Thursday, 14 July 2011

NOT PJ: The Labour of Subdivision

_BernardDarntonThis week Bernard Darnton looks for a new house and discovers that Christchurch is a handyman's dream.

People think I’m mad to be looking for a house in Christchurch at the moment. But the entire property market’s just been thrown up in the air - literally - and it might be possible to grab a bargain from a “motivated vendor.”

We looked at a property that may meet that criterion over the weekend. It has large rooms, plenty of outside space, and fields either side. It’s zoned “Rural 5” and the barbeque area has a serene country outlook, populated by a few happy lambs.

CaptureCloser inspection of the District Plan reveals that “Rural 5” is whimsically nicknamed “Airport Influences”. If there’s one thing I like more than serenity it’s being on the final approach for lumbering military transports returning from Antarctica.

I reckon it’s a reminder of man’s ability to build lumbering military transports that return from Antarctica.

I have nothing but gobsmacked admiration for the extraordinary, distorted-reality world-view of real estate agents. I cannot imagine matching the incredible heights of optimism they reach, where it’s always sunny and the air’s a bit thin. One place we looked at fronted onto State Highway 1. When I expressed some concern about ever being able to get in or out of the driveway, the agent told me that the good news was that the road was being widened from two lanes to four, which would make access easier because I’d have more lanes to choose from.
Apparently there has never been a better time to buy. In fact, we should buy every property we look at - right now. According to one agent, I absolutely have to buy a place in the next month because after that all the houses in the red zone are going to be demolished and the government is going to tip hundreds of millions of dollars into the property market. I’ll be competing with ten thousand other people for every sale.

Fortunately, I am also counter-assured by Christchurch’s silky-tongued mayor Bob Parker that there’s nothing to worry about because there are 20,000 sections around Christchurch ready to be built on. Well, almost 20,000. Almost ready. By “20,000” he means maybe up to 10,000. At a push. And by “almost ready” he means stuck in an endless loop of consents, notifications, objections, consultations, hearings, and reports.

Even where development is almost certain to occur there are still conditions to be met. And often those conditions are conditions the developers can’t meet because they’re waiting for - guess who - the council. The Prestons Road development can’t go ahead until a new sewer main is built - a council job. Part of Wigram Skies is waiting on the completion of the Western Interceptor (another sewer line) and the Southern Corridor (a road). These last two are at least under construction. Other developments are frozen in similar states.

Even when the critical infrastructure eventually comes into existence, the council forces developers to develop things that nobody wants. Zoning rules set a minimum density for new developments meaning that, for every 600 square metre section that somebody wants, developers also have to provide a 300 square metre section that’s much harder to sell. It’s deeply unfashionable for chickens to live too close together but allowing humans free range in the suburbs is a no-no.

The question of whether my house-buying plans are thwarted by displaced hordes from the Eastern suburbs probably comes down to two things. First: who has the slower bureaucracy? Central government, with it’s red zone payout? Or the city council, with its tortuous consents process? And second, will Roger Sutton, CEO of CERA, use his awesome powers to slash through Christchurch’s Gordian knot of red tape and open up new lands?

We know the demand is coming. Will there be any supply?

Read Bernard Darnton’s column every week here at NOT PC. Except when you can’t.


  1. A mate of mine had a place next to a cemetery and overlooking mangrove swamps - how did the agents suggest he market it? "Quiet neighbours, sea views."

  2. Fred Dagg on Real Estate...


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