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Rocky road ahead for housing, water

Opinion Piece

It has been a big week for the Government, with the relaunch of its disastrous KiwiBuild scheme and the announcement of its plan to restore the country’s rivers, lakes and wetlands. Both projects, however, face challenges and controversy.

Unsurprisingly, the Government has dropped its target to construct 100,000 homes and instead says it will build as many as it can, as fast as it can, measuring its success on a housing dashboard.

It also launched a progressive home-ownership initiative through which $400 million of KiwiBuild funding will be reallocated to support up to 4000 households into home ownership through a rent-to-buy or shared-equity scheme.

Newly minted Housing Minister Megan Woods admitted the 100,000 target was overly ambitious and led to contracts being signed in places where there was little first-home buyer demand.

Woods got a career-defining challenge with her appointment to this portfolio. The verdict on the readjusted scheme is still out, and National’s Judith Collins is poised to attack again wherever possible.

Meanwhile, proposed standards to protect waterways, announced by the Government on Thursday, put pressure on farmers and local bodies. The Government wants to cut fertiliser use and pollution going into waterways, protect urban streams, and improve protection for wetlands on public and private land. Draining of wetlands will be tightly restricted and use of fertiliser will be reduced. Councils must complete a freshwater plan by 2025. Remaining streams in urban areas will not be piped or filled in unless there is no other option, for example, to provide a crossing.

Gisborne District Council has made good progress with its freshwater plan. After two rounds of mediation, the Environment Court has issued five consent orders.

Farmers are objecting to the standards, saying the good work they have been doing has been ignored and they have been thrown under a tractor. There is also opposition from Maori, who say cultural issues were ignored.

A rocky road lies ahead for both of these government initiatives.