Luxon Q'town speech: housing crisis 'insane' as land is available
National Party leader Christopher Luxon says he will be “ruthlessly committed to building more houses” if he forms the next government.
Mr Luxon has been in town today speaking to a more than 100-strong audience at the Queenstown Events Centre – the second stop of his “Get New Zealand Back on Track” tour.
His speech notes stuck to core policy issues: fixing the economy, restoring law and order and improving health and education.
For the seemingly well-heeled, mostly older Queenstown lunchtime audience, his personalised anecdotes may not have felt familiar – immigrant dairy owners the victims of consecutive ram-raids, whose five-year-old son’s bedroom is a sleeping mat behind the shop counter; kiwifruit farmers frustrated by red tape; communities whose members are frightened by gang membership outnumbering local policing staff; the budgeting service appointment he sat in on for an Auckland family with parents working multiple jobs to stay afloat.
But on issues of housing and property development, well, that is something Queenstowners have plenty to say about.
Mr Luxon reckons there is no shortage of space in this country and it is “insane” that housing is so expensive and in short supply.
Although the official party line is not completely fleshed out yet, he has today alluded to policy announcements in this space in the coming weeks.
However, he did give up a few teasers, including around “unlocking more greenfield space”, incentivising councils to encourage development and giving them discretion to determine the right density fit for their communities, and “freeing up” resource consent processes.
“They (resource consent processes) get in the way - actually slow development a lot in this region. It’s become twice as expensive and it’s taken twice as long over the last decade to get anything consented in this country, particularly here as well.”
He sees missed opportunities for innovation to deliver more residential development efficiently and affordably too – here he has referenced smart building products as well as investment opportunities like build-to-rent projects.
“This will be the logical place that you'd actually want to do one of those investments – it would be the first place you want to do one in the country, I would have thought. So there's a real opportunity to do that.”
The rental market is approaching 40 percent of the total households in New Zealand – in Queenstown, the need for more rental properties is acute.
At the start of the month New Ground Capital co-founder and managing director Roy Thompson, who had pulled out of the remaining stages of the Toru Apartment development at Frankton, had told Crux central government has a definite role to play in smoothing the road for build to rent.
It had been his view central government uses a “very blunt tool” to stop capital coming in from overseas for such projects.
Today, Mr Luxon has committed to working on that, saying build to rent can be achieved with local investment – think about superfunds – but foreign investment as well.
“That is a product or an asset that hasn't been here. Part of that can be achieved with investments from local people, think about super funds, but also I think foreign investors as well.”
Also on the National Party’s agenda, “powering up” tourism.
“It’s a sector that's done incredibly tough, and I want them to be feel valued and supported because they generate a lot of money for New Zealand.
“This a country, at the moment, that has a big current account deficit - in fact, the biggest amongst the OECD - and that’s meaning that what we spend versus what we earn, there's a big gap there.
“We have to grow the economy. This country is declining at the moment…The economy is shrinking. We’ve had negative GDP in the last quarter.
“We've got such an economic hole that just spending, taxing, and borrowing more doesn't get it there - we have to be able to grow the actual pie of New Zealand’s economic activity and tourism, being anchored in this region, is a key way of doing it.”
It is his view in recent years New Zealand has dropped the ball in ensuring it stay attractive for wealthy upper and middle classes consumers that want to come here.
“New Zealand has dropped down their list of preferred places to visit because we've been off the radar, because we've been so internally focused the last six years, having been very isolated, very insular, very inward looking, very wet, whiny and negative, rather than out in the world hustling and actually making and building relationships.
“So there's an awful lot of work to do in terms of restoring and building those relationships back in place and also tourism to raise its profile with international visitors.”
He was asked specifically about a tourism levy, to help bolster local coffers to pay for the necessary infrastructure to support more visitors to the region.
"I want to understand that more because, as you know, we've got to build back our tourism sector first and foremost.
"I think there are other ways in which we can actually look at getting infrastructure built. We've jumped to that solution (a tourism levy) because we haven't actually talked about the other ideas that could be on the table for actually how we do it in a more systemic and a bigger, bolder way."
He has suggested better collaboration is needed between local and central government to nut out and realise longer-term infrastructure projects.
That is already happening locally – look at the redevelopment of the state highways through Frankton and the council’s Joint Housing Action plan underway, for examples – but Mr Luxon says these sorts of relationships should be more strategic and entrenched across the board.
“There is a big opportunity for the way that councils and central government work together.
“I remember when Jim Boult was mayor he did an excellent job of advocating very strongly for specific infrastructure that needed to be built in this region. But, again, you get a change of government at a local and a central level and all of a sudden those conversations go cold or they have to restart or they get reoriented. So, there's a lot of talking but there's not a lot of doing, is the reality of it.
“We are up for it, but we just have to be really clear about the mechanisms by which we do it.”
He thinks a lack of access for local councils to long-term finance is an issue that results in “bandaid solutions” as opposed to a “systematic approach”.
“We should have everything on the table with respect to how we actually fund and finance infrastructure investment in this country.”
On the topic of ditching Queenstown's airport in favour of a new international terminal elsewhere in Central Otago, Mr Luxon has changed his tune since his days at the helm of the country's airline.
"At that time, when I was at Air New Zealand...there was no doubt about it, we were maxing out capacity in this part of the world and there wasn't aggressive long-term investment coming in terms of being able to sustain continued growth in tourism."
Now, he doesn't consider himself "close enough" to comment with any authority on the subject.
"I haven't seen projected forecasts to know exactly what is or what isn't needed. So it would be inappropriate for me to comment."
When it comes to the spending priorities of the current government, Mr Luxon reckons "we've got a lot of dumb stuff going on in Wellington at the moment" - this was a crowd-pleasing topic, as were a perception of te reo Maori gone mad with the naming of government departments, which the National Party leader has promised to give English names, a health authority saturated with communications staff rather than frontline nurses, New Zealand being "world class at putting road cones out" but not delivering on roading projects, and a promise to crack down on foreign companies buying tracts of Kiwi farmland to plant trees and take carbon credits offshore.
Main image: National Party leader Christopher Luxon today in Queenstown, the second stop on his nationwide 'Get New Zealand Back on Track' tour.