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New Zealand Lifestyle Blocks: Planners Sprawl in Overdrive



Hugh Pavletich

Performance Urban Planning


New Zealand

26 July 2014

It seems there is a massive boom in ultra-low density urban development, commonly referred to as lifestyle blocks, if The New Zealand Herald article by Nikki Preston … Ride-ons cut new figures in auctions is any guide. Ms Preston reports …

“Heavy-duty mowers are quickest growing sales item on Trade Me.”

“Forget Mustangs, fishing gear or big-screen TVs - ride-on mowers are becoming the ultimate boys' toy.”

“The grass-cutting machine is one the fastest-growing categories in sales on auction site Trade Me in the past year.”

“Spokesman Jeff Hunkin said online bidders had purchased about 4500 ride-on mowers over the past year compared to 3500 last year.”

" ‘We expect that to keep growing at about 25 per cent a year’ he said.”

“The biggest month-on-month sales increase over the past year was in March where Trade Me saw 62 per cent growth on the previous March.”

“The category is up 24 per cent in sales for the year ended June 2014, compared to the previous year.”

“Other categories averaged between 2 and 5 per cent growth a year.”

“He put the impressive growth for both new and second-hand ride-ons down to an increasing number of people owning lifestyle blocks with lawns large enough to warrant one.”

As explained back in 2007 within New Zealand Lifestyle Block Mythology , New Zealand has a land area of 268,680 square kilometres and (now) small population of 4.545 million .

New Zealand is much the same land area as the United Kingdom with its population 63.5 million ).

Today there is likely less than 1,900 square kilometres or about 0.70% of our total land area “serviced urban area”.

But there is more to it than that.

What are commonly referred to as lifestyle blocks are in reality “ultra-low density urban development”.

These lifestyle blocks are generally created as people … and families in particular … flee the urban planners artificially created excessive land values within the serviced urban areas.

Preference always trumps policy.

As eminent Hoover Institution economist Dr Thomas Sowell has made clear “We have spent the past few decades replacing what works with what feels good.”

In early 2012, Gerald Piddock of The NZ Farmer with Issues on both sides of the fence , reported on research by Robbie Andrew and John Dymond of Landcare Research. Mr Piddock reported …

“The work by Landcare researchers Robbie Andrew and John Dymond showed lifestyle block numbers now numbered 175,000, an increase of 75,000 over the past 13 years and covered an area of 873,000 hectares.”

“Lifestyle blocks occupied 148,000ha (17 per cent) of high-class land, which was defined as land that could be used intensively to produce a wide variety of crops. That is 10 per cent of New Zealand's total area of high-class land.”

The Trade Me report on the massive sales lift of ride-on mowers, suggest that the serviced urban flight to ultra-low density urban development / lifestyle blocks is accelerating.

While in Australia, due to urban planners meddling with housing markets … and too … policies such as negative gearing, Land Value Tax and others, there has also been an explosion in “bubble development” apartments.

The “Melbourne Mess” is illustrated within a recent MacroBusiness Australia article Victoria to legislate against shoe-box apartments .

The MacroBusiness Australia graphs (subscription wall Whats behind Australia's apartment shift ) illustrate the serious disruption to normal housing supply … as artificially inflated land values create a gross oversupply of apartment building and a gross under-supply of conventional (real demand) stand-alone affordable detached housing …

Ill-informed urban planners meddling in land supply and failing to ensure infrastructure is financed properly, unnecessarily impose huge costs on society.

In the case of New Zealand, about $NZ400 billion of excessive bubble housing market value, as explained within New Zealand’s Bubble Economy Is Vulnerable .

The situation is mirrored in Australia … but only worse … due to its more complex governance structure and additional policy distortions.

Alain Bertaud, former Principal Urban Planner with the World Bank, is on a three City lecture in New Zealand this week … with the support of The New Zealand Initiative; Price Waterhouse Cooper; New Zealand Institute of Economic Research; NZ Treasury; Victoria University of Wellington and others. …

New Zealand Initiative Events

Guest Lecture: Alain Bertaud - Markets, urban planning and local democracy - Tue 29 Jul, 1.30 p.m.-3.00 p.m. at Ground Floor, Reserve Bank Museum, 2 The Terrace — The Treasury - New Zealand

As part of a widespread community ( such as New Zealand Taxpayers' Union and many others ) and institutional initiatives in New Zealand (including but not limited to the recently released final Productivity Commission Regulatory institutions and practices report ), Mr Bertaud’s focus is to discuss the importance of inculcating simple and clearly understood performance measures and disciplines in to the Local Government sector.


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