I feel driven to join the hullabaloo surrounding affordable housing.

Design and construction are separate considerations beyond the scope of this blog.

In many minds, including my own, housing costs relate fundamentally to the supply of land upon which to place those houses.

Land at present represents more than a 1/3rd of the cost of a property.

We have historically been dreadful at the way we use land.  Upon arrival on our shores, European pioneers looked right past the compact Maori settlements selling ¼ acre slices of paradise stretching to the far horizon. No more Coronation Streets for them, they thought. (Isn’t it ironic that that programme is so popular on TV here?)

Over the generations, this myth of the endless city manifested itself in relentless suburbia, which has laid itself locust like, across so much of our precious land. Christchurch and Auckland are the worst offenders of sprawl, the physical landscape of Wellington often being a useful constraint.

It’s quite wrong that there are now many more shrubs than people in Auckland, and much more tarseal than the surface area of all the countries airport runways combined.

The road surface in Christchurch needing to be replaced following the earthquakes is equal to the distance between that city and Auckland.  The infrastructure damage in Christchurch set a new world insurance record for infrastructure damage.

Housing affordability has become a timely basis upon which to question this unsustainable profligacy.

Land is the only non-renewable resource in the housing equation.

With the exception of a few volcanic islands in Hawaii, they are not making any more of it.


Now that our mistake is becoming apparent, we have to overcome the problem of the perceived threat felt by the ‘haves’ ( the Nimbys and their legal henchpeople) selfishly opposing any change, and the ‘have nots’.

A Nimby reference to Winston Churchill’s famous speech reversed slightly comes to mind:

never have so few owed so much to so many’

The population density of Auckland is 1,200 persons/km2 compared with Sydney at 2,500/km2 and London at 8,000/km2. There is surely much scope here for managed intensification.

Even Mumbai at 45,000 people/km2 is not a hell on earth, at more than 10 times Auckland’s population.

Even if we accept a right to a piece of land (there are always apartments !) it is my view that there are thousands of underutilised front and back yards in our suburbia that could have well designed houses located upon them.

In addition to the land being affordable, the infrastructure, the schools and the community services are already there.

The RMA is our defining legislation of land use.

Its author had the best of intentions, to address the effects of a proposed use rather than just zone the various uses.  The document is not unlike the bible, capable of creating several different religions.  Too many of the high priests of planning are not engaging with the fundamental principle of efficient land use, preferring to focus more about individual rights than community needs.

District plans still favour the sanctity of the surrounding green doughnut of useless space, around a detached house. In a sense with all the site coverage, setback and recession plane rules, suburbia is still being promoted ,when there is international evidence that housing sprawl is in fact the didymo of civilisation.

Fortunately there are strong clues as to how to turn this around.

The English village is still a successful model of the proper use of land..

About 20 years ago, in response to this model, enlightened planners at the Queenstown Lakes District Council proposed what they called ‘hamletisation’.   They identified landform and road intersection nodes where density could happen, allowing the landscape between the newly formed villages to be spacious enough for parklands, proper trees and open space.

The Nimbies unfortunately stopped that one happening.

I’m with the Poms. When we were asked several years to design an addition to a house that we built in Milton Keynes in the 80’s, we couldn’t find any planning rules at all, on the Council (the same size as Wellington Council) website.  When I turned up on their doorstep I was made a cup of tea whilst waiting no longer than 15mins to see a planner ( this was a rule ).  He told me, ‘that nonsense was thrown out 10 years ago…  ‘

We have to build 200,000 new houses in the UK each year just to keep up with population growth. Housing projects are approved by panels of enlightened planners and architects because we have not got the time to deal with all the negative arguments between neighbours that those rules created.’

 There is a lesson here for us.

Bqa8B7WIUAAsNyf.jpg medium