Archive | Forward thinking

Ardern announces pregnancy

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced this morning that she & partner Clarke Gayford are expecting a baby.

“We’re both really happy – we wanted a family but weren’t sure it would happen for us, in fact, we had been told we would need help. That has made this news unexpected but exciting.”

Ms Ardern said she’d put a programme in place to take a 6-week timeout for the birth, putting Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters in charge of the country: “I have used the last few weeks to get on with making a plan. Yesterday I met with Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, to share the news and to ask him to take on the role of acting prime minister for a period of 6 weeks after our baby is born. Just like when I am overseas, Mr Peters will take on all the functions of prime minister, working with my office and staying in touch with me. I fully intend to be contactable & available throughout the 6-week period when I’m needed.

“Mr Peters and I have a great relationship and I know that, with the help of the rest of the team, we will make this work.

“After 6 weeks, I’ll be back on deck. Clarke & I are privileged to be in the position where Clarke can stay home to be our primary caregiver. Knowing that so many parents juggle the care of their new babies, we consider ourselves to be very lucky.

“I am so looking forward to having an extra role this year, but I am also excited about all of the plans we have as a government to make New Zealand an even better place. That includes work on health, housing, education & child wellbeing (just like the priorities in our 100-day plan). I am looking forward to leading that work, and having a slightly expanded family join me on that journey.

“But for now, bring on 2018!”

Ms Ardern, 37, became prime minister on 26 October, heading a government of Labour & NZ First MPs with support from the Greens.

Attribution: PM’s release.

Continue Reading

Collins raises scare about “road tax” diversion, but government fund already $½ billion in red

Former Cabinet Minister Judith Collins, now the National Opposition’s transport spokesperson, raised a scare this week that the new government would divert National Land Transport Fund money from major road projects to rail.

2 things she neglected to mention:

1, while the fund’s income comes largely (but not entirely) from road users, it has always referred to its “land transport” programme rather than to “roads”.

2, it will be a long time before the fund has any money to spend on anything. Its annual reports for the last 2 years disclose that the fund’s liabilities exceeded its assets by $497 million at June 2016, rising to a $528 million deficit at June 2017.

It had budgeted for a $40 million surplus at June 2017.

The fund’s 3 biggest spends in the last financial year were on the accelerated Auckland transport programme ($236 million), public-private partnerships (for highway development, $557 million) & Tauranga’s eastern link toll road ($107 million).

The fund’s income is derived from “all revenue from fuel excise duty, road user charges, motor vehicle registration & licensing fees, revenues from Crown appropriations, management of Crown land interest, and tolling”.

The fund uses this income to manage the funding of the road policing programme, the national land transport programme & activities such as transport planning.

The fund’s last annual report says: “The National Land Transport Fund has a negative general funds balance due to the programmes that were accelerated and current funding was sourced from the Crown. The funding received has been recognised as long-term payables, which are not due until 2-27 years from balance date.

“The fund has the option to slow down expenditure on the national land transport programme, or utilise the short-term borrowing facility of $250 million if required to meet obligations as they fall due in the short term.”

Congestion issues

Auckland – a region where traffic grinds to a halt daily – has a serious, and growing, campaign to get more people to commute by rail, reducing road traffic, but it still has to work out how to handle freight much more efficiently.

The biggest proposal for improving freight movement, the East-West Link through Penrose & Onehunga, won consent from a board of inquiry in November, confirmed by its report & final decision on 21 December. But, by then, the incoming government had canned the project.

Collins on Labour’s “pet” obsession

Ms Collins said in a release on Monday the new government’s transport minister, Phil Twyford, “has confirmed the government is considering diverting taxes paid by motorists who want better roads to rail instead, while insisting to media this won’t happen.

“This is an important principle, adhered to by successive governments, ensuring the specific taxes paid by motorists are invested in newer, safer & better roads – helping keep New Zealanders connected & safe. Road users pay taxes which are directly returned to them.

“But this now appears under threat, because of the Labour Party’s obsession with light rail in Auckland. Mr Twyford has written to stakeholders saying a number of changes to the government policy statement (GPS) on land transport are being considered. Among the proposals is ‘exploring how rail investment is incorporated within the GPS & the National Land Transport Fund’.

“This is in spite of his office telling media last week that funding for road upgrades would not be redirected to rail.

“In his rush to erroneously claim that a number of roading projects aren’t under threat because of the Government’s obsession with Auckland rail, Mr Twyford has been saying different things to different people.

“This desperate grab for more taxes is the result of this free-spending government realising how much it’s going to cost to build its pet rail line from Auckland’s cbd to the airport – so it’s looking to divert funding from regional roads as a result.

“The National Land Transport Fund is paid for by road users to be invested in improving New Zealand’s roading network and it should remain that way. The Government needs to check its priorities and ensure the taxes paid by road users are invested back in the roads they are using.

“Last week, National launched a series of petitions aimed at saving those regional roads that the Government is looking to slash funding for. Given this duplicity from the Government, I want to again encourage everyone to sign the petitions to save our roads,” Ms Collins said.

Twyford signalled his intention

Mr Twyford wrote in a column for Contractor magazine last week: “To achieve our vision for transport, change is necessary. I am interested in how we can best use existing funding tools – like the National Land Transport Fund & the Government Policy Statement (GPS) – to support a more multi-modal approach.

“The traditional way in which we finance & fund infrastructure needs to change if we are going to address the multiple challenges of urban growth, replacing ageing assets, meeting higher environmental standards & improving resilience. We believe we need to be smarter about how we use the Government’s balance sheet.”

Mr Twyford wrote that the challenges of population & freight growth in the “golden triangle” of Auckland-Bay of Plenty-Waikato “will not be solved solely by investment in the roading network. All modes can be complementary to each other.

“For example, the Government is committed to implementing a rapid transit system for Auckland, which will include light rail from the cbd to the airport and to west Auckland. Such an investment will not only make it easier for people to get around town, but it will also free up our roading network to improve freight efficiency.”

The National petitions

National MPs began launching their petitions a fortnight ago.

Whangarei & Northland MPs Shane Reti & Matt King’s petition calls for the Auckland-Whangarei 4-lane “road of national significance” to proceed as the previous government planned it.

In Auckland’s eastern suburbs, MPs Jami-Lee Ross (Botany), Simeon Brown (Pakuranga) & Denise Lee (Maungakiekie) launched their petition to support the East-West Link.

They commented: “After a decade of planning & $50 million of investigative spending, you would expect that there was a clear direction on the project. This project has been through a fine-toothed procedural process like no other. It is supported by council, iwi, and has been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency’s board of inquiry.

“The current gridlock is a major barrier to commerce. This is making it difficult for people getting access to their basic daily goods. It is quite literally the bread & butter of transport projects.”

Links:
Contractor, 15 January 2018: Infrastructure & transport
National Party petitions: Save our regional highway projects

Attribution: National Party releases, Contractor.

Continue Reading

Infrastructure funding requires most scrutiny in mayoral budget

Auckland Council moves forward on Monday with approval for public consultation of the mayor’s budget & long-term plan proposals, as altered in a committee meeting then signed off by the council’s governing body on Monday afternoon.

The documents still have some way to go before being implemented, which will happen on 1 July 2018, days after the final council signoff.

The mayor, Phil Goff, unveiled his proposals a week ago and the detail is all contained in the agenda for Monday’s finance & performance committee.

I’ve entered the many links below, including:

  • the proposals for improving water quality – forever underbudgeted
  • how he proposes to tax non-hotel short-term accommodation providers
  • a proposal to eliminate Auckland Council Investments Ltd, one of the council-controlled organisations devised when then-Act Party leader Rodney Hide, as local government minister, looked for ways to separate council & policy from commercial business management
  • waste management service charges, and
  • finance growth infrastructure.

Auckland Council Investments (ACIL) owns Ports of Auckland Ltd on behalf of the council, and also holds the council’s 22.3% shareholding in Auckland International Airport Ltd. Mr Goff says in his proposal the council could save $1 million/year of opex, but would first need to clarify port company & council roles.

Growth infrastructure funding requires careful scrutiny

The most startling event in all of this comes under the low-key title of “finance growth infrastructure”.

A better system than the old one-off local authority bond issues came in 2009, when the Local Government Funding Agency was formed, and it now has billions of dollars of bonds listed on the NZX to support activity by various councils.

Even so, Auckland Council has been hamstrung for the last 2 years after getting perilously close to its debt ceiling, but with no solution in sight to mounting infrastructure requirements.

The previous government helped out with its Housing Infrastructure Fund, but that never looked like an ongoing, considered solution.

In the mayor’s proposal now, the specific example given for support through the infrastructure partnership model (with the Government) is Watercare’s $1.1 billion Central Interceptor wastewater project, which would facilitate isthmus intensification while also reducing overflows into the harbours.

As with some other mayoral proposals, targeted rates are a preferred option. Making land more useable is one reason for a targeted rate, but making the harbours cleaner redirects the benefits.

This makes it critical that Auckland residents examine how & why funding should be provided, and whether people targeted with project-specific rates will have an option to contest imposition of both the bill & the project.

Agenda items, Auckland Council finance & performance committee, Monday 11 December at 9.30am, Town Hall:
9, 10-year budget 2018-2028 – process overview
Attachments
10-year Budget 2018-2028 – roadmap
10, 10-year budget 2018-28 – mayoral proposal items for consultation
Attachments
Mayoral proposal – 20-year budget 2018-28
Transport funding
Transition policy [published separately]
Water quality improvements programme
Natural environment initiatives & funding
Rating of online accommodation providers
Auckland Council Investments Ltd review
11, 10-year budget 2018-28 – other matters for consideration
Attachments
Waste management service changes
Regulatory fees & charges
Land advisory fees & charges
Business improvement districts (bids)
Rodney Local Board transport targeted rate
Panuku programme options
City centre timing & 2021 events
Non-strategic asset sales
Coastal management
Financing growth infrastructure
12, Local rates pilot

Attribution: Council committee agenda.

Continue Reading

Goff focuses on infrastructure – traffic, housing, and including water quality

Auckland mayor Phil Goff unveiled his proposed 10-year budget yesterday to a mostly welcoming council chamber.

He’s focused on increasing infrastructure spending to ease traffic congestion, improving housing affordability and cleaning up water quality in streams and on beaches.

The average rates increase would be 2.5% for each of the next 2 years, rising to 3.5% for the following 2 years.

“This 10-year budget will see Auckland Council’s transport infrastructure spend increase to $11 billion over the next decade. The investment is critical to ensure our city, with increasing population and cars on the road, doesn’t grind to a halt.

“We’re working with Government to introduce a fairer revenue source in the form of the regional fuel tax. This means we can remove the $114 interim transport levy, which doesn’t raise enough money and is unfair in how it impacts on retired folks and others who make less use of our roads.

“Accelerating investment in our transport network is critical to address congestion and to allow the development of brownfield & greenfield sites to increase the supply of housing.”

The budget proposal will go through 2 council workshops before approval on 11 December of the document to go out to consultation. The consultation period will run from 28 February-28 March, the final budget will be endorsed by the council at the end of June and it will come into effect on 1 July 2018.

Link: Auckland Council’s 10-year budget proposal

Attribution: Council committee meeting & council release.

Continue Reading

Council valuation shows outer suburbs hit harder this time

Outer suburbs have captured more of the rise in Auckland’s property values in the latest 3-yearly valuation, dated 1 July and released (in broad terms) yesterday.

As it’s the value movement compared to what’s happening in other suburbs that determines whether the share of rates rises or falls, that means it’s the outer suburbs that are more likely to face higher rates increases.

That’s in contrast to the 2014 valuation, when residents in central suburbs were up in arms at facing a bigger increase in rates bills because their property values had taken a hike.

Property owners will receive their valuation notices from Auckland Council in the mail or via email from next Monday, 20 November.

The average rise in Auckland property values across all market sectors since 2014 was 45%. For residential it was 46%, commercial 43%, industrial 47%, lifestyle properties 57%, rural 35%.

Auckland Council chief economist David Norman said the rise in residential values reflected at least 3 things: “First, Auckland’s strong population growth over the last 3years has not been matched by increases in the number of new houses being built, and this has pushed prices up. Second, record low interest rates have allowed people to bid up prices to secure somewhere to live because housing has been in short supply. And third, the unitary plan has added a lot of value to properties that can now carry higher intensity residential development than before.”

Mr Norman said the largest movements in the outer suburbs appeared to be a result of higher demand in areas where property was less expensive.

Local board areas with the largest movements – an average over 45% – are in Waiheke, Otara-Papatoetoe, Papakura, Mangere-Otahuhu, Manurewa, Henderson-Massey, Maungakiekie-Tamaki, Franklin, Howick, Rodney & Upper Harbour.

Movements within the remaining boards ranged between 11-44%.

The rates impact

Auckland Council head of rates Debbie Acott said a big increase in property value wouldn’t necessarily mean a corresponding increase in rates: “We expected to see an increase in valuations since the last revaluation in 2014, so movements in the 40-50% bracket really aren’t a surprise.

“Generally speaking, the values in Auckland’s outer suburbs appear to be catching up with the 2014 revaluation.

“Areas that increased the most in the last revaluation – by & large central Auckland – are now moving roughly along the average. Those that didn’t last time – mainly outer Auckland – are the ones with the highest increases this time.

“Property valuations are used to help us work out everyone’s share of rates – they don’t mean that we collect any more money. However, we won’t know the impact of this revaluation on rates until we agree our next budget in 2018.

“Because of Auckland’s dynamic property market, and valuations only capturing a moment in time, they should not to be viewed as current market value.”

The council revalued 549,000 properties, including every piece of land except roads & waterways.

Individual property data will be available from next Monday, 20 November, at the Auckland Council website.

Before valuations are finalised, they have to be approved by the Valuer-general, who’s responsible for authorising rating valuations for the Government.

Auckland Council uses capital value, or CV, as its rating valuation method, measuring the likely price the property would have sold for on 1 July 2017. The new values will be used to help set rates for the 3-year rating period beginning on 1 July 2018.

The council didn’t mention it, but many people refer to the council valuation as CV as if it’s a valuation that’s updated outside the rating valuation process.

Links:
Individual property data
Indicative residential average change in capital value since last revaluation
Notes to indicative residential average change

Earlier stories:
29 June 2015: 2% get big rates hike, 22% get cut
25 June 2015: Council approves rates, transport levy & long-term plan after 2 close shaves
23 June 2015: Flurry of targeted rates will distort rates bills
19 November 2014: Council will recommend end to rates caps, but the vote was close
8 November 2014: Brewer pushes for higher uniform charge in rates bill
6 November 2014: 3.5% average Auckland rates rise now proposed
20 August 2014: Auckland valuations used as rates basis rise average 33% in 3 years

Attribution: Council release.

Continue Reading

Council by-election dates set

Auckland Council will conduct 2 by-elections after Cllr Denise Lee & local board member Simeon Brown were elected to Parliament last month. Both have now resigned from their council roles.

Ms Lee has resigned as Maungakiekie-Tamaki ward councillor to become MP for Maungakiekie.

Mr Brown has resigned from the Manurewa Local Board to become MP for Pakuranga.

Both represent National. Their resignations are effective from 12 October and the by-elections will be held in early 2018. Nominations will open on Friday 24 November and close at noon on Friday 22 December. Voting packs will be delivered from Friday 26 January and voting will close at noon on Saturday 17 February.

Attribution: Council release.

Continue Reading

Goff off to Europe to look for urban answers

Auckland mayor Phil Goff left yesterday on an extensive 16-day working visit to Europe which includes talks & conferences on urban regeneration, affordable housing & homelessness.

The itinerary itself is mind-boggling in its extent.

Auckland mayor Phil Goff.

Mr Goff starts his visit today with a wreath-laying & presentation of a bronze statue of 1905 All Black captain Dave Gallaher to the people of Flanders on behalf of Auckland.

He’ll also attend a high level CityLab mayoral conference in Paris, invited by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose foundation & other sponsors are meeting the cost of travel & accommodation there.

The mayor’s visit to Belgium is with the official New Zealand delegation participating in the centenary commemorations of the World War I Battle of Passchendaele. Dave Gallaher was one of 492 Aucklanders who died in the Battle of Broodseinde in the lead-up to the Battle of Passchendaele. The statue, sculpted by Malcolm Evans, is a smaller replica of the statue of Dave Gallaher that stands outside Eden Park.

Mr Goff said: “Every New Zealand family is touched by World War I in some way and my family is no different, having lost a great uncle on the Western Front whose grave I will visit.”

From Belgium, he goes to London to meet the incoming lord mayor of the City of London, William Russell, senior leaders & Greater London Authority officials from investment, urban planning & transport organisations. The lord mayor is elected for a year, whereas the more widely known mayor of London is elected for a 4-year term. Current mayor is Sadiq Khan.

Mr Goff will also discuss affordable housing & urban regeneration at the Prince of Wales Foundation. Topics will include congestion charging & value uplift created by public transport infrastructure.

From London, Mr Goff will travel to Paris for the CityLab conference: Urban solutions to global challenges, hosted by the Bloomberg Foundation, The Atlantic & the Aspen Institute and bringing together mayors from around the world to discuss innovation & urban governance.

Mr Goff said on his departure: “London is an incredibly diverse city that faces similar challenges of housing unaffordability, congestion & environmental harm brought about by huge population growth. There is much Auckland can learn from how London has funded investment in infrastructure & public transport, and managed growth.

“Citylab brings together mayors from around the world to discuss innovative ways to tackle growth, environmental protection & urban planning.”

Link:
CityLab agenda

Attribution: Mayoral release.

Continue Reading

Council looks at way forward from 2010 transition setup

Sprinkled through a huge document on governance, to go to Auckland Council’s governing body on Thursday, are a few points which are highly pertinent to the way the council’s various arms will work with one another over the next few years.

The governance framework issue arose largely because the local boards, established under the 2010 reform of local government in the Auckland region, didn’t have a clear role.

They could propose budgets to the governing body, but the governing body determined the eventual sums doled out.

The working relationship between local boards & council-controlled organisations (CCOs) was also unclear. Could boards tell the CCOs what should happen in their domain? Or should Auckland Transport, for example – whose domain includes roads & footpaths throughout the region – treat such places as its domain, so it’s not subservient to any board?

Early last year, the council commissioned an independent consultant, Gareth Stiven, to carry out a review which looked at the policies, processes, protocols & organisational support structures that had been put in place since 2010.

Since 2003, Mr Stiven has been business advisory manager at Auckland City Council for 5 years, the old council’s economic development group manager for the next 2½ years, a director in PricewaterhouseCooper’s finance & economics team for over 5 years, self-employed from the start of 2016 (the period when he conducted Auckland Council’s research) and, since the start of this year, strategy general manager for Housing NZ Corp.

Ward & local rate changes

Outside his scope for the Auckland Council review were fundamental changes to the governance structure or the structure of council-controlled organisations. Nevertheless, some changes are mooted in the eventual report, such as reducing the number of wards & boards (the region has 13 wards, 20 ward councillors, 21 local boards), and the possibility of local (distinct from regional) rates.

Mr Stiven’s work was followed by months of workshopping for local board members & councillors. The boards received the report last month so they could provide comment for the governing body meeting this week.

The political working group for the framework project, set up after Mr Stiven presented his report last December, was unusual in itself – membership of 7 councillors & 7 local board members.

This week’s report contains 36 recommendations for change, under 4 themes:

Organisational structures & culture have not adapted to the complexity of the model: The review found that the organisation had struggled to adapt to the unique & complex governance arrangements in Auckland, and that this had impacted on the quality of advice & support for elected members
Complementary decision-making, but key aspects of overlap: The review touched on a number of decision-making functions where there is overlap between the governing body & local boards, or a lack of clarity about roles
Lack of alignment of accountabilities with responsibilities: The review found that the system of decision-making creates incentives for elected members to act locally despite regional benefits
Local boards are not sufficiently empowered: The review identified that there are some practices that are constraining local boards from carrying out their role, including the inflexibility of funding arrangements and the difficulties in feeding local input into regional decision-making. It also noted some local frustrations in relation to transport decision-making.

3 workstreams

The political working party has traversed a wide range of issues under 3 workstreams: policy, finance & funding and governance.

It’s also established a fourth workstream on organisational support, to respond to the changes coming out of the review, and will look at how the council organisation supports local boards as well as implementation of improvements required with current support provision. This workstream will be reported back internally to the project’s executive steering group in November.

The political working party noted that “there needs to be more recognition, support & empowerment of local boards as governors of a discrete set of local services & activities.

It also noted that the council’s focus “has tended to be on the regional ahead of the local for the first 6 years. While this is understandable for the purposes of developing & harmonising a wide range of policies, plans & bylaws, it is not sustainable in the long term and is not consistent with the policy intent of the governance reforms.

“For example, one of the key issues that the working party has been grappling with is the funding & financial model that is currently in place, and how that constrains local decision-making & local flexibility. In effect, the Auckland Transition Agency put in place a model that locked in legacy funding arrangements & service delivery models that are now 7 years out of date.”

Input from one governance tier to another

The initial 2016 review identified a number of issues about the way regional policy is developed, including low local board awareness of regional work programmes, the time & resource required to seek local board input and variable advice to local boards. The political working party has recommended that a framework for local input into regional policies should be developed, including prioritisation & agreed mechanisms for seeking local board input.

The review concluded that there are limited incentives for local boards to consider local assets in a regional context, and that this can lead to conflict between the governing body & local boards. It recommended a ‘call-in’ right was considered: “The working party doesn’t consider a call-in right is desirable, but instead has recommended that staff provide explicit regional impact advice where local decisions may have regional or sub-regional impacts. “

In response to frustration among some local board members about transport decision-making & their ability to carry out their place-shaping roles, the political working party considered local boards had a critical role in local place-shaping and has recommended that:

  • Auckland Transport should be more responsive to local boards in their place-shaping role
  • there should be increased use of the existing accountability mechanisms available to the council to ensure that Auckland Transport complies with expectations on local board engagement
  • there should be a significant increase to the local transport capital fund (currently set at $10.8 million) and the exact amount & allocation across local boards should be decided in the 2018-28 long-term plan, and
  • the review of accountability mechanisms for council-controlled organisations should consider the use of section 92(2) of the Local Government Auckland Council Act for local board plans, which allows the governing body to direct council-controlled organisations to act consistently with plans & strategies of the council.

The political working party has recommended that a 3-year pilot project with the Waiheke Local Board be established to enable more local leadership and the development of policy for specific local issues. The pilot would be actively monitored and the findings considered for wider application.

The 2016 governance framework review report identified some issues related to funding & financing, in particular:

  • local boards do not have to balance the trade-offs of financial decisions in the same way that the governing body needs to e.g. local boards can advocate for both additional investment in their own area and lower rates
  • inflexibility of the current funding policies to empower local board decision-making. In particular local boards feel they have little or no control over the 90 per cent of their budget that is for ‘Asset Based Services’, and
  • inflexibility of the current procurement processes and definition of when local boards or groups of local boards can undertake procurement of major contracts.

The report to the council this week says the working party members working on the funding & finance workstream went through a number of options to address these issues: “The majority of local boards & the political working party didn’t support or recommend a model of local rates for local activities, applied generally, but 4 local boards asked to participate in a pilot of the local rates model of decision-making.”

  • The report to the governing body was produced by Linda Taylor, programme manager for the governance framework review.

Links to items on Thursday’s governing body agenda:
10, Governance framework review: Recommendations of the political working party
7.1, Local board input: Waiheke Local Board
7.2, Local board input: Rodney Local Board
10, Recommendations of the political working party
Policy issues    
Funding & finance    
Governance & representation    
Delegations test for Reserves Act decisions    
Waiheke Local Board pilot project proposal    
Summary of local board feedback    
Complete feedback & resolutions of local boards    

Attribution: Council governing body agenda.

Continue Reading

National talks new urban planning laws, business & environmental alliance says “Go further”

The National Party has been working steadily towards its latest election policy for most of its 9 years in government: new urban planning laws that would make it easier to build, and faster than the Resource Management Act.

It would incorporate parts of the Local Government Act & the Land Transport Management Act. The Resource Management Act would stay in place for non-urban areas.

Steven Joyce lining up some mud at Manukau in 2009.

But Resource Reform NZ, an alliance of 3 normally National-leaning organisations – the Employers & Manufacturers Association, Infrastructure NZ & the Property Council – plus the Environmental Defence Society, said yesterday the National proposal didn’t go far enough.

They want “an integrated governance, planning, funding & delivery system to guide resource management & national economic development”.

The catchcry: fit for purpose

The ministers releasing the party policy and the Resource Reform alliance used the same term as their base: fit for purpose.

The ministers (now spokespersons for the duration of the election campaign), Steven Joyce on infrastructure & Nick Smith on environment (but apparently not on building & construction) said in their campaign proposal yesterday: “A re-elected National-led government will introduce new fit-for-purpose urban planning laws separate from the Resource Management Act to encourage more responsive planning, faster development & better protection for the environment in our growing cities.

“New Zealand is growing strongly and we want to make it easier to build the housing & infrastructure for that growth while still ensuring our urban environments are some of the most liveable in the world.

“To do that we need to give our cities the ability to adapt & develop faster, while respecting & improving the urban environment – and the current planning system is not allowing that.

“The RMA’s one-size-fits-all approach has restrained the development of our cities, dragged on their economic performance and restricted the supply of much-needed housing & infrastructure.

“So National will establish a fit-for-purpose planning system that allows our cities to evolve in a way that improves the quality of the local environment, and makes them great places to live & work.”

Idea is to separate planning & environmental regulation

Nick Smith, also lining up some mud, in 2015.

Dr Smith said the new planning legislation would have clear & separate objectives for regulating urban & natural environments: “Over the past 9 years we’ve simplified the RMA and made it easier to build, but the RMA is only one part of the planning system, and we have reached the end of what can be done by making incremental changes to the act.

“We agree with a number of stakeholders that it is time to develop fit-for-purpose planning legislation dedicated to urban environments that includes the relevant parts of the Local Government Act & the Land Transport Management Act in one piece of legislation.

“So we will set up separate planning & environmental regulations specifically designed to encourage growth, while tackling the environmental challenges found in cities, such as air pollution & stormwater surges.

“This new legislation will work in parallel with our plan to put in place urban development authorities to redevelop specific brownfields areas in our cities to allow for more housing – the work for which is already underway.”

Dr Smith said National would “keep a close eye” on changes applicable to non-urban & rural areas through the existing Resource Management Act.

“National will start its urban planning reform process by consulting with key stakeholders, local government, iwi, experts & the public to develop fit-for-purpose legislation that works for cities.

“The successful Auckland unitary plan & the independent hearings panel review process shows we can put sensible rules in place that work for everyone. We want to use the same collaborative formula to create an urban planning system that enables growth, gives businesses the confidence to invest and adapts to the changing needs of cities.”

Reformists seek consensus for change, don’t detail their reforms

Resource Reform NZ reform of the resource management system needed to go much further. It recommended that this would be best addressed through cross-party consensus on the issue by a politically independent process, such as a commission.

Infrastructure NZ chief executive Stephen Selwood said: “We know New Zealand’s prosperity is being held back by the current framework the wider planning system operates within. It is no longer fit for purpose, and is why we find ways to work around the current system when we want to deliver the infrastructure that the county so desperately needs.”

Property Council chief executive Connal Townsend said: “The current unco-ordinated planning system is driving increasing housing unaffordability, the high cost of commercial development and reliance on outdated funding mechanisms such as rates & council debt. That means we’re simply not building enough, quickly enough with the quality & innovation needed to develop the cities & standard of living we all expect in the future.”

Environmental Defence Society executive director Gary Taylor said: “The environment is suffering too. The Resource Management Act is our pre-eminent environmental law. Yet the cumulative effects of permitted land use activities over the lifetime of the act have led to a slow but significant deterioration of the quality of our streams, rivers & lakes.”

And the fourth advocate for greater change, Employers & Manufacturers Association chief executive Kim Campbell, said: “For business, these issues are also stifling the ability to grow & expand. Which, in turn, also impacts employees & the families. Looking into the future, we face even bigger challenges in how we manage & respond to demographic changes, advances in technology, rising consumer expectations & climate change.”

Attribution: National & Resource Reform releases.

Continue Reading

Ardern follows well researched overseas thinking on rentals, some responses over-edgy, and 5-year-old Ahuri research is helpful clarification

Jacinda Ardern in her policy broadcast yesterday.

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern announced a set of new terms for residential tenancies yesterday, and was immediately – and predictably – told this would badly affect landlords and would have the opposite effect on New Zealand’s housing crisis to that she intended.

The Labour policy is along the lines of what is the norm in Germany, where tenants enjoy long-term occupancy, and also follows the thinking of AHURI – the Australian Housing & Urban Research Institute – in a paper written 5 years ago, How can secure occupancy in rental housing be improved in Australia?

Below: First the Labour policy, then some adverse comments, followed by the AHURI view.

A quick note: I’d thought of paying more attention than I usually do to election policy announcements, then thought better of it. For starters, I have more than enough to write about already. Second, a high proportion of wishlist & splurge electioneering has been vote-buying which can mostly be dismissed – or, if it does eventuate, watched extra-critically. This one, though, is a policy which will affect a large investor sector. If it follows the AHURI line of thinking it ought to be beneficial all round.

A family constantly on the move

To deliver her policy, Ms Ardern said down with a family who’d moved 4 times in 3 years, whose children had to move schools, and whose attempts to save to buy their own home had been set back.

“About 50% of Kiwis now rent their home, but too often their living situation is precarious,” Ms Ardern said.

Her promise: “A Labour Government will strengthen renters’ rights so everyone can have more stability. Not only will Labour increase the notice period for ending a tenancy, we’ll also end letting fees, limit rent increases to one/year, make all homes warm, dry & safe to live in, and much more.

“And for landlords who need to move on tenants who are breaching their agreement, we’ll make sure the tenancy tribunal is properly resourced, and that issues like anti-social behaviour are much clearer in the law.

“It’s about making renting fairer & more stable for both tenants & landlords – and is part of our comprehensive plan to fix the housing crisis.”

Policy: Making life better for renters

“For most people, renting used to be a short stage of their life before they bought a house and started a family. Now, it is becoming the norm. 3 out of 4 people under 40 years old rent, compared to one in 2 in 1991. Among older New Zealanders, the home ownership rate has fallen from over 90% in 1991 to 75% today. All up, half of New Zealanders now live in rental properties.”

Ms Ardern said renters’ rights were still designed around the assumption renting is a short-term arrangement for people without children and that renters will move frequently, rather than set down roots in their community.

The policy:

  • Increase 42-day notice periods for landlords to 90 days to give tenants more time to find somewhere else to live
  • Abolish “no-cause” terminations of tenancies
  • Retain the ability of landlords to get rid of tenants who are in breach of the tenancy agreement with 90 days’ notice, or more quickly by order of the Tenancy Tribunal
  • Limit rent increases to once/year (the law currently limits it to once every 6 months) and require the formula for rental increases to be specified in the rental agreement
  • Give tenants & landlords the ability to agree tenants on a fixed-term lease of 12 months or more can make minor alterations, like putting up shelves, if they pay double bond and on the basis the property is returned to the state it was in at the start of the tenancy
  • Ban letting fees
  • Require all rentals to be warm, dry & healthy for families to live in by passing the Healthy Homes Bill, introduced as a members’ bill by Ms Ardern’s predecessor as Labour leader, Andrew Little, and in the committee stage when the parliamentary term ended in August, and
  • Give landlords access to grants of up to $2000 for upgrading insulation & heating.

Notice periods

Ms Ardern said notice periods would be used where a landlord required the home to live in or had sold the property, the tenant had breached the agreement such as anti-social behaviour, failure to pay rent or causing damage to the property; or the landlord didn’t want to continue a fixed-term tenancy past its expiry: “This will mean landlords are still able to give notice to evict bad tenants. Landlords will still be able to go to the Tenancy Tribunal to ask for evictions or other remedies in the event of breaches of tenancy agreements.

“Most landlords operate with integrity and seek to provide decent accommodation at a fair price. These reforms will not affect them. What they will do is stop exploitative behaviour by a minority that is blemishing the reputation of landlords as a whole.”

Property Institute: It will worsen housing crisis

Ashley Church.

Property Institute chief executive Ashley Church said: “Labour’s new housing rental policies will scare existing landlords out of the rental market and will make the current housing crisis even worse – particularly in Auckland.

“The timing of these proposals couldn’t be worse. Auckland is currently in the grip of a serious housing shortage which affects both buyers & renters – and anything which deters investors from providing housing can only succeed in compounding that problem.

“If you’re an existing landlord, the deck is already stacked against you. The market has flattened, loan:value ratio (LVR) restrictions mean your equity position is worse, and bank credit rationing means that it’s now much harder for you to borrow money to do renovations & improve your position.

“Now Labour is telling you that, if elected, they’ll take away your right to terminate a tenancy and they’ll regulate the circumstances under which you can increase rents to make them comply with some as-yet-undefined Big Brother formula.”

Mr Church said these moves would come on top of a capital gains tax, pending a report from a yet-to-be-formed tax working group: “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognise that Labour are already committed to a capital gains tax and that their tax working party will be made up of others who share that worldview. So, if you’re a property investor, the very clear message is ‘We’re going to get you’.

“That might make for good politics – but it risks doing long-term damage to the property market by scaring off mum & dad investors who are currently putting a roof over people’s heads.”

Mr Church said private investment was the key to solving the housing crisis and providing incentives to get people building new homes was the way to overcome the supply issue: “But no one is going to do that if they’re worried that they’re going to be regulated & taxed to death. Existing landlords will abandon the market and people who might otherwise have invested will stay away. Which means the State – which is just you & I as taxpayers – will be left holding the bag.”

First National chief also makes lopsided call

Bob Brereton.

First National Real Estate chief executive Bob Brereton said Labour’s proposals to change tenants’ rights “will severely, and negatively, impact on a landlord’s ability to protect their investment and will result in increased rents for tenants.

“The pledge to outlaw letting fees is a good example of a poorly thought-out policy with an unintended consequence: Letting fees are charged by professional property management companies to cover the costs associated with securing the right tenant. They then act as advocates for both the landlord & tenant to ensure comfort, safety & protection of the investment. If you remove letting fees, many management companies will be forced to increase management fees to compensate. This will simply force up rents.”

He was also concerned about the proposal to remove the right to end a tenancy, with 90 days’ notice, without cause: “This is simply ludicrous. There are many reasons why landlords might want vacant possession of a property, and infringing on these is a direct challenge to private property rights.

“A similar proposal to increase the provision to end a tenancy after 42 days, in certain circumstances, to 90 days will have a significant impact on property values. The 42-day provision is used, particularly, when a landlord sells a property and the buyer requires vacant possession or where the landlord needs to move back into it urgently, so this provision could impact on a landlord’s ability to sell.”

Brereton says regulating rent rises a no-no

Mr Brereton said one of the biggest challenge of Labour’s policy was the proposal to regulate market rentals by passing legislation to cap the amount by which rent can be increased. His example:

“A landlord buys a house, putting up say $200,000 of their own cash or equity, to provide a home for someone without one. They borrow $450,000 for the purchase at 5% interest and, paying only interest, it costs them $22,500 in interest, another $2000 for rates and $1500 for insurance ($26,000/year). This means they have to rent the property for $500/week, just to cover costs. Add in a 5% return on their equity and its $692. Anything less than that and you are just providing social housing.”

Overall, he said: “This risks being ‘the straw that breaks the camel’s back’. Landlords are facing negative returns, flat prices & the threat of a capital gains tax. If interest rates go up, as predicted, it would only take a small move in a flat market to convince many landlords to get out of the market.”

Australian research indicates similar issues left to fester

AHURI – the Australian Housing & Urban Research Institute – introduced a paper published in May 2012 this way: “More Australians are renting for longer periods, yet do not enjoy the benefits of secure occupancy. Changes to improve the security of occupancy in the Australian private rental system can be informed by international experiences.”

The paper was based on research conducted by Professor Kath Hulse at the AHURI Swinburne-Monash Research Centre, and Associate Professor Vivienne Milligan & Dr Hazel Easthope at the AHURI UNSW-UWS Research Centre. They examined the provisions for secure occupancy across rental systems in Australia & other similarly developed countries, and considered the potential to adapt these provisions to Australia.

Key points:

  • Secure occupancy is important in creating a home, regardless of tenure, and is a foundation for many aspects of wellbeing
  • The Australian private rental sector is characterised by relatively insecure occupancy compared to either social rental or home ownership
  • International experience demonstrates that it is possible to have a large private rental sector with smallscale investors & higher levels of secure occupancy for tenants. Changes to the regulatory framework and policy settings are required to achieve this.

This study argued that secure occupancy is linked to whether households are able to:

  • participate effectively in rental markets
  • access & remain in adequate, affordable & appropriate housing with protection of their rights as consumers & citizens
  • receive support from governments or other social service agencies if & when necessary to obtain &/or sustain a tenancy
  • exercise a degree of control over their housing circumstances and make a home, to the extent that they wish to do so.

European examples

Provisions for secure occupancy are stronger where rental systems are large, such as in Germany, the Netherlands & Austria, where, respectively, 60%, 43% & 30% of households rent. All of these might be categorised as integrated systems, with more uniform policy & regulatory approaches to rental housing.

While the latter 2 prioritise the social rental sector, the German system relies mainly on a private rental system. In these countries, secure occupancy in rental housing has been supported by supply subsidies. By contrast, other jurisdictions (Scotland, Flanders, Ontario, New Jersey & Australia) tend to have highly differentiated systems with strong security in social housing and relatively insecure occupancy in the private rental sector.

Largescale investment & professional management

Countries with large social renting sectors (the Netherlands, Austria, Scotland & Ireland) or higher corporate/institutional investment (Austria, the Netherlands, New Jersey, Ontario & Germany) also have a stronger tradition of professionalised management than in Australia.

This enables investor risks to be pooled and decisions about occupancy for individual households to be made at arm’s-length from decisions about investment.

Germany provides an interesting example, where, although there is larger-scale investment, most landlords are smallscale but are investing for the longer term, enabling more secure occupancy for tenants.

Legal provisions for secure tenure

There is a range of lease types across the countries studied. The typical practice in Australia of offering short-term fixed leases followed by month-to-month arrangements was only found elsewhere in Scotland & Ontario. New Jersey also has month-to-month arrangements, though these renew automatically unless a notice to terminate is given by either party. Other countries have the practice of longer-term or unlimited lease terms.

Of the jurisdictions studied, only Scotland compares with Australia in terms of having short-term tenancies that can be terminated readily without grounds. Even jurisdictions like Ontario & New Jersey have specified grounds for ending a private sector tenancy.

Supporting lease terms that meet the long-term needs of householders

Some jurisdictions have also been better at assisting people to personalise their dwelling and use the property according to their wishes, and so improve their autonomy. In the German private rental market, the standard lease provides capacity to personalise or even renovate the house and facilitates access to people with disabilities. These are only found in other jurisdictions on a lease-by-lease basis.

Links: Labour policy: renters
Ahuri, 14 May 2012: How can secure occupancy in rental housing be improved in Australia?

Attribution: Labour policy & release, Property Institute & First National releases, AHURI research paper.

Continue Reading
WordPress Appliance - Powered by TurnKey Linux