Building Aotearoa New Zealand FAQ

Building Aotearoa New Zealand FAQ

  • How is your policy different from Labour's and National's position?

    Answer

    Firstly, TOP realises that, to solve our housing crisis, we must consider housing and urban development (including infrastructure, amenities, public and active transport) both together and separately. That is, we need a coordinated approach from several angles. TOP has studied and learned from the best examples within New Zealand and from overseas. We then developed a housing and urban development policy that will set us on the right path for the next 30 years. Neither Labour nor National are even discussing this. Instead, Labour is centralising some large developments, which will result in a less coordinated approach. National is proposing abandoning the Resource Management Act (RMA) entirely, which will cause environmental degradation outside cities.

    Secondly, neither Labour nor National are prepared to give local authorities a stake in growth. They expect councils to invest in infrastructure to support housing, but don’t allocate them any revenue to do so. As a result, local authorities have no incentive to enable development.

    Thirdly, TOP aims to tackle the root causes of the housing crisis on both the demand and supply sides. None of the other parties want to address the demand side cause – our tax system – let alone propose a solution that would bring back true fairness and benefit the vast majority of Kiwis and our economy.

    Finally, TOP has researched supply-side bottlenecks and come up with radical, but workable solutions. We won’t settle for simply tinkering with the status quo. Other parties continue to rely on working groups to do the legwork for them, only to ignore their recommendations.

  • What is “urban design” anyway?

    Answer

    TOP think the Urban Design Protocol (2004) offers a good definition:

    “Urban design is concerned with the design of the buildings, places, spaces and networks that make up our towns and cities, and the ways people use them. It ranges in scale from a metropolitan region, city or town down to a street, public space or even a single building. Urban design is concerned not just with appearances and built form but with the environmental, economic, social and cultural consequences of design. It is an approach that draws together many different sectors and professions, and it includes both the process of decision-making as well as the outcomes of design.”

    For us laypeople, good urban design outcomes include things like:

    • a range of building sizes and density – from high density around transport hubs, medium density throughout most cities, and of course there will still be lower-density areas for many years to come.
    • visually attractive buildings that enhance and enliven the streetscape, e.g. building closer to the street edge is often better for the feel of the street than having lifeless yards and houses set well back.
    • good public transport hubs surrounded by shopping areas, cafés, and other amenities.
    • expansive, high-quality cycling networks.
    • more parks and shared open spaces as part of or near new high-density and medium-density housing.
    • cool-looking bridges, public art, and other things that help us enjoy public spaces.
  • Will this turn cities into concrete jungles?

    Answer

    No. TOP’s proposed improvements to how we plan and build cities and towns will result in gradual intensification as the population increases. TOP’s Urban Development Act (UDA) promotes environmental and social sustainability. This will mean more trees, shared parks, and open community space in cities, which will lead to greater social connection and less social isolation.  The long-term goal is to stop wasting land on unnecessary sprawl.

  • What about the view from my deck?

    Answer

    As our cities slowly move toward more medium-density housing and developments over the next 30 years, the emphasis will be on well-designed housing that protects individual privacy within your own home and outdoor spaces, whilst facilitating better social connection in developments and public spaces. It is not density per se that can offend many people, it is the way it has been carried out in some cases. Involving our best-qualified professionals in the decision-making process more will reduce the chance of ruining the view from your deck.

  • Who will deliver TOP’s UDA?

    Answer

    Both the major parties have tended to override local authorities. But while TOP’s UDA would be a central government act, local authorities would create their own Urban Development Plans – based on the work done for the Auckland Unitary Plan. Councils would deliver their own local UDA package, manage community engagement, and run urban design panels. The aim is for all regions to work together, sharing ideas and urban design professionals who sit on panels. Auckland has blazed the trail, so this large-scale roll out would follow a national urban development strategy.

  • What about things like minimum parking requirements, balcony requirements, and covenants over neighbouring developments?

    Answer

    TOP’s UDA will achieve far less prescriptive Urban Development Plans throughout our cities and districts than our current RMPs. The new Auckland Unitary Plan has proven that removing minimum parking requirements for apartments and mixed-use developments can lead to better outcomes in the right places. If new developments are assessed in the way TOP proposes, to ensure proposals work for the specific location and urban setting, parking minimums can be relaxed throughout New Zealand.

    The same applies to things like minimum balcony sizes. If a proposed design can demonstrate its merits to the urban design panel, options with or without balconies may well be acceptable. Under this type of assessment process, developments will be considered more on a case-by-case basis.

    Housing subdivision covenants have often been designed and implemented by people who are not trained urban design or architecture professionals. Any such unnecessary design restrictions would not be possible or necessary under TOP’s UDA. The final say would lie with the expert urban design panels, not subdivision developers, lawyers or real-estate companies.

  • Will the UDA lead to less/more consistency of planning approaches throughout NZ?

    Answer

    It will lead to much more consistency across NZ’s urban areas (towns and cities). The UDA will be much more focussed on town and city development. The resulting Urban Development Plans (UDPs) will be based on the work done to create the Auckland Unitary Plan but customised by each city or district council.

    Because the UDA is aiming to increase the quality and density of our urban areas and reduce our urban sprawl across our best fertile farming and orchard land, there will (over time) be more of a boundary and distinction between our rural and urban areas. This is a good and necessary thing if we are to aim for true sustainable cities.

  • What might this mean for heritage protection?

    Answer

    Our heritage is important, and buildings with significant heritage value should always be protected or treated with respect. Such buildings and any proposed developments affecting them can be considered on their merits by the urban design panels (including heritage specialists as required) on case by case basis. We don’t want to limit high quality urban development in any area with unnecessary heritage zones, however. Again, TOP want our best experts to decide on this, rather than undue influence from NIMBY groups.

  • What do you have against cars?

    Answer

    All modes of transport have their place once we move more toward lower emission options, including cars. TOP’s policy is about providing other options.

    Cars are particularly well suited to rural areas. The problem is that we are far too reliant on them in cities due to urban sprawl and lack of infrastructure for alternative options, such as good public transport and cycling networks. Too many people in cars causes congestion and is a significant contributor to our carbon emissions. We want to offer more and better options that will make Kiwis and our cities healthier.

  • The carbon footprint of most new houses in Aotearoa is much higher than it should be. How can this be addressed?

    Answer

    We can build higher-quality houses for less money. The big problems here are once again the lack of quality design, and specifically insulation.

    TOP proposes raising the minimum Building Code requirements (including how we deal with building waste) and adopting better overseas standards for materials and systems. This will create better competition in the material supply market and consequently lower costs. Having developments assessed by top-notch professionals will also ensure better-quality designs, rather than a race to the bottom of urban sprawl.

  • What about tiny houses – where do they fit in?

    Answer

    All housing types have their place and will play a part in TOP’s 30-year urban development vision. TOP recognises that for some New Zealanders, small houses and mobile homes are a way to do housing differently. TOP supports those who choose this for lifestyle reasons.

    When used as minor or secondary dwellings (e.g. placed in backyards), small homes will also play an important part as cities grow toward urban maturity. To date, many city and district councils have imposed unnecessary and frustrating planning restrictions on this. TOP wants all residential properties within urban boundaries to be permitted to add minor or secondary dwellings as of right.

    The phrase "tiny homes" is also used to refer to custom built mobile homes or trailer homes. These are generally classed as vehicles under the Land Transport Act. There have a been a few cases where this has been drawn into question, resulting in dispute between owner and council. TOP believe the legal distinction is clear but acknowledge it can be difficult for councils to make correct rulings in some cases, particularly on whether a home is deemed “moveable” or not. TOP will work with MBIE to ensure the best guidelines are available to both councils and homeowners.

  • Why do you want to give local authorities a stake in growth? Haven’t they proven to be a failure?

    Answer

    One of the causes of the housing crisis is the way local authorities are funded. Central government has repeatedly put demands on local authorities without funding them accordingly. A good example is the Government allowing rapid population growth but not allocating local authorities funds to invest in infrastructure, e.g. water, public transport, cycleways, local roads, parks.

    Most local authority revenue comes from rates, so they have had to borrow to build infrastructure. Now some local authorities have hit their debt ceilings and can’t afford to invest any more. Meanwhile, ratepayers (who overwhelmingly tend to vote for local authorities) don’t want higher rates, so they vote in councils that limit investment in infrastructure and curtail housing supply.

  • How will you pay for bigger budgets for local authorities?

    Answer

    The exact mechanism is subject to debate. Several experts have suggested giving local authorities the GST on new builds, while Infrastructure NZ has suggested that regions should bid to a fund. TOP’s proposal is a hybrid of these two ideas.

    Infrastructure is a long-term investment. If the business case stacks up, it should be permissible to fund infrastructure by taking on debt – particularly while interest rates are as low as they are now. The Government’s debt position is viewed very favourably by most international rating agencies. The extra investment we are talking about here should not increase New Zealand’s debt as a percentage of GDP in the long run, as economic growth should generally be greater than increasing debt.

  • What is the expected impact on the property rental market?

    Answer

    The introduction of TOP’s UDA and other supply-side initiatives would create far more new housing options for firsthome buyers and more opportunities for renters.

    TOP wants house prices to hold steady for a generation to let incomes catch up. Our proposed tax reform would reduce the incentive to buy houses for short-term capital gain. Owning rental property would of course still be a viable business option for rental return, but we don’t want tenants evicted if they are paying the rent and looking after the property. These changes would also likely increase the options on the market for people renting to choose from.

    In short, the rental market would become a good place for good landlords and good tenants.