Is the Housing Project Office a new blueprint for Councils?

Is the Housing Project Office a new blueprint for Councils?

With National winning the general election, we can  expect much of the same for the next three
years.

Resource Management Act changes

This will no doubt include further reforms to the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA), largely tipped to include a strengthening of economic development policy as well as potential changes following the recent King Salmon decision in the Supreme Court.  However, legislation reforms is only one part of the puzzle and while such reforms are likely to have an effect on large nation building projects and housing supply, it only has a limited effect on the smaller scale projects that people so often complain about being delayed by the RMA.  These are more likely to be affected by how the RMA is implemented by Councils across New Zealand.

Central Government has been aware of this for some time, having introduced new polices and performance monitoring for local authorities that placed greater expectations and scrutiny on how Councils were implementing the RMA through processing resource consents and private plan changes.  But improved numbers and KPIs only tell half the story and don’t drive a behavioural change that still needs to occur in some Councils where the siege mentality that many of their staff developed during the mid-2000s has been retained.  Rightly or wrongly this mentality was a way of managing extremely high workloads, staff shortages and preventing dodgy developments.  But this has proved to be a difficult mentality to shake in an environment of relative low activity, and where Central Government is striving to jump start the economy outside of Auckland and Christchurch into sustainable growth again.

Housing Project Office

It’s in this context where  the recently created Housing Project Office (HPO) could prove to be a shining light, and which could be viewed by Central Government as being the new modus operandi for Councils across the country.

The HPO was established by Auckland Council in 2013 as a response to Auckland’s housing crisis and operates under the Auckland Housing Accord.  It seems to have  a clear directive to be solutions focused, make robust decisions and requires high quality urban environments but all the while with a focus on  results  rather than  sticklers on process and  ticking boxes.  The HPO is a breath of fresh air and  already there are  impressive results. It wouldn’t be a surprise if they are seen by Central Government as a perfect guinea pig to test whether this change in focus and behaviour leads to improved housing supply.  In the regions they could be seen as one way of removing the barriers to economic activity and sustainable growth.

But for now we will have to wait to see what the returning government has in store for the RMA, and whether reforms also stretch to applying the HPO blueprint so that it becomes the standard way that all Councils operate.

Nick Grala,

Senior Planner / Senior Associate

25 September 2014

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