Green Minister criticised for ‘rubber stamping’ foreign purchases of land

Green MP and Minister of Land Information Eugenie Sage is under fire again, this time for approving 21 applications to sell land to ‘foreigners’.

I think this illustrates the contrast between the ideals when in opposition and the reality of Government responsibilities – “I’m bound by the law, and as a minister, I implement the law.”

RNZ:  Green MP Eugenie Sage accused of ‘rubber-stamping’ land sales to foreigners

Eugenie Sage is being accused of continuing National’s practice of “rubber-stamping” the sale of sensitive land to foreigners.

New figures reveal the land information minister and Green MP has approved nearly every application to cross her desk over nine months, rejecting just 30 hectares out of almost 60,000 hectares.

Between 1 November and 26 July, Ms Sage approved 21 applications covering about 55,957 hectares. She turned down two requests relating to 30 hectares.

But Ms Sage said most of approved land – roughly 40,000 hectares – related to the sale of Mount White Station, a sheep and beef farm in Canterbury.

In that case, the Czech buyer already had permanent residency and his wife and children were New Zealand citizens.

“There was very limited opportunity for discretion because … it had only been triggered as an application under the Overseas Investment Act because he was out of the country for a period.

“I’m bound by the law, and as a minister, I implement the law.”

Many of the other applications related to forestry which was a government priority area, she said.

“We need more investment in forestry to meet the billion trees’ commitment to ensure that we are sequestering enough carbon to meet our climate change objectives.”

There appears to be a clash of policy priorities here – something common in Government, especially when several parties want different things done.

But I think that Labour and NZ First had both campaigned against foreign purchases of land, so all three parties seem to have taken different positions on this once in power.

Former Green MP Sue Bradford is warning the news will stir up more disquiet among the party’s supporters after an earlier backlash over Ms Sage’s decision to allow a Chinese water bottling giant to expand.

“Her role is meaningless. The party’s role is meaningless,” Ms Bradford told RNZ.

She was shocked Ms Sage approved the sale of so much land to overseas people.

“It’s virtually just rubber-stamping.

“You’d think that either [the Greens would] move their person out of the role or they’d negotiate a damn sight harder with their coalition partners about changing policy on it.”

Bradford has never experienced being in Government.

Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa spokesperson Murray Horton said the approval rate made a “mockery” of the government’s promises to curb foreign investment.

“The Greens need to be a bit bolder, frankly. They’re in government for the first time ever.

“They have a mandate from their members and the people who vote for them to actually establish a point of difference.”

A mandate from 6% of voters is hardly a mandate to make bold changes.

It could also be argued that there is no mandate for Labour+NZ First+Greens to slash foreign purchases because that was never put to the voters as a joint policy.

However some changes have been made, and it is subject to one of the many reviews initiated by the current Government:

The government extended the Overseas Investment Office’s oversight in November and banned house sales to most foreigners in August.

Ministers also directed officials to review the Overseas Investment Act with changes expected by 2020.

Perhaps they can jointly seek a mandate in the next election for stopping foreign purchases.


More pressure on Sage: Minister challenged over Mackenzie greening (Newshub)

Crown decisions are allowing greater agricultural intensification in the Mackenzie Basin, new research has found.

The academic research, published last week in the Journal of NZ Grasslands, and funded by the business ministry, reveals two-thirds of intensive development in the Mackenzie since 2003 has been on Crown-owned land or land freeholded through tenure review. (Tenure review is a voluntary process which allows farmers to buy a portion of a Crown-owned pastoral lease, with the balance added to the conservation estate.) That reversed the trend before 2003, when almost two-thirds of intensification was on land that was already privately owned.

A big factor in the increase in farm developments was discretionary consents issued by the Commissioner of Crown Lands on pastoral leases.

Given Eugenie Sage is minister of both Land Information and Conservation, the article says it’s clear who has the power to make enduring and effective changes, to protect vulnerable land. “It is the Crown itself that can change its patterns of decisions to alter the trends in intensification. The choice and the power reside with the Minister of Land Information.”

Being a Minister can be a tough job.

IPCC meeting in Christchurch on sustainable management of land and water

Regardless of views on climate change it is important that New Zealand and the world do as much as possible to work towards sustainable land and water use. Experts from around the world will meet in Christchurch this week to work on a report that will advise governments on this.

Stuff: Global experts gather in Christchurch to tackle climate change

Some of the world’s brightest minds are gathering in Christchurch this week to discuss how best to tackle the ever-pressing issue of climate change.

The city will host 120 scientists from 59 countries as they examine how to manage some of the thorniest problems caused by our rapidly-changing environment.

As members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – a global coalition of scientists and academics – they will spend the next five days drafting a report that will inform and influence how governments deal with the problem in the decades ahead.

The report has a specific focus, to advise policy-makers on sustainable management of land and water, how to ensure millions of vulnerable people around the world have enough food, cutting greenhouse gases and how to address the growing problem of desertification.

Despite having a global focus, some of the key issues are close to the hearts of ordinary New Zealanders, such as how we can reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and deal with the impacts of climate change at the same time as producing more and high-quality food for a growing population.

The report should be very useful to the New Zealand government, and I’m sure Shaw will be keen to use it to support his climate change aims as Minister.

Associate Professor Bronwyn Hayward, a political scientist at the University of Canterbury and former IPCC lead author who is helping host the meeting, said: “It is a wonderful opportunity for the city to host 120 world specialists on land use and climate change – issues that are central for New Zealand’s future.

“And it’s a great chance to showcase some of the science and social science, alongside community activities, that are taking place already here in the wider region.”

It’s also good that Christchurch is hosting conferences again.

Sustainability – avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.

In ecology, sustainability (from sustain and ability) is the property of biological systems to remain diverse and productive indefinitely. Long-lived and healthy wetlands and forests are examples of sustainable biological systems. In more general terms, sustainability is the endurance of systems and processes.

Humans have changed ecosystems enormously, and continue to do so. Things change naturally as well, life on Earth has evolved for a billion years.

It is critical that modern science and knowledge are used to limit irreversible damage.

Twyford on land for Kiwibuild

Labour’s housing spokesperson Phil Tyford was interviewed on The Nation yesterday (repeated this morning). He was questioned about where Labour would get land to build on in Auckland for the 50,000 houses they planned to build under their Kiwibuild policy.

Twyford seemed unprepared for this fairly predictable line of questioning, and was very vague on what land would be available.

  • “many of them around the railway network in Auckland”
  • “on the fringes of the city as well”
  • “if necessary, we will buy private land to develop”

And “We are going to work with the council, we are going to work with Ngati Whatua, we’re going to work with other investors.” Much like the current Government is trying to get land for development.

With the not insignificant matter of the RMA to deal with.

Let’s move on to what your solution is, which is KiwiBuild. You’ve already said that freestanding houses will be 600,000 or less. And where exactly are these 100,000 houses going?

So, Lisa, we don’t have a land shortage in New Zealand. Fewer than 1% of the land is urbanised. We have a highly restrictive planning system that chokes off the supply of new land. Labour’s going to free up those controls and allow cities to grow up and out.

So where specifically? Where specifically? Because as you pointed out, we’re four months from an election. Where’s the list from Labour which shows exactly where the houses go? Like this list from National, which shows me exactly which suburbs and how many houses. Where’s your list?

So, we’re going to build large urban development projects, many of them around the railway network in Auckland. So places like Henderson, Manukau, Mt Wellington, Onehunga, Panmure, Avondale.

Have you got the sites specifically identified?

Actually, Auckland Council’s already done much of the work on this. Their development agency, Panuku, has already identified all of those sites as being appropriate for development. Lisa, we’re also going to developments on the fringes of the city as well.

Amy Adams says that they are using, in this plan, basically all the available Crown land, so I’m struggling to understand where your land is that you’re going to build 100,000 houses on and why I haven’t yet seen… Because this policy of yours is, what, four and a half years old?

So here’s where Labour’s approach is different from National. National lacks ambition in this area. Their approach is confined to knocking down state houses and building private houses on that land. We are going to take a much broader, more productive approach, so—

So have you got a list of lots, of land lots, that you can give to us so we can have a look at it? Have you got that?

We are going to work with the council, we are going to work with Ngati Whatua, we’re going to work with other investors. And if necessary, we will buy private land to develop.

Okay, and what budget are you putting aside for that?

We’ve committed $2 billion to kick-start KiwiBuild, and we’re going to establish an affordable housing authority that will act as an urban development agency.
So that $2 billion of seeding money, are you telling us that that’s going to pay for the first wave of houses and all the commercially bought land that you’re going to have to buy?

Well, we haven’t identified exactly how much land we will buy, but we are going to establish an affordable housing authority—

Isn’t that the problem, Mr Twyford? Isn’t that the problem, though — the details?
Hang on, Lisa, you’ve asked me a question. Let me answer and I will give you an answer. We’re establishing an affordable housing authority that will cut through the red tape. We’ll put capital in to get it started, but it’s going to manage the Crown’s entire urban land holdings. It will use that balance sheet to buy land and develop land with other partners. So it’s a very different approach to what the government is saying.

Who will build all the houses?

So, who is going to build your 10,000 houses a year? Because we know that there’s a shortage of workers in the construction industry. So who’s going to build these?

So, call us old-fashioned, but we think it’s the job of the government to grow a New Zealand workforce of skilled tradespeople. So we’re going to massively increase the training for the construction trades and professions. That’s our priority. Now, the fact that National—

That takes time, doesn’t it? And you are aiming to build 10,000 houses a year. The apprenticeship industry tells us that we need 60,000 new workers over the next five years, and half of them need to be tradies. So come December 24th, who’s— September 24th, who’s building these houses?

Look, so National has completely failed to build the New Zealand workforce. They haven’t invested in the apprentices and the professions to do this work. Now, if we have to, we will rely on skilled tradespeople. We’ll bring in electricians, plumbers and carpenters from overseas if we have to.

Despite your policy of tightening up immigration.

Well, Lisa, the reason it’s called an immigration policy is we get to choose who comes here. So we will choose the electricians, the plumbers and the carpenters instead of bringing people to this country to flip burgers and pump gas.

Andrew Little has said Labour would cut immigration by “tens of thousands” and at one stage intimated by up to 50,000 a year.

I would have thought on two of the key issues Labour is pushing for this election campaign they would have things worked out better than this by now.

Newshub: Interview: Phil Twyford

Full transcript: The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Phil Twyford

Compulsory land acquisition

In September last year the Productivity Commission, in its ‘Using Land for Housing’ report, recommended setting up urban development authorities with powers of compulsory land acquisition for housing.

At the time Housing Minister Nick Smith said:

“Obviously the issue of overriding private title for development is a big call, but my view is if we are going to get the quality of urban development, particularly in the redevelopment area where you can often have a real mix of little titles that makes doing a sensible development difficult, in my view it’s one of things we’ll need to consider.”

Just over a week ago at his party’s annual conference John Key said that National was looking in to ‘Urban Development Authorities’ but appears to rule out compulsory land acquisition for housing.

Urban Development Authorities on the way

The government intends introducing legislation later this year to create Urban Development Authorities in areas of high housing need, Prime Minister John Key says.

He told the National Party’s annual conference on Sunday UDAs were being considered, and firmed that up at his post-cabinet press conference on Monday.

“We will consider the best approach to establishing these over the coming weeks with a view to introducing legislation later this year,” he said.

The aim is to give the authorities powers to override barriers to large-scale housing development.

Mr Key says they’ve been used widely and successfully in other countries.

“What’s made them successful is they have total control over the particular area they’re developing, extremely broad-ranging powers,” he said.

Questioned whether they could be given powers to seize land from “landbankers” – people who hang onto land without developing it – he said that wasn’t the government’s intention.

“In the practical world we live in we are not trying to march over the top of peoples’ property rights,” he said.

In policy announced yesterday Labour said they plan to set up a similar type of authority but one that will be able take over private land.

Labour supports compulsory land acquisition for housing development

Labour’s proposed Affordable Housing Authority will have powers to buy land compulsorily, Labour leader Andrew Little says.

The authority will be tasked with partnering with developers to build 10,000 new homes a year priced below $600,000 in Auckland and below $500,000 elsewhere.

Little said it would need to be able to buy land compulsorily to put together land parcels big enough for bulk developments.

“There will have to be acquisition powers with the Affordable Housing Authority,” he said.

“You are trying to partner up with councils and others. The reality is the housing issue is serious and there is going to have to be the means to cut through those barriers.”

However compulsory land acquisition isn’t stated in Labour’s policy as far as I can see, but there are possible hints. From Establishing an Affordable Housing Authority:

LABOUR WILL:

  • Establish the Affordable Housing Authority, an independent Crown entity with a fast-tracked planning process, tasked with leading large-scale housing developments and cutting through red tape

The Affordable Housing Authority will have access to fast tracked planning powers to cut through red tape and speed up development

This coordination with communities and the private sector, combined with the Affordable Housing Authority’s powers and control of Crown land, will enable rapid development of large-scale projects focused on affordable housing.

So suggestions of powers without specifying what they will be (and “cut through red tape” would have to have significant power over or make changes to the Resource Management Act).

Perhaps the compulsory acquisition of land at low prices is one way they will keep the houses ‘affordable’.