Nick Smith in Housing debate

Hapless Housing Minister Nick Smith with the opening speech in the Third reading of the Housing Legislation Amendment Bill last night (the Bill passed eventually after a lengthy debate).

Draft transcript:

Third Reading

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for Building and Housing): I move, That the Housing Legislation Amendment Bill be now read a third time.

This amendment bill will get more houses built. This bill will get houses built more quickly, and it should be getting the full support of this Parliament. It will do so by ensuring a smooth transition to the Auckland Unitary Plan.

It will do so by allowing more land to be available for housing more quickly in other parts of New Zealand, and it will do so by providing certainty over the Crown land housing development programme.

The parties opposing this bill have shown they are far more interested in wallowing in the stories of hardship over housing than actually getting more rooves built over the heads of Kiwi families.

The greatest irony is that Labour has called for a state of emergency across New Zealand, over housing, but it opposed urgency in this House for the very bill that will make a difference.

Let us be clear about three things in respect of housing.

The first is on the demand side. It is at record levels, because New Zealand is doing well. Our economy is growing strongly, unemployment is low and falling, we are a safe and well-governed country, interest rates are at the lowest level in 60 years, and so housing demand is at record levels.

The second is that construction is booming. Statistics New Zealand has just reported the highest level of building activity ever in New Zealand, topping $18 billion in the last year. Residential building has grown nationally by 20 percent per annum for every one of the last 5 years.

I have checked the records all the way back to 1922, and there has never been such a period of long, sustained growth. Independent reports show we are on track for this boom to continue until 2021. In Auckland we are on schedule to build the equivalent of a Whangarei in Auckland in this term of Parliament, and another Whangarei in the next term of Parliament.

My third point is that land-use policy is the single most important public policy issue affecting housing supply and affordability. The Productivity Commission says so, Treasury says so, and the OECD says so.

We also know, from our own experience in Christchurch where we are using the special earthquake provision powers and freeing up land. We have a well-functioning market. Thousands of good, new homes, with three bedrooms, are available on the market at $450,000. We have got house price inflation in Christchurch of only 2 or 3 percent, and we have had rents in that market drop by 8 percent over the last year.

Let me turn to the detail of this bill. It will allow eight greenfield special housing areas (SHAs), totalling 762 hectares in Auckland, that are well advanced in the planning and design processes, to enable 7,900 homes to be built. This is significant. It amounts to $4 billion of additional housing investment that will be able to be facilitated and ensure it progresses.

The simple question for Parliament is this: do we want to send those seven developments, $4 billion of housing, back to square one?

Members on this side of the House say that no, we do not. Members opposite, who have voted against this bill, are voting to block those housing developments.

The bill also allows the extension for 3 years of the housing accords and special housing build in other parts of New Zealand. The original Act was very focused on Auckland, but the growth pressures are now being felt more widely.

The National Policy Statement on Urban Development will take time for councils to free up land. The national policy statement requires that to be done over 3 years, and so it makes sense for the SHAs to be able to be used in the interim, to be able to free up more land.

These measures are supported by Local Government New Zealand. I have received letters from a number of councils that want access to this flexible tool.

The second part of this bill is the part that Labour has got in a lather about. The amendment makes plain what is already in the 1955 Housing Act, that the Government can approve housing development schemes and sell the houses. It is what Government has been doing for years. It is what we are doing in Hobsonville, where over 1,000 houses have now been completed.

Ironically, it is what we have done in Weymouth, where Mr Little visited and said that we should be doing more of those types of schemes.

Labour has caused this huge commotion in the House, saying that these are very significant changes that affect people’s property rights. Let me read exactly what Treasury’s independent regulatory impact unit said on these changes, long before this controversy, in an email dated 3 October.

I will quote, word for word: “The minor avoidance of doubt provision in the Housing Act doesn’t need a regulatory impact statement. It is minor, and it doesn’t change any rights. It is simply a clarification of existing legislative intent.”

Let me quote it again: “It is minor, and it doesn’t change any rights.” So there it is, without political spin, straight from a Government official. It is why the Government is wanting to make the change. It is to provide the certainty for business.

We are wanting to get on and sign contracts for significant developments of land, and understandably, if we are going to get the best deal for the taxpayer and the most houses, we need to get certainty in the law.

If there is something that members on this side of the House understand, it is that certainty is everything for business, particularly when they are going to be investing tens and hundreds of millions of dollars in building the houses that this country needs.

People who are wanting to delay this minor clarification of the law are actually wanting to make it harder for the Government to get on and build houses on vacant public land. Remember, it is on these vacant blocks of public land that the Government is able to put quite tough requirements to ensure the houses that are being built are in the medium price range, and also to deliver at least 20 percent of social housing.

The greatest irony is this. For all the debate over the last 2 days, I have not heard a single cogent argument against any of the three provisions. Here is the irony. Labour members are out there, saying that Labour is going to build tens of thousands of houses, under its KiwiBuild policy, on vacant Crown land. Are they saying that when they have built those houses they are going to offer them to the former landowners and not to ordinary New Zealanders?

If Labour really believes its opposition to this bill, it will promise to repeal it. It will not because its members know in their heart of hearts it is the practical measures that are required to ensure this country gets on and builds as many houses as is practicably possible. This bill is a sensible measure.

It sits alongside our Resource Management Act reforms, the work to develop an urban development authority, changes to the Building Act, and changes to the Unit Titles Act, because there is not a single magic bullet to this housing challenge.

We need to do a whole lot of things well, and this bill is part of what will make the difference and ensure that we maintain that record growth of housing construction in New Zealand.