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New Zealand: Local Government Focus Required

New Zealand: Local Government Focus Required


by Hugh Pavletich
Performance Urban Planning
Christchurch
New Zealand

December 5, 2008

New Prime Minister Hon John Key (NZ Herald article) of the National Party led Government is strongly of the view that New Zealand’s problems centre around a lack of growth. His Deputy Bill English endorses this call for growth – viewing this as a necessary condition to attract New Zealanders, who were driven from their home country, because it failed to offer them reasonable opportunities.

For years – New Zealand has been a “railway station” where around 2% (around 80,000 of 4.3 million) of its population departs annually (Australia in the main) to be replaced by others. Too many of the “others” then use New Zealand as a convenient “pit stop” on their journey to settle permanently in Australia.

Australia is tackling the difficulties within the state and local government sectors – with the State Labour Government of Victoria leading the way. In March – fringe urban land was released in Melbourne capable of taking 90,000 housing lots (enough for 243,000 people) –and recently 22,000 lots at Geelong and a further release of 134,000 lots on the outskirts of Melbourne. To date this year – 246,000 lots at an estimated 2.7 people per household – capable of accommodating an additional 664,200 people (roughly the number of New Zealanders currently living overseas). The industry groups in Australia – such as the Housing Industry Association, Urban Development Institute, Property Council and Master Builders (this release “Planning reforms playing around with the edges” of the Master Builders of Victoria as an example) are committed to working with Governments at all levels in addressing these issues.

Understandably – people and businesses from New Zealand and the other States of Australia are flocking to the State of Victoria and the dynamic city of Melbourne – where they can acquire starter homes on the fringe of Melbourne for between $A230,000 and $A260,000. These people strive to live decent lives – where they don’t have to be “bubble bunnies” and “mortgage slaves” –as they are currently being forced to be in other Australian States and New Zealand. Simply because these other jurisdictions have been slow to figure out, how to “allow” affordable housing to be built.

“The Wasted Nine Years”would sadly sum up the performance of the previous New Zealand Labour led Government – which only succeeded in allowing a phony boom based on a housing bubble to take place. What is referred to as the “Cullen Bubble” – where through political failure at both Central and Local level – Kiwis were encouraged to flick houses to each other, has understandably ended in tears, as these unnecessary bubbles are currently bursting.

Key and English- with the support of Stephen Joyce - Infrastructure, Rodney Hide – Local Government, Phil Heatley – Housing, Maurice Williamson – Building and Nick Smith – Environment, will be the ministerial team required to lead New Zealand back to sound local governance and sustainable growth.

New Zealand did not have to have these unnecessary housing bubbles – if there had been responsible governance and management at Central and Local Government level – and the intent of the environmental effects based Resource Management Act 1991 (replacing the Town & Country Planning Act) had been followed. Instead –for “patch protection” reasons in the main and the support of the previous government – local government - with other protectionist groups and poorly trained professionals, chose to fight it all the way. The appropriate structures were never set up to deal with the “protectionist antics” that should have been foreseen.

Following the election November 8, the new Prime Minister John Key with commendable skill, quickly drew the ACT and Maori Party’s in to form a coalition government and appears to have allocated ministerial portfolios wisely.

However – New Zealanders only have “sketchy” policy statements of the New Zealand National Party on Local Government, Housing Affordability, Housing, Building &Construction, Infrastructure and the Environment to give them some idea of where the country may be heading.

The writers views are available at Performance Urban Planning.org | Hugh Pavletich.

John Key – as yet - does not appear to have acquired the “policy development” skills of his predecessor and “savior” of the National Party, Dr Don Brash. He needs to develop these skills with urgency – and is more than capable of doing so.

The National Party policy statements could be described as a suite of “noble intentions” - at best.

It takes time for a new Government – and particularly a coalition government – to settle in. And a Government where there is a lack of policy coherence and clarity. These problems are compounded when new and untested ministers such as Heatley with Housing, go off on a tangent making public statements, such as within this article - Death of home buyers' dream - 30 Nov 2008 - NZ Herald: New Zealand National news

“Housing Minister Phil Heatley said yesterday the key to making housing affordable was increasing take - home pay through tax cuts and reduced interest rates”.

These are simply inaccurate and diversionary “weasel words” – particularly when the journalist Rachel Grunwell of the NZ Herald within the preceding paragraph stated –

“National claimed affordable housing as one of its key election promises. John Keys plans included personal tax cuts, keeping interest rates down (he’s obviously suffering from the “Howard disease” thinking he’s Reserve Bank Governor as well), allowing State house dwellers to buy their homes, reforming development rules to free up land and changing building regulations.”

Hon Phil Heatley – as the new Housing Minister - has had many years to study these issues in depth, which included an intensive United States and United Kingdom Study Tour. He initiated and participated in the previous Governments Commerce Committee Housing Affordability Inquiry as well. It was the New Zealand planners who “led the charge” (my response) in recognizing there were problems that needed to be dealt with in early 2007, which then in turn was followed up by the National Party with the Inquiry, comprehensive speeches by John Key during August 2007 to the NZ Contractors and National Party. I subsequently commended them for their efforts.

Thankfully – Rt Hon John Key has a light portfolio load with Tourism – and will have the time to monitor closely “ministerial performance” – assist where necessary –and replace non performers quickly.

There is obviously an urgent need for the new coalition government to develop a comprehensive and workable approach in dealing with the difficulties local government faces, in consultation with those with a successful track record and deep understanding of these issues. Then –with the responsible leaders of the local government sector – work together in finding “workable solutions” to these issues.

After all – New Zealand in terms of population is tiny, with just 4.3 million people. Its economy is small too – just one third of that of Dallas Fort Worth or Houston – or roughly the size of the State of Iowa or the city of Pittsburg in the United States. And it is extremely fortunate in having relatively simple governmental structures and an electorate that clearly told politicians November 8, that they now want to see “performance”.

ENDS

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