Friday, 10 November 2017

Piss Off, Wellington

I've been to Wellington a couple of times. We've driven down every time so I've seen quite a lot of the North Island between Auckland and Wellington. Normally we take a more central route, but we've even drifted out to go via Wanganui. I like Wanganui. It reminds me of Pukekohe. I really don't like Wellington.

In the past I've talked about how National used the Super City to abrogate its responsibilities to Auckland. Labour's not doing that. Instead, they're forcing us to swallow that stinking rotten fish known as urban sprawl. That's worse. It's one thing to be lumbered with pointless and wasteful roads. It's one thing to just do nothing and wait for Auckland to become some kind of urban hell. It is quite another to use your power to decide some of the most fertile land in New Zealand (and thus, the world) ought to be concrete. I'd rather see the Council struggle to not be able to do much than have the Government force it to do away with core parts of plans synthesised from democratic and expert input. It's not the role of government to reject these things.

You know, I guess I thought the Labour government would let the Super City do its thing. That is, the role would be, "Phil, you bring an idea to Phil and he'll tell us about it and we'll probably facilitate it." What is the point of having a Super City if you're going to micromanage Auckland from Wellington? Isn't local government like the AI in games like Age of Empires? I, as the player, set up my town and the AI does certain things within it. I don't have to tell my villagers which animal to hunt next. I don't have to show them how to get from A to B. I don't have to, but I can. And the way the game is set up is to make it so I do when I think it's doing something wrong. The AI lets me go along as long as I think things are following my macro/grand (national) strategy. That's what Local Government does too, right? It deals with things like resource consents, libraries and bylaws that are too fiddly to have people who think about, say, Invercargill, Taihape and Napier too be mucking about with.

Now, I guess Phil "Chinese Sounding Names" Twyford is stupid enough to think that the Rural Urban Boundary is part of the problem. That would make sense. This is a man most famous for thinking that just because your surname is Lee you're not a NZer. You're only not going to blink twice at this if you're really, really convinced the problem is demand. And if you're thinking the problem is demand, you're thinking the supply problem is simply that there isn't enough of it. This is even kind of true. The problem is it was never the houses: it was the system. It doesn't make sense to let people build more houses in more areas if you're not going to change the system. It doesn't make sense if you're going to try and shake up the incentives if you give them a way of doing what they were doing before. That's all removing the Boundary does. It just lets developers pursue the quick and easy buck like they've always done, even though now you're letting them build apartments. Have you really changed anything if nothing has changed? No, you haven't. A sprawl mentality created Auckland's problems and letting more sprawl happen is just enabling.

Key Points Because I Ramble:
  • Central Government is trying to do something that Local Government both normally does and is actually better placed to do. There's also a moral hazard problem here because which level of government actually has to reach out to these places to build, maintain and look after them? That's right, local government... the level disagreeing with the move.
  • Sprawl is inherently bad... it degrades environments, it induces traffic which harms mental and physical health and it ultimately pushes the poorer members of society outwards... further from amenities. Sprawl makes it more expensive to provide key parts of social infrastructure (e.g. schools, WINZ) or makes it less accessible (because it is further from residents). All of these points make it unsustainable and economically illiterate to pursue.
  • Removing the Rural Urban Boundary won't increase the available land because the real constraint is the provision of infrastructure so land prices won't become cheaper. It doesn't reflect that the problem with land prices is (a) land banking artificially limiting the supply and (b) density controls prevent efficient use of land meaning developers' land costs are made-up in fewer units, i.e. the typical unit price has more land costs in it than there should be (think: $502,000 for a plot spread across one versus two versus four versus ten units...).
  • Removing the Rural Urban Boundary encourages the provision of infrastructure when the money would be more efficiently spent on allowing/assisting brownfields development (from point two). It also, greatly problematically, encourages asking for infrastructure provision... which is going to happen because it's now obvious Moar Houses is all Twyford thinks about.
  • Removing the Rural Urban Boundary will only result in cheaper units if the subsidisation of sprawl is continued. Internalising even some of the costs of sprawl isn't going to achieve cheaper housing, so it must not be part of the plan. Thus, why are you, as a developer, going to pursue the riskier brownfields programme we need (or even just building up which is something few contractors in NZ have experience doing) when you're able to do what is less risky and everyone's been doing for donkey's years? That is, single unit detached houses. Or, put another way, all these new building forms one is allowed to use won't actually be built.
Labour did something good with the trains, but I'm rather beginning to think that the East West Link was a better use of tax payers' money than whatever regressive, unsustainable and demented schemes Twyford has for housing in Auckland. I knew Labour were pro-sprawl but I really, honestly, didn't expect them to be going this far.

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