Tuesday 23 November 2021

NIMBY tears

The taste of NIMBY tears. It's palpable in Simon Wilson's latest Herald column. 

But by my reckoning this new bill subverts the NPS-UD in at least nine ways.

Julie Stout, a leading architect and member of the Urban Design Forum (UDF), a coalition of design professionals, calls it "a slum enabling act".

Those nine factors:

1. While "up to three" dwellings can be built on any site, there are to be no minimum section sizes. You could put two extra dwellings on your section, or subdivide it into two, or three, or more, and put three dwellings on each new site.

That allows for more housing so more awesomeness. 

2. The "do it anywhere" provision is an invitation to developers to build where it's easiest and cheapest.

That also enables more housing so more awesomeness.

That, says Auckland Council, "would see widespread intensification dispersed across the city in places not served by essential public transport, water and community infrastructure and in areas located far away from employment centres. This includes smaller coastal and rural towns on the outskirts of the city." It's an invitation to urban sprawl.

The nice thing about bus routes is that you can redraw them if people move to different places. 

The Environmental Defence Society (EDS) says this could even lead to "areas with significant landscape and environmental values, like Waiheke Island, being destroyed".

The map of Waiheke already has piles of land cordoned off as sites of ecological significance.

3. Developers will no longer be required to consider sunlight, privacy, safe pedestrian access, access to nature, servicing and the interface with the street.

Buyers of the properties will consider those. Along with whether the house is comfortable, well-built, and everything else. 

4. There are standards governing size and location, but even they are flawed. They'll encourage what's called "sausage flats": rows of apartment blocks running back at right angles from the street, with little usable land for a garden or backyard.

The Coalition for More Homes submission encouraged getting rid of setbacks so that perimeter blocks could emerge as alternative. 

5. Want to object? Sorry, it's all "permitted activity". The council can't do much, either. Even on matters of national environmental significance, there's no recourse to the Environment Court. The minister for the environment will decide.

Housing should be a permitted activity. 

6. Will developers have to include any social housing in their projects? Nope. What about universal design standards, so at least some of the units are fit for people with disabilities? No again.

If you allow building everywhere, housing costs come down. Social housing issues will all get easier. Developers wanting to sell houses will build them to suit what people want. Shifting from housing scarcity to ample housing means developments compete for buyers. We have an aging population. Plenty of developers will want to cater to those needs to attract more buyers. And even if none of them did, there would still be far less pressure on existing accessible homes as buyers who didn't need those amenities would be looking elsewhere. 

7. Are they preserving environmental standards or keeping up with the demands of a changing climate? Also no. Encouraging urban sprawl fails that test. So do the lack of standards for construction techniques and emissions over the life of the building. There's no requirement for trees or other vegetation, either on sections or in public spaces near larger projects. "The first casualty," says Stout, "will be the trees of the city."

Oh come on. The building code still applies. That covers construction techniques. The Emissions Trading Scheme covers urban emissions, including building and transport. The city can put trees on the verges by the sidewalk if it wants. If a developer is putting in a larger project with public spaces, and figures the sections will have an easier time selling if there are trees in the public spaces, there'll be trees in the public spaces. 

8. The "rules and standards one might expect to find in a district plan", as the EDS puts it, now rest with the Government. It means councils could become bystanders in the development of the cities they are supposed to be running.

The rules and standards that one might expect to find in a district plan are the problem the legislation seeks to fix. 

9. Why the rush? The announcement was just over a month ago and already the deadline for submissions has passed.

Here I won't disagree. I will note though that this is a general problem. Lots of legislation is going through in rather hasty fashion. 

Our submission on it all is here. We're supportive of the legislation, and propose a few measures to make it even better. 

Update: the more I look at this piece, the weirder the framing is. The column's structure is "Here are a pile of people who initially said nice things about the legislation but then, on reading it, recanted or had second thoughts. The first half of the column cites politicians (Woods, Collins, Parker, Willis), organisations (NZ Initiative, Coalition for More Homes, and Infrastructure Commission), and an academic (Tookey) as supportive.

Then there's the bridge. It initially read, "Then they all read the bill. And were appalled." It's since been updated to "many" being appalled. 

After the bridge, it cites an architect, Stout, who says it enables slums. It cites Auckland Council/Mayor in opposition, along with EDS. 

It cites Tookey noting an urgent need for more "strategic investment, skills training and availability of finance. That's what the NZI said too." That's about right on our side, but hardly counts as opposition. It's more of a "Yes, and". I can't speak for Tookey, who may or may not have changed views. I don't know Tookey. 

And it cites Coalition for More Homes supporting the intent of the bill but wanting some tweaks.

I wonder whether a single one of the people or organisations cited at the outset would agree that they were appalled. 

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