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Housing Reforms Will Deliver 'Extremely Ugly Buildings': Developer

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There's no chance Kiwis will soon be offered the lovely tiny apartments seen in the likes of Paris and Rome, a developer says.

Housing Minister Chris Bishop said on Thursday the government's plans to make it easier to build in urban areas and city fringes will flood the country with new homes.

He has announced six changes, including improving intensification, scrapping minimum floor areas for apartments, requiring cities to allow expansion at the urban fringe, and establishing housing growth targets.

Christchuch property developer Vincent Holloway, who is the managing director of Brooksfield, said the move to scrap size rules for apartments would run the risk of unbearably small houses becoming the new affordable.

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He told Morning Report the government's changes were turning the situation into more of a free market for developers.

It meant developers could "build anything and let the market decide what it wants" which in some respects was positive.

"Unfortunately in New Zealand ... it is going to result in some extremely ugly buildings."

There would be a market for small apartments, however, it was unlikely they would imitate the stylish apartment blocks that can be seen in the likes of Paris or Rome.

"They're super-lovely, they've got huge windows, balconies that open up down onto the street and you get a lovely living situation."

He predicted developers would build apartments as small as possible, so-called shoebox apartments, which would become the new affordable housing.

They would have tiny awning windows in apartment blocks stuck in the shade.

"When there's a housing shortage and people have to take what's available then definitely it will go that way."

At present developers usually stuck to a minimum of 50 square metres, in part because of banks' regulations.

"That will definitely have to change because when you're looking at these small apartments it is first home buyers and people looking for a more affordable home."

Holloway said he was anti-sprawl, however, the push to get councils to loosen up urban / rural boundaries would eventually open up more opportunity and would help move the country out of a housing crisis and give people more choice.

Developments at present could take years to happen and added costs which were ultimately handed onto the purchasers.

"By opening it up and making it more relaxed should make it faster to build houses and it should make them cheaper eventually because of that speed.

"But also you also run the risk of getting incredibly ugly places, so there's two sides to the coin."

Auckland University of Technology construction professor John Tookey said he did not want to see families living in super-micro apartments that created "tiny ghettoes" which did not provide good living experiences.

Bill McKay, who is a senior lecturer in the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of Auckland, said he had seen a lot of bad examples. As he looked along Hobson Street and Nelson Street in Auckland, they were lined with blocks of shoebox apartments.

"There's nothing happening on the ground floor, they're very bleak."

Prof Tookey said unfettered inner-city development was not the smartest way to go because the mundane matters of sewerage, stormwater runoff and water supply were central.

"Cramming more and more people into cities is not necessarily a good outcome when ultimately we're starved of the infrastructural investment over many decades."

Critical need for infrastructure

Whangārei mayor Vince Cocurullo whose council is a member of Local Government New Zealand said urban areas could only have intensification if they had infrastructure in place.

While some councils like his own had the planning and infrastructure for future development in place he acknowledged there were others that didn't.

Whangārei District Mayor Vince Cocurullo

Vince Cocurullo Photo: RNZ / Peter de Graaf

He pointed out the risks of building so-called ghettoes and the experience of Auckland where multi-storey apartments had contributed to storm damage in flood zones.

"So it's about putting development in and putting the infrastructure in the ground to deal with the development.

"There's no point in turning round and putting a whole lot of concrete all over the place and not having the stormwater capacity to actually deal with it."

The coalition had signalled it would give councils a 50 percent share of the GST revenue on new builds but that was not part of Thursday's announcement.

"That's what LGNZ has been highly promoting all the way through."

While Bishop seemed to be suggesting councils were partly to blame for the housing crisis, Cocurullo said they always had to following government policy whether it was on the now defunct Three Waters or changes to the Building Code.

For apartment blocks beside transport hubs, councils would need to ensure they had the capacity to put that in.

It was "probably impractical" to build multi-storey apartment blocks in areas where there were mainly single-storey homes, he said.

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