High-density housing bill could be 'disaster like the leaky homes crisis', urban planner warns

Some urban planners are saying a new bill making it easier to build high-density homes will be a disaster.

In a rare moment of political unity, National and the Labour government joined forces on a bill they hope will see up to 100,000 new homes built over the next eight years. 

In Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Christchurch and Wellington, three-storey homes can now be built almost up to the fence line with no resource consent, meaning we could be about to get up close and personal with our neighbours.  

"There is the potential for a dramatic loss of sunlight. I'm talking about loss of sun over the entire winter period," urban planner Allison Tindale told The Project.

"The big issue also is privacy," says urban designer Graeme McIndoe.

"This will allow houses to be built very, very close, front-on to houses on the same site with, for example, a living room looking into a principal bedroom 4m away. Blinds will be drawn, [they'll be] miserable places to live.

"There's a risk that it is a disaster on the scale of the leaky homes crisis, because if we get poorly designed houses that are bad to live in... that's not going to work very well for people."

Renters too could be in for a shock. 

"If you're a renter in a property with no sun, you could find your accommodation costs increase because you could be paying for more power, or else wear more jumpers to keep you warm," Tindale said.

But others argue that even a flawed plan is better than nothing.

"A lot of the design issues can be addressed through select committees," said Shane Henderson, Waitākere Ward councillor.

"We've got people living in cars and garages in this city, and that's not the city we should be living in and we need to provide homes for people - that's our number one priority."

Regardless of where people sit on the issue, it's clear more housing is desperately needed - so are we just being a big bunch of NIMBYs? 

"I feel the label of NIMBYism is used to shut people up unfairly," said Tindale. "If you're scared of having no sunlight, that's a legitimate concern."

"I’m totally confident it can be done right, but not with the standards in the bill as they currently are. I think it needs to be modified," says McIndoe.

Currently, district plans typically only allow for one home of up to two storeys with no consent.

The Resource Management (Enabling Housing Supply and Other Matters) Amendment Bill will also open up development land in city fringe suburbs where it's currently outlawed on 'character' grounds.

But overall the Government report concludes the benefits of the bill strongly outweigh the costs by two and half to one.