new auckland

An American on a red tape-cutting Auckland mission

A visiting American property developer has struck a welcome chord with Auckland’s deputy mayor, with his suggestion that intensive housing developments get automatic approval if they are within 1.5 kilometres of a public transport hub.

Clyde Holland has been scouting in New Zealand for 20 years, with Holland Partner Group’s investments starting in the mid 1990s and including projects such as Sylvia Park. He is in the country as keynote speaker for the Residential Development Summit in Auckland, but also to lay the ground work for HPG’s entry into building affordable housing.

Holland is a large scale residential developer, based in Vancouver, Washington. His projects cover 50,000 housing units worth more than $10 billion. He is also the chairman of “Up for Growth”, which lobbies for compact residential communities as a way of solving the housing affordability crisis in the US.

Now he has Auckland and Queenstown in his sights. But he’s here with a big pair of scissors, looking for red tape to cut.

One of his main pushes to short-cut planning processes and give developers surety is to grant automatic permission to high-density developments within easy walking distance of public transport, designed to encourage car-free millennials. Developers would then know they wouldn’t be bogged down with 10 years of fighting for planning permission.  

He also wants New Zealand to sign up to the International Building Code so he could bring in materials not specifically approved for use here; the code is designed to cut costs and preferential treatment of specific materials or methods of construction. “That would be a huge advantage,” says Holland.

Products are still certified, just not necessarily by NZ authorities. Holland says the code would ensure shoddy materials weren’t imported – as would the introduction of risk insurance. Properties would come with 10-year workmanship guarantees, including annual inspections with guaranteed repairs.

Holland would also, capacity permitting, import skilled tradespeople and building supervisors, with the promise they would train local apprentices. “We’re currently evaluating that,” he says. “For the first time since the GFC, some cities in the US have some excess supply and pressure on labour has subsided.” The company believes the offer of helping to offset our skills shortage would give it a real advantage.

All these moves would, in theory, drive the price of entry-level homes down.

The company has been talking to Auckland Council and Housing Minister Phil Twyford about its plans.

Deputy Auckland Mayor Bill Cashmore told a summit audience yesterday the idea of intensification as-of-right within a 1.5km radius of a public transport hub was, for him, the major take-out from Holland’s talk.

“We are 35,000 units short and that number is still growing,” he said. “Maybe there should be rules 1.5km around transport hubs? At the moment it’s pretty enabled [permission-wise under the Unitary Plan] but maybe we should be a bit more brave. I would really enjoy having that conversation with the Crown. There are lots of experts like Clyde around the world who could come in and lead us in a skills up-lift.”

Cashmore told the summit we don’t want to suck up more greenfields land.

“There’s a lot of piping, roading, and public transport to do there to service a low percentage of the population.”

But Cashmore also knows that ramming through developments using legislative tools may not wash in Auckland – saying NIMBYism has been a major hurdle pushing through such intense developments. “Imagine if we tried that along Dominion Road!”

One recent example where the council has run into heavy public opposition is volcanic view shafts – “you can’t contract out of people’s rights to view shafts”, he said.

Holland knows a bit about building the right product in the right location, having pushed through the Orenco Station mixed-use development in Oregon. It’s a pedestrian-friendly, high-density community built around a railway hub. “It’s turned out fabulously,” says Holland. He’s been looking at what it would take to replicate that success here, and what the critical mass is to make it worthwhile coming. Auckland central and Queenstown fit the bill.

He says many cities in the United States have very similar situations as Auckland. “The Millennial generation doesn’t want to leave town. They don’t want to live in suburbia, they want to live in the urban environments where the employment is, where the action is, where social aspects of things are. So the demand for living units in the urban core has exploded.”

Childless and single person households are on the rise, and that leads to new housing consumers, whether it’s rental or for sale.

He says dropping the requirements for car parking spaces per unit will lead to vehicle demand dropping – in Seattle that’s happened faster than anticipated. “By changing your required parking you didn’t have to invest money that didn’t have a return. If you’re building housing around transport that’s walkable you’re going to have substantially less cars.”

Why is he turning his attention towards New Zealand, and in particular, Auckland?

“It’s beautiful, the people are great, there is rule of law. The combination of sun, the bay, the ocean ... you know, it’s just a great place.

“We’re at the place of seeing if we can get through the consenting process enough to make it worth coming. If it can be a viable business venture, we would like to come."

“At the moment the process of consenting and the cross-structure is very difficult.”

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