Smart Growth seems to be the flavour of the month at the moment. NZ councils generally have a strategy which means Smart Growth about 1300 times in the space of 100 pages.
This leads to 5 major policy errors:
1. In the name of Smart Growth, councils charge massive levies and taxes to cover the cost of building infrastructure in the sticks. Such fees target the greedy, rich developers, as if this won't be simply passed on to house buyers.
2. In the name of Smart Growth, councils fight any major subdivision in court, to try to keep the city boundaries intact. Of course this massively distorts the property market, so you get unstable prices, and bubbles a bit like the one we are now coming out of.
3. In the name of Smart Growth, councils can't make up their mind whether roads are good or bad. Many council employees would love people to live in central apartments and walk / bus everywhere. It saves on infrastructure. Of course it saves on children also.
4. In the name of Smart Growth, councils spend a fortune on 'planning', which is defined as 'deciding' where people will live, as if a council has any idea on that. They invariably end up deciding that people can live nowhere that doesn't already have a house. See 2.
5. In the name of Smart Growth, councils try to mix affordable housing with normal housing, as if it isn't their own policies which are making housing unaffordable. It's like meddling in the market to undo the meddling you are doing in the market.
About a year ago, a woman who was apparently in charge of ChCh's growth strategy (she wishes) was in the paper saying how pleased she was that the people of ChCh had rejected urban sprawl. This was apparently in response to a survey they commissioned. You can imagine how it went: 'Do you agree that nasty evil hint hint urban sprawl is undesirable and we should aim for the pleasant perfection of urban crush... I mean compact human friendly zones instead?' No? I'm sorry, that's the wrong answer, please try again.
I am not claiming that council people are stupid. Or at least not in IQ terms. So how do they get it so wrong?
Partly, New Zealand often seems to follow along behind the rest of the work, making the mistakes other countries made, only 10 years later. Perhaps at the moment a lot of English public servants leave their jobs having failed to control everyones' life and move here to try again.
Partly we haven't had a massive planning failure yet, or the issue is still under the radar. So planners get to play in the sandpit with very little supervision. This tends to encourage the wackier elements.
Partly these people somehow escape blame for sky-high section prices, although I really don't understand how.
But also it is because the entire premise of planning is wrong. Decisions on where to live are made by individuals who weigh things up and make their decisions. They pay for their decisions and they suffer or celebrate accordingly. Council people, on the other hand, try to figure out what is going on, try to change it, but really don't care since they have no stake in it actually. Councils can get away with 'planning' which it operates at the margins, but when they really start distorting the market, the chickens come home to roost.
Councils should of course try to predict, model and understand what is going on in their areas, so better to react to the irrational, random and sometimes violently fast changes in housing demand. But when councils resort to 'planning',. they are getting above themselves, to the detriment of all.