penny - Population expert

Based in New Zealand, Penny primarily looks after our Kiwi clients but also lends her expertise to the Australian context. Penny has extensive experience as a Communication Manager in Local Government and has a degree in Business and Communications. She also brings a breadth of generalist management experience in fields as varied as research, civil defence, project and event management, marketing and training. Penny’s knowledge combined with the .id tools help clients work with their communities to empower grass roots decision-making, advocacy and grant applications, and focus on strengthening council-community relationships. Penny has a rural property and enjoys growing and eating food and wine, which she runs, walks, bikes or swims off, when she’s not in the art studio.

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