Bipartisan housing deal: ‘Townhouse bill’ restrictions set to be weakened

Labour and National are set to weaken their bipartisan housing bill, but not give control back to councils.

The two parties struck a deal to pass a massive change to New Zealand’s zoning laws, allowing three-storey three-dwelling buildings on residential land in major cities without resource consent.

This would remove much of the control those councils have over stopping things like townhouses being built, and is estimated to allow up to 105,000 more dwellings to be built over the next eight years.

Councils and residents associations up and down the country have attacked the bill, with some saying it will ruin the character of neighbourhoods and lead to slums.

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The Environment Select Committee is meeting on Thursday to discuss the bill and issue a final report.

There has been widespread speculation that National in particular might move to significantly weaken the bill, given ACT has been campaigning against it and some MPs have expressed their displeasure over how far it goes.

Williams Corporation townhouses - Jadewynn Drive


Williams Corporation townhouses – Jadewynn Drive

Stuff understands the changes set to be agreed on by Labour and National will result in amendments to the medium-density standard at the heart of the bill, but not a wholesale backdown to local authorities.

Councils would not be able to decide where to apply the standard, being forced to apply it to all residential land that is not covered by a “qualifying matter”.

And they will not gain vastly more discretion to use arguments like heritage and infrastructure provision to stop development.

Height restrictions in relation to boundaries will be reduced so that neighbour’s won’t lose as much sunlight.

Outdoor space requirements for ground-floor units will be increased, meaning gardens will not shrink by as much.

But not all the changes reduce the freedom to build – the “setback” from the street will also be reduced, allowing buildings to get closer to the street.

These changes do not preclude further changes in the future, as the select committee has not reported and new amendments could be proposed at the committee of the whole house.

Housing advocates urged National to stay the course on Wednesday after comments by new deputy leader Nicola Willis about local authorities needing “more discretion” worried them.

Eric Crampton, from right-wing think tank the New Zealand Initiative, said losing the bipartisan consensus would be a shame and could encourage bad development.

“If everyone expects that the next National Government would repeal the legislation, that creates a strong incentive to get buildings built before councils regain easy ability to block new development,” Crampton said.

The bill has been attacked and supported from both the right and left.

ACT has been strongly campaigning against the measure, arguing councils need more funding to build the necessary infrastructure and that the deregulation would create “chaos” as people bought into neighbourhoods not expecting the rules to suddenly change.

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