Election 2023: Government writes to National about finding new bipartisan approach to housing after Chris Bishop's announcement

The Government has confirmed it's written to National about finding a new bipartisan approach to housing policy after it was announced that Christopher Luxon's party was turning its back on its previous agreement.

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 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 confirmed on Sunday morning that if elected on October 14, the party would allow councils to be able to opt-out of the Medium Density Residential Standards (MDRS), which was supported by both main political parties to allow for greater housing intensification.

The MDRS was announced at a press conference in 2021 fronted by both Labour and National, with the key element being that it would allow three homes of up to three storeys to be built on most sites without the need for resource consent.

But allowing greater density has concerned some, and National has been lobbied to allow councils greater flexibility about where houses can be built.

On top of allowing councils to pull out of the MDRS, National's 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.

"New Zealand is not short of land, but restrictive planning rules and a broken funding system have driven up the price of land and housing, creating a social and economic disaster," housing spokesperson Chris Bishop said.

Hipkins later 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."

Hipkins wouldn't confirm the party would stick with the current policy when asked, only saying the Government was willing to talk to National about their concerns. 

"We've said, if they want to change it, if they have some concerns, we're happy to talk to them about it," Hipkins said.

"Ultimately, housing developers want some certainty as to the regulatory environment that they work in. One of the things that will slow down house building, that will potentially mean it takes longer to build more houses, is if there's a whole lot of uncertainty in the market as to what the regulatory environment that developers will be working in is."

Asked again if Labour would stick with the MDRS, Hipkins said: "If there are concerns, then we're happy to talk to them about it."

Housing Minister Megan Woods and Prime Minister Chris Hipkins.
Housing Minister Megan Woods and Prime Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo credit: Newshub.

He said it was the Government's position that it "would be better to have a bipartisan approach to these things" in order to ensure certainty.

Housing Minister Megan Woods confirmed she wrote to Luxon, Willis and Bishop on Saturday and "said that we were more than willing to come back to the table, to have a discussion". 

She said she told them: "We had a grown-up moment in New Zealand politics when we came to a bipartisan agreement around housing policy, that if we're going to continue to solve the housing crisis, then New Zealanders deserve that and I offered for us to meet and to see if we could further our bipartisan approach to it."

The Green Party called National's policy "confused and rushed" and argued it would worsen inequality.

"National's rushed policy is not worth the paper it is written on and would set housing development for decades," said urban development spokesperson Julie Anne Genter.

"It is simply a continuation of the exact same failed approach of the 1990s that caused the very problems we have today. National are not fit to govern."

She said it was confusing that National acknowledged in their policy the benefit of more density on rapid transit corridors as well as the need to protect farmland, but pushed greenfield development that would result in less productive farmland and housing "disconnected from community and infrastructure". 

"We have to scale up density where people already live. We also know that density needs to be done well, to ensure our homes are warm, dry, safe and climate-friendly. 

"This includes development bonuses - the ability to build higher where there's additional good stuff for residents. Housing policy also must look after renters, not be stacked in favour of landlords, as National wants to return to."

The ACT Party, which has always been opposed to the MDRS, welcomed National getting on the "right side of housing policy". 

"Everything ACT said about the Labour-National housing deal 18 months ago has come true," said housing spokesperson Brooke van Velden.

"Overruling council zoning with the three-three storey housing, or MDRS, rule was always silly. Pepper potting development won't get more homes built faster, just in different places that are harder for councils to service.

"The right answer is to leave planning to councils, incentivise them to allow development by sharing GST on construction, then streamline the many unnecessary regulatory barriers to building within areas that are already zoned for development. What National now proposes is a complicated version of this policy."