Christopher Luxon urges Labour to 'come on board' with National's new housing plan

A political standoff is emerging between New Zealand's two big parties, with both refusing to budge over their approach to housing. 

Back in October 2021, National and Labour came together in a rare bipartisan deal over Medium Density Residential Standards (MDRS), with Labour ministers sharing the stage with National's-then housing spokesperson Nicola Wills and Judith Collins, who was the party leader at the time.  

The key element of MDRS would allow three homes of up to three storeys to be built on most sites without the need for resource consent.

But, at the weekend, National confirmed the party would now allow councils to be able to opt-out of the Medium Density Residential Standards (MDRS) if elected.

The Government confirmed it's written to the National Party about finding a new bipartisan approach to the housing policy. 

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins isn't ruling out alterations in order to stay on the same page as National and ensure "certainty" for developers. But he has also hit out at National for changing its position on a law Willis, its now deputy leader, was instrumental in developing. 

"If Nicola Willis can't trust Christopher Luxon to stand by commitments the National Party has made, why should any New Zealander?" Hipkins asked. 

National Party leader Luxon told AM on Wednesday it was a caucus decision to change its policy.

"We started the conversation at the end of last year about what would we do in Government on housing to build more houses for New Zealanders," Luxon told co-host Ryan Bridge. "We discussed it over the course of the last two to three months and we had a discussion with our caucus a couple of weeks back about saying this is our new policy and everybody was on board with that and it's an improvement." 

Willis played a major role in coming up with the original plan. When pressed if she had any complaints about National ditching the plan, Luxon said she "never disagreed" at any point. 

"What Nicola and her team did was a big improvement over the status quo. Nicola has been part of our conversations, she's part of our senior team and we've been all in it together," he said. 

"Nicola, in fairness, did a great thing actually proposing that medium-density bill. It was a big improvement over the status quo but this is now a big improvement over that. 

"I make no apologies, we are going to build houses."

National's new plan includes requiring councils to zone land for 30 years' worth of housing demand immediately, freeing up more productive land for housing, a new incentive fund for councils that consent more houses than their long-term average and new tools for funding infrastructure to support greenfields developments.

Luxon said there is a "failure" in housing and the root cause of the problem is we struggle to build houses.

"We live in a country the same size as Great Britain and Japan and we have often more expensive housing. It makes no sense.

"So what we've said is, 'Look, let's get to the root causes of the problem and actually do it properly. Talk to developers, talk to councils, talk to communities about what they need in order for us to do that, to build more houses.' That's what our plans deliver." 

Christopher Luxon.
Christopher Luxon. Photo credit: AM

When asked if he thought National looked messy changing its mind, Luxon disagreed.

He told AM the party is open to talking with Labour about a new deal but believes National's plan is better. 

"The proposal we signed up with the Government and the trade-offs we made to do a compromise to make that deal work was a big improvement over the status quo at that time," he said. 

"This is now a big improvement over that program and that's why I said yesterday and Nicola and myself and Chris Bishop, we're very comfortable to sit down with Megan Woods and David Parker and say, 'Look, we've got a much better plan, a more ambitious plan for New Zealand. It solves the underlying causes come on board, let's do a bipartisan deal around this one.'"

But Hipkins said National was ditching something it instigated. 

"They said that they wanted to work with us to make this change. The law change as passed by our Government was partly written by them," he said.

"So the fact that they are walking away from that, they've decided that they want to walk away from the bipartisan approach, suggests that they're more interested in the politics than they are in building new houses."

Watch the full interview with Christopher Luxon in the video above.