When Hooton’s away, a Crampton will play

By Eric Crampton 27/08/2014


I filled in for Matthew Hooton in the NBR’s Opening Salvo this week. It’s only in the print edition; here’s a taste. [Update: here for subscribers]

We can count the costs of apartment stories left unbuilt. In a well-functioning market, developers will build upwards until the cost of an additional storey roughly equals the extra revenue the developer gets from selling the extra floor space, unless we think that property developers do not really like money all that much. We have pretty good data on what it costs to build a five-storey apartment building as compared to a four-storey one. If a fifth storey left unbuilt because of height limits, whether due to viewshed protection or for other regulation, could have sold for two to three times its construction cost, as the presented study found, the effective regulatory tax imposed by height limits is pretty high. If you add up the value of all the missing apartments, the total figure is going to be massive.

While urban planners often take a lot of stick for wishing to force people into compact city forms, and sometimes rightly so, urban height limits that artificially preventdensity impose a regulatory tax that either pushes prices up or pushes cities out. Auckland’s metropolitan urban limit has been pretty binding and artificially restricts building out; regulations barring development upwards need at least as much attention.

The economists at these sessions used similar method to estimate the regulatory tax implicit in zoning regulations in places like Epsom, Remuera, Point Chevalier and Grey Lynn. Add up the construction costs of a new house and the per-square-metre land cost. According to the study presented, which remains in the final polishing stages, mean house prices exceed those real costs by at least twelve percent in places like Epsom: it’s a regulatory zoning tax. The Greens’ Julie-Anne Genter was exactly on point when she excoriated ACT’s David Seymour in the Epsom candidates’ debate for opposing denisification. What kind of free-marketer thinks it right and proper to give neighbours several houses over a veto right over what I might wish to do with my house? One that needs to win votes in Epsom.

Do get a copy that you might read the whole thing. For the Genter-Seymour debate in question, hit the 8:50 – 9:16 mark here.