“ACT’s alternative to the RMA will result in more houses being built and fewer barriers being put in the way of their construction, in a way that returns power to local communities” says ACT Deputy Leader and Housing spokesperson Brooke van Velden.

“The policy would introduce ‘street votes’ where a street or community could vote to upzone, alternatively two neighbours will be able to negotiate zoning increases if nobody else will be affected. Finally, if one neighbour holds out on others plans, a tribunal will set compensation to be paid to that neighbour as part of a fair deal.

“Urban development is something that New Zealand has done poorly. The result has been heart-breaking. The number one driver of poverty and inequality for the past three decades has been the rising cost of housing. A whole generation finds home ownership is an unattainable goal unless they have parental support. That is not the Kiwi dream of equal opportunity, it leads to young New Zealanders seeking opportunity in other countries.

“Housing is unaffordable because it is too difficult and expensive to build enough homes. There are several reasons for this. One problem is infrastructure funding, which ACT has addressed elsewhere. Another problem is expensive building material and a lack of building innovation under slow and strict Council regulations. ACT addresses that problem elsewhere also.

“The third major reason housing is unaffordable is not infrastructure or building consents. It is the lack of zoned land available for development. Councils do not zone enough land for development, or zone for low density in places where greater intensification could make sense. The shortage of land pushes up the price and reduces the volume of housing available.

“The policy challenge is to let people take advantage of intensification without creating unnecessary conflict between new and existing residents. This is best achieved if all involved benefit, and ACT’s plan for more housing with neighbourly harmony achieves that.

“Recent attempts by Labour and National to simply upzone all residential land to the Medium Density Residential Standard leads to disharmony. It says anyone can build three three storey homes on any residential section with no design standards. It also undermines Council attempts to coordinate intensification and infrastructure building by pepper potting intensification all over the city instead of where the Council is focusing its infrastructure development.

“ACT’s solution for more vibrant and affordable communities comes in three parts. Each of these are designed to get more homes built while creating win-wins for neighbours.

Part One: Street Votes for voluntary zone changes

Under ACT’s plan communities will continue to be zoned by council plans. However local residents will have the option of changing the zoning in their street through any of three pathways.

The multilateral pathway will allow the property owners along an entire street or block to change the zoning rules which apply to them all through a street vote. This would require approval from owners representing 70% of the titles along the street. This would allow the entire street to profit from the increase in their property values due to upzoning, compensating them for any inconveniences due to increased density.

The bilateral pathway will allow a property owner to negotiate with the affected neighbours to exempt the property from certain zoning rules designed to protect those neighbours. The neighbours from whom the owner will require consent will be strictly limited to those directly affected. For instance, if an owner wishes to build their house closer to their eastern boundary than zoning permits, they will only require permission from their eastern neighbour. Similarly, if they wish to build an extra storey on their house than is permitted, they will require permission only from their direct neighbours whose view is obstructed or who lose more than 25 per cent of their usable sunlit area due to the development.

These permissions will be placed on the LIM once given and unless explicitly time-limited, will remain with the property. It will be explicitly permitted for property owners to offer their neighbour compensation in order to receive permission.

The unilateral pathway will allow property owners to ask a Planning Tribunal, which will be the planning equivalent of the Disputes Tribunal (i.e. a low-cost, lawyer-less alternative to the Courts) to exempt them from certain planning restrictions, in exchange for Tribunal-determined compensation to be paid to their neighbours. This pathway will only be available where an attempt to use the bilateral pathway has failed. This pathway is necessary to avoid the problem of ‘hold-outs’, where, because unanimous consent is required in the bilateral pathway, one affected neighbour uses their power to doom the entire project in an attempt to extract an uneconomic sum of compensation.

Part Two: Minimum zoning standards for residential areas

“In order to ensure that housing supply is kept up and vibrant neighbourhoods emerge, certain minimum standards would be in place. These relate to minimum density levels and allowing small scale commercial activity such as cafes and childcare centres as of right.

“All residential zones would need to be at least as dense as Auckland’s Mixed Housing Suburban zone. That allows two storey homes and up to three on a large enough site, but with design standards to manage conflicts between neighbours.

“Small-scale commercial activities (e.g. cafes, corner stores, and childcare centres) will be permitted by default in all zoning areas. This will ensure that council rules do not prevent the growth of vibrant mixed-use communities across our cities.

Part Three: Infrastructure and Development Contributions

“The ‘first mover problem’ is a major impediment to development. It occurs when a developer is required to pay for infrastructure upgrades in a street, that later developments will benefit from. ACT would develop a funding mechanism where first movers could recoup costs from later developments benefiting from the upgrades they pay for. Those later developers would effectively pay a tariff to first movers who paid to make their development possible.

“If a street or community elects to upzone in a way that adds significant infrastructure costs, a Council would be entitled to request a targeted rate on the area. This targeted rate could only recover actual and demonstrable costs from servicing the intensification. Some may balk at the extra cost, but if the upzoning is worthwhile, the higher property values will more than pay for it.

“In these three steps, ACT’s resource management reforms would make large steps towards increasing the amount of land that is zoned for greater development and serviced with infrastructure. It would also promote harmony amongst new and existing neighbours by creating win-win’s with real local control over what happens in your street.”

ACT's policy can be found here.

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