It could have taken Auckland Council’s governing body a couple of minutes yesterday to tick off the appointment of a 10-member steering group to ensure the efforts of the mayoral taskforce on housing isn’t lost.
But that’s not the way councillors work. Their habit is to talk about what they want to talk about, not deal efficiently with the business in front of them.
Their questions & debate, for a couple of hours, had nothing to do with who would be on the steering group, didn’t get to grips with the roles of either the steering group or the taskforce, but did venture near some of the direction mayor Phil Goff wants to lead the council on housing issues.
The steering group members, all but one from with the council & council-controlled organisations, will be: The mayor, Phil Goff, deputy mayor Bill Cashmore and 2 councillors, planning committee chair Chris Darby and regulatory committee chair Linda Cooper; council chief operating officer Dean Kimpton, strategy chief Jim Quinn, finance & policy director David Wood from the mayor’s office, Independent Maori Statutory Board chair David Taipari, and 2 senior managers from Auckland Transport & Watercare Services Ltd.
The targets: council process, and central government
The taskforce, on the other hand, drew a wide range of participants from the private sector who identified 2 council-related issues and another which would take considerable negotiation with central government.
The mayor said that if he’d led the taskforce off on some of his pet housing subjects he would have got nowhere: “I had some battles with the minister of housing development [I think that means minister of building & construction, Nick Smith], he didn’t want people there, but we were able to turn him & the Government around, they were able to attend as active participants and they were very active.”
There was a time when relations between central & local government were abysmal, but since the late stages of the last council term Auckland & Wellington have (almost) stopped talking past each other and have jointly confronted a number of issues – though still with a long way to go before regular sensible discussion & resolution occurs.
For instance, Mr Goff said: “Because we don’t have independent revenue, I keep having to go cap in hand to the Government. But the last council, getting the unitary plan through – that gives us credibility to say we’ve got the planning, let’s get on with the infrastructure.”
Topic was steering forward, but talk was about taskforce
The original recommendation before the council yesterday was for the steering group to report to the governing body “periodically”. This was changed to 6-monthly. The mayor talked about the taskforce being brought together again, which he said participants were enthusiastic about. However, that wasn’t up for debate.
The talk yesterday should have been about the taskforce’s recommendations, and who would be best to advance work on them. Instead, councillors commented on taskforce points – fine, but ultimately useless.
The steering group’s primary tasks will be to lead change in council processes that affect housing, ensure the zoning changes resulting from the new unitary plan are effective in opening up more scope for housing development and – the biggest task – negotiating change with the Government.
Jared Boow, housing portfolio manager in the mayor’s office, said in his report to the governing body on the taskforce, it identified 3 key areas where changes are needed to deliver more homes in Auckland:
- Remove impediments to the construction sector developing at scale, including identifying investors who can build through the dips to lift construction in the peaks
- Unlock the availability of land with appropriate zoning & infrastructure, at the right price, to enable more development, faster, and
- Deliver efficient & certain planning, consenting & risk management to reduce costs, enable innovation in construction & delivery and create communities with high quality built & urban form outcomes.
Tactics & systems
Within each category, he said, the taskforce identified a mix of ‘tactical’ interventions that could be done soon, without significant legislative or policy change, and ‘systemic’ interventions that participants believed might take longer to deliver but which would have the potential to have a large & long-term impact on housing supply outcomes.
“In their view, ‘delivering these interventions will require partnership & collaboration between Auckland Council (and its wider family of organisations such as Auckland Transport & Watercare), central government and the development sector’.
“They also point out that focusing on short-term interventions without addressing systemic challenges will not fully address Auckland’s housing supply challenges. They note that their recommended ‘tactical’ changes ‘can help create the platform for deeper policy changes, but are not a substitute for more fundamental change in a market that has not built enough homes for several decades’.”
The taskforce’s report contains 33 recommendations. Mr Boow said 16 of those recommendations were aimed at the council, and work was underway on two-thirds of them.
Among councillor comments & responses:
Cllr Cathy Casey looked for innovative ways to build cheaper housing: “I don’t see that in here [the taskforce report]. My worry is there’s an awful lot in here to do and no prioritising.”
Mr Boow: “One of the first tasks for the steering group is to prioritise.”
Former deputy mayor, Cllr Penny Hulse: “Is the list of to-dos to be done by the taskforce?
Mr Boow: “One thing we didn’t want to do was reinvent the wheel. 16 of the 33 recommendations are aimed at council, two-thirds are work that’s underway.”
Mr Goff said there were 2 fundamental points: “What we didn’t want to happen was to have a report that came out and everyone said, ‘Yep, great ideas’, and then it sat on the shelf. And 2, to ensure there is advocacy to central government. This was a high-powered group and they have said, can we reconvene in 6, 12, 18 months.”
Cllr Hulse: “The missing piece of the puzzle is still the Government & private sector response to this. Was any thought made to appoint an inter-party group?
Mr Goff: “We have asked the Government to appoint a points person to be responsible for liaising with us, and that should be the minister in charge of MBIE (the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment). The private sector is a little harder because there aren’t always organisations available. I think the value of the taskforce is the followup that we have agreed to do.”
Cllr Wayne Walker was concerned at the limited nature of what’s on the table: “’Meets the demands of the rate of population growth’ – what are the demands? What hopes do we have of influencing that? Very long-term assets that are normally funded intergenerationally… I don’t know if we’re going to get anywhere, so I endorse the comments Cllr Hulse made about the involvement of the Government in this.”
Mr Boow: “A role of the steering group would be advocacy to government.”
Cllr Walker: “Is this taskforce going to be making some observations around population growth, because you don’t know what you’re going to be responding to?”
Mr Goff: “I’ve got views on demand management & tax, and I wouldn’t have got anywhere with those because they’re not views shared by the Government. We decided to concentrate on things we could get movement on.”
Cllr Richard Hills: “Greenfield tips the balance away from the unitary plan. I think we need to be a little more creative. How are we going to be able to use the Panuku developments better? What can we do to make sure it’s first-homebuyers or affordable housing only, to make sure it’s not just investment properties?”
Council executive officer Megan Tyler on greenfields: “This report doesn’t sit in isolation of any other work you are doing. Rebalancing will be part of the work you do through the long-term plan. I see a great opportunity for you over the next 12 months to decide where the funding of infrastructure is best put.”
Cllr Casey: “One recommendation I don’t think is housing at all and that’s to implement congestion charging. That’s a long way away from affordable housing.”
Mr Goff: “That’s a recommendation of the taskforce. They are what they are. There was broad support for a fuel tax, broad support for a congestion tax. So the reason that it is in a housing report is to enable affordable housing, you need decent transport. There is currently a joint working group between council & government on transport charging.”
Cllr Casey: “This is a wide-ranging remit for a taskforce. The taskforce wasn’t a council report, even a mayoral report.
Mr Goff: “I wasn’t in the position to say no, you can only recommend what we like. It’s not for us to say what should or should not go into this report.”
Casey: “How do we get involvement?”
Cllr Alf Filipaina: “The governing body will end up deciding what we will be pushing for.”
Cllr Bill Cashmore: “We’ve done some of the work already – the unitary plan, the infrastructure shortfalls have been identified and the highlight numbers have been worked through by our staff.
The insufficient builds for many years have probably created a 30,000 shortfall, and that is causing stress. Immigration has also caused stress. We need to know the tools in the toolbox. What we do know is the investment needs to increase if we are to provide more affordable housing and more housing in this city. The financial arrangements we’ve announced in the last 2 weeks I’m not going to take a set position, I want to understand what all the tools are and what the options are. But the decisions to be made by this council? We will make.”
Cllr Hulse – “having lived & breathed housing for the last 6 years and being somewhat jaundiced” – supported putting the mayoral stamp on the taskforce and said it was well overdue: “What I’m hoping is we might end up with a more sophisticated approach. Deputy prime minister, now prime minister Bill English has had reports like this over the last 2 years and there’s been not a lot of action. What are the key changes that would actually change the central government approach to this? The council has almost wrung the cloth dry. But without the Government agreeing to put some serious building targets in place, and what I think is a seriously marginal Housing NZ building rate, if the Government are to make a serious difference they need to make the funding available for infrastructure.
“If we’re going to get houses built we’re going to have to fund infrastructure. We need to change some of the banking methodology and the structure to do that. Developers – how fine many of them are – are there to make money, and good on them. But if the banking sector will not allow that to happen, actually the banking sector needs to assist with that and the Government needs to assist with that.
“But the bit I’m interested in is, who’s going to be sitting around the tables in Wellington. I hope that is what the taskforce is focusing on.”
Attribution: Council governing body meeting.