Boom lowered on recalcitrant council

A mediator has been appointed to Christchurch City Council over its refusal to implement housing density rules.

Christchurch-based barrister and mediator John Hardie will start work on Monday to “understand the issues with housing intensification and explore a way forward so the council complies with the law”. 

Hardie’s initial work will be with council and government officials to draw up a project plan before interviews with staff and councillors is started as well as seeking Ngai Tahu’s views and running workshops.

Twyford says although the Government is disappointed with the decision made by the previous council not to notify a plan change incorporating the medium density residential standards (MDRS), it is committed to working with the new mayor and councillors to find a path to deliver increasing housing supply and affordability.

It is believed 400 planned homes in the city have been stuck in limbo because of the stand-off over the new planning provisions.

The divisive new standards permit anybody to build three houses of three-stories high without resource consent on almost any existing urban section across Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington, and Christchurch.

The MDRS runs alongside the National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS-UD), which allows for apartments of six storeys, even on small suburban sites, within 20 minute walkable distances of a city centre, metropolitan centres and rapid transit stops.

Analysis from PWC suggests the changes will add between 48,200 and 105,500 new dwellings over the next five to eight years.

The new rules were meant to be put into effect last month, but the previous Christchurch City Council instead agreed in September to write to Environment Minister David Parker seeking a bespoke solution in light of the city’s “unique” housing situation.

New mayor Phil Mauger was one of the previous council’s councillors who voted against the standards. “"We do need intensification but we've got to have it done in a planned way," he said on the campaign trail.

Councillor Sam McDonald says three-storey by three units on a section does not make sense across the city. “We have overwhelming feedback from residents groups who say it will effectively change suburbs. What we probably need is a strengthening of qualifying matters. Also the six-storey intensifying around malls and main thoroughfares will look completely out of character for Christchurch.  We just want to have local input into this plan, he says.

It will take six weeks for the mediator to get a report back to Twyford, says McDonald, and I am not sure the Government will want a fight in election year over housing intensification. “I think it needs to find a solution because ultimately we have push back and we will continue to do so in the interests of Christchurch residents. The Government have to work for us because this won’t go away.”

He says last month’s change of council is not going to make a difference. “Mauger has been strongly opposed to this, so the Government needs to get with the programme and realise we need changes.”

While the council can thumb its nose at the Government and no compromise is reached, Environment Minister David Parker has the final say and the process does not allow for appeals to the Environment Court.

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