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National broom to sweep into housing


The new Government appears likely to keep real estate agent laws introduced by the previous regime but is aiming to make big changes to other property rules.

Help for people with leaking homes and streamlining building consent processes are part of National's policy and a big upgrade of the state housing stock is planned, as well as allowing state tenants to buy their houses.

Phil Heatley, National's housing spokesman who was re-elected MP for Whangarei at the weekend, said this week his party did not oppose the Real Estate Agents Act 2008 and had no plans to overturn it.

The law, opposed by the Real Estate Institute in a 300-plus page submission, was introduced to the House by former Associate Justice Minister Clayton Cosgrove and passed under urgency on September 4.

"We think it's gone through the process and National had an input into that process. It's not something that we'll be revisiting any time soon," said Heatley, referring to National having been members on the select committee.

But the Building Act and Resource Management Act would be re-examined, he said. "The RMA was designed to protect the environment but it's created a massive bureaucracy that can create costs."

Nick Smith, National's spokesman on building and construction, is responsible for this area.

National has promised to amend the Building Act to reduce costs, establish a building ombudsman to handle building consent gripes, use the building levy to update building standards and reform the licensed building practitioner regime.

The ombudsman could discount or waive consent fees if statutory timeframes are breached. National regards the new builder licensing regime - another Clayton Cosgrove law now being phased in - as excessively complicated and it wants industry organisations to develop an easier system.

National wants the Institute of Architects, Certified Builders, the Registered Master Builders Federation and Institute of Professional Engineers to develop "a simplified system which recognises existing qualifications".

Heatley said housing affordability could be improved via tax relief and "getting interest rates under control".

National's "Gateway" housing policy - free sections to first-home buyers for the first 10 years - was a crucial platform but Heatley said an inventory of Crown-owned land would also be high on the list of priorities.

Upgrading some of the state's 68,000 houses was also a big must. "We've been asked if we would increase the stock. No, we would do a significant upgrade because some of them are in dreadful disrepair. Sometimes, it's the design of the house. They're cold, damp and result in a lot of health problems," he said.

The Government would spend about $15 million annually on this upgrade.

The scale of the leaky building problem needed to be quantified and National's Smith has already promised to streamline the Weathertight Homes Resolution Service and the Weathertight Homes Tribunal.

Heatley said National had expressed concern about money flowing to consultants and lawyers instead of going into repairing leaky houses.

"We think we can streamline the process so homes get fixed quicker. We've heard how much money is going into litigation and to consultants and it's out of control. We essentially want a lot of money spent on rebuilding and improving housing, not on the bureaucracy," he said.

National's building policy:
* Reform Building Act.
* Reform Resource Management Act.
* Cut building consent delays and costs.
* Bring in new building ombudsman.
* Waive fees if consent takes too long.
* National's housing policy:
* Lower tax rates to ease buying.
* Lower interest rates.
* Free up land for building.
* Help owners of leaky houses.
* National's state housing policy:
* Upgrade state housing stock, to cost $15 million annually.
* Damp, cold houses to be fixed.
* Tenants can buy their houses.
* 'Gateway' scheme to be introduced.
* Keep income-related rents.

Real estate people like the views of the new Government but are calling for some urgent action - particularly on the economy and Resource Management Act.

Chief executive, Harcourts:

Praised the strong result, saying the lead-up to the election affected his sector because it created an air of uncertainty. He does not expect real estate agency law change.

"The new Real Estate Agents Act is now with the Justice Department. The process is well under way and there's no indication it will be reversed." He is concerned about the costs of the act but is confident the new Government will watch this closely.

Chief executive, Property Council:

Key priorities for his organisation are: Developing a plan with the new Government to provide confidence to the domestic and foreign investment community. Tax law changes are a key to this.

Changing the Building Act, the Building Code and the Resource Management Act. "This begins with moving the burden of risk and innovation from local government to the building industry and with the establishment of an environmental protection agency."

Increasing savings through revenue and tax reform to help economic development - the Superannuation Fund is inadequate as an investment tool because it represents passive investment only.

Chief executive, AMP NZ Office Trust's manager:

Welcomes John Key as Prime Minister.

"He has a more business-friendly view and a sense of urgency around the tools required to put the economy back on the rails. John has a real focus on what matters in the markets and that's stability." The listed trust and AMP Capital were keen to contribute to policy development on real estate and business issues.

Wants to reduce RMA expense and delays and wants its abuse on anti-competitive grounds stamped out. Any shrinkage in the civil service sector - ANZO's major tenants - was more likely to hit Wellington secondary-grade buildings not owned by the trust.

Chief executive of Goodman Property Trust's manager:

Wants RMA reformed in the first 100 days, citing cost problems in particular. For example, a Goodman sign outside one of their large industrial estates might cost $18,000 but $6000 of that would consist of consent fees to a territorial authority.

Wants to see new policies to encourage investment in infrastructure, particularly new roads, power generation and better broadband.

"As an owner and developer, this is what we need to be able to provide our tenants with."

Chief executive, Mike Pero Mortgages:

Worried about high section prices because that reduces housing affordability, "So by freeing up the availability of land, prices should drop, making it easier for people looking to build new homes".

Pleased about state tenants being able to buy their houses. Welcomed National's "Gateway" housing scheme offering free sections, leased from the state by first-home buyers for 10 years. After that, they can buy the land.



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