Solving the Housing Crisis - It's as easy as UDA

A Review of the Urban Development Authorities Proposal 

Every week there is a headline highlighting the fact that New Zealand is in a housing crisis.  Prices are too high, there aren’t enough houses and salaries do not match the money required for a deposit to purchase a first home.

However, for all these negative headlines and articles, there is very rarely a realistic suggestion as to how we as a nation can address this issue head on and secure the kiwi dream of home ownership.

Whilst we agree New Zealand is very much in the grips of a housing crisis, it is encouraging to see the Government responding with the idea of urban development authorities to enable urban development projects to be established quicker than the current situation.

Nick Smith tells us “New Zealand needs Urban Development Authority (UDA) legislation to enable faster and better quality regeneration in our major cities. These new authorities need the power to assemble parcels of land, develop site specific plans, reconfigure infrastructure and to construct a mix of public and private buildings to create vibrant hubs for modern urban living.” He says that UDAs would enable major redevelopment projects such as those proposed and underway in Hobsonville, Tamaki and Three Kings to occur three to five years faster.

It sounds like a no-brainer when you put it like that, but what exactly is a UDA and how will they operate? The following is an overview of the Discussion Document proposed by the Government and our opinion as to whether UDAs are the solution we have all been waiting for to solve the housing crisis?

What is an Urban Development Authority?

An Urban Development Authority (UDA) is a publicly controlled entity responsible for planning and facilitating large scale urban development projects. The purpose of a UDA is to better enable large scale urban development through broader powers and land use rules for specific projects.

The types of projects that a UDA may be responsible for includes housing, commercial premises, associated infrastructure, and amenities including parks, community spaces or shopping centres. This may include a greenfield development as part of city expansion.

How would the process work?

New legislation will be passed to set the role and potential powers of UDA and how the process will work. The current Discussion Document provides an overview of this process, which is separated into three stages – establishing the development project, creating the development plan and finally the development taking place in accordance with the approved plan. 

The process involves public feedback and requires agreement between central and local government in the form of an Order in Council (OIC) to detail the parameters of the project and the powers available to the UDA.  Development would take place in accordance with the OIC.

What powers would a UDA have?

The range of powers available to the UDA will be determined by the OIC and may include buying and acquiring land; overriding existing plans and streamlining consent processes; planning and building infrastructure; buying, selling and leasing land and buildings; and borrowing funds and levying charges.

It is this wide range of powers available to the one entity, being the UDA, which has the potential to speed up the development process.  A UDA will potentially be able to acquire the land, establish the project, consent the project and actually manage and co-ordinate the development process through to completion.

Will UDAs address the housing crisis?

We have seen several attempts by the Government and even local Councils (think post-earthquake Christchurch) to streamline consenting and still we are struggling with the housing crisis.    In addition to carrying out the consenting process, the UDA will also oversee and progress the actual development, which in our view, is a positive step towards improving housing supply.

In addition to these powers, the UDA could potentially be given the powers to plan and build infrastructure to support the development; such as roads and water supply, and amenities like parks, community spaces and shopping centres.

Despite these apparent benefits, there are some areas where more detail is needed.  Firstly, whilst the Discussion Document is clear that the legislation will provide for and support urban development; there are no plans to define what exactly “urban” means and therefore what land will the legislation apply to. 

A UDA could be given powers of compulsory acquisition.  This means UDAs will be able to assemble land for development through a number of methods including using existing powers under the Public Works Act to compulsorily acquire land in the proposed project area. It is not proposed to extend these powers, and in our view acquiring land for the construction of housing is justified as a response to a housing shortage which is causing economic and social harm.

An area of concern that has gained attention by resource management professionals is the level of public involvement in a UDA process.  We understand that these concerns relate to a lack of public involvement in consultation and a lack of appeal rights.  We have to ask, how much involvement should the public have?  There are opportunities for the public to consult in the formation of a development proposal and its strategic direction, and in our view this is the most important phase that will set the context for the entire development. The strategic objectives are recorded in the OIC and this document drives and sets the development.  This is the most crucial development phase in the process and this is where public consultation is needed and also provided for.

It is proposed that the development plan may override existing and proposed district and regional plans.  In our view any risk is controlled by the fact this would only occur when the local Council decides that the public benefit from the project outweighs the usual requirements at district or regional level.  This can be beneficial to a developer in that the UDA may be able to apply different requirements to the district or regional planning regime, for example height restrictions and site coverage.

The area that we think needs more consideration or explanation is whether the strategic objectives of the UDA should be able to override Part 2 of the RMA.  Assuming that the strategic objectives have been drafted whilst considering Part 2 then this may not be as significant as it seems, although we would like to see some more explanation as to how Part 2 matters will be considered as well as the strategic objectives.

These are some areas where we think more discussion is required, and that is precisely the purpose of the Discussion Document.  In our view, this discussion needs to be forward focussed and constructive in order to help inform the content of any legislation. 

UDA’s alone will not solve the housing crisis in New Zealand, however we consider that there are definite merits associated with the concept. Now that the submissions are closed, Bill drafting will begin taking into account public feedback.  Once the draft Bill is prepared, there will be another opportunity for public to make submissions either supporting or opposing the content.


So, in summary – what do we think of all this?  Do we really think that there is light at the end of the tunnel for all the New Zealander’s we read about who see the dream of home ownership slipping further and further into the ether? And is the answer really as simple as UDA?

The establishment of a UDA and its tool kit of powers does present some potential relief to New Zealand’s housing crisis.  We all know that New Zealand has a housing problem and it is in the public benefit to respond to this problem.  There aren’t enough houses; they take too long to consent and build; and they aren’t affordable to the average Kiwi. 

The Government’s proposal to establish UDA’s is effectively a one stop shop to help address the issue.  Freeing up land to provide for more development, streamlined processes, and strategic objectives for community benefit are clear benefits, which in our view, outweigh the consequences of limiting opportunities for public participation. Introducing these new tools to effectively address the need for more housing developments also has the potential to also improve the New Zealand economy. When draft legislation emerges, we will provide further updates regarding the opportunities and risks that such legislation may provide.

Disclaimer: Please note that this is a brief summary for information purposes only and is not legal advice

Posted on Wednesday 7th June, 2017 at 04:15 pm