On why New Zealand is looking good and green

UPDATED: Hello New Zealand! Or Kia Ora.

After several years of lingering looks across the Tasman The Fifth Estate will be boosting coverage of our market cousins.

In reality the number of stories we do will be modest to start with, but hopefully this will grow. You will be able to find them under the New Zealand tag under Your Region in the menu bar.

(Auckland based stringers please apply here: info@thefifthestate.com.au).

Now what do we know about New Zealand? First that it contributes our fourth biggest readership block. It runs:

  1. Australia
  2. United States
  3. United Kingdom
  4. New Zealand
  5. India
  6. Canada
  7. Singapore
  8. Germany
  9. Malaysia
  10. France

Chief executive of the NZ Green Building Council Alex Cutler has to be the first port of call.

When we last saw Cutler it was at a Green Cities event in Sydney a few years ago and she impressed with her forthright comments about the GFC influenced downturn in green sentiment in her patch and the poor state of the housing market in New Zealand generally.

What a difference a few years has made.

Alex Cutler

The New Zealand economy is booming, there’s huge net immigration and the housing market is on fire, making even Sydney’s market look like a leisurely stroll. According to reports in the Auckland Herald one and two bedroom houses in Auckland rocketed up by 26.5 per cent in the 12 months to early in 2015 and the overall market was up 48 per cent above its pre-financial crisis peak, according to CoreLogic figures.

Cutler and others say there’s a flurry of retrofitting work especially to houses suffering from a “leaky houses” syndrome because of poor waterproofing practices rife a decade or so ago.

Cutler says that despite the downturn during the GFC there is considerable strength in the green property industry right now and it’s moving in a positive direction.

“If you look during the GFC it was a very different market to Australia,” Cutler said on Thursday afternoon during a briefing phone call.

“The market was depressed and people were not building. That’s changed.” With Green Star, she says, the evidence is still anecdotal but registrations remained steady.

“Maybe there’s been a dip in how long they took to go through the process but the numbers haven’t dipped.”

In the first six months this year, in fact, number of registrations outperformed expectations.

“The mood is looking far more positive,” she says.

Among the movement is Green Star V3 to be launched in July and the potential for innovation credits to be included, after a recent briefing visit from Jorge Chapa, who manages the process in Australia).

“There’s excitement and appetite for that,” Cutler says.

On NABERS, which was licensed to the New Zealand government in 2013 and is managed by NZGBC, it’s still early days but again there are indications of serious interest bubbling away beneath the surface. While there are only a few official registrations so far – no more than 25 or so – Cutler says these are numbers “that don’t speak the right words because the reality is that there are loads of people doing self assessments in the background. Hundreds.”

That tells Cutler that the big companies are doing upgrades to their buildings but holding out on doing their certifications. For now, hopefully.

NZ government launches call for partnerships with private developers

There’s good news on the residential front too. And no more so than evidenced by the invitation that dropped into Cutler’s inbox not long ago. It’s from the NZ government about to announce a call to collaborate for the private sector to collaborate to develop major master planned urban regeneration. This will be a first on both levels.

The program is for the development of housing on 430 hectares of crown land in Auckland to be managed by the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment.

Here’s the drill:

“MBIE intends, through an open contestable process, to identify a shortlist of suitably qualified parties or consortia with the capability and capacity to deliver housing developments at pace in Auckland.

“The procurement process will be similar to that adopted by MBIE in Christchurch but we would welcome input from the development industry to shape the process. We are therefore inviting all potential development partners to attend a launch of the program followed by a free and frank discussion to help shape the process

Cutler says it’s great news.

“I’m delighted that the government is moving to this type of partnership with the private sector and is interested in master planning and quality urban outcomes,” she says.

“I know it’s too early to know what this will be like but we’re looking forward to influencing a better and more sustainable urban environment in Auckland.”

It’s an area of expertise in which Australian developers are well versed, Cutler mentions.

This, in case you missed it, is the cue that Aussies can jump in too. There’s still time to register to attend the launch on 29 May. Contact Contact Kris.Galloway@mbie.govt.nz before 4pm, Wednesday 27 May.

In the more regular residential market the NZGBC’s Home Star tool is mandated to a minimum six star standard in Auckland’s “unitary plan” residential planning code, which applies to certain areas. The interesting thing there is that in the past four months registrations have “gone off the scale”, Cutler says.

The politics

The more positive sentiment to sustainability has stretched to government circles with a certain “softening” in attitude, she says.

“There’s a recognition that sustainability, when you break it down to its component parts it’s common sense.

“So when you put it down to that language and talk about whole-of-life costing and when you talk about housing affordability in term of being able to live in a home, the message is starting to get through.”


Another view from across the Tasman is from David Craven who’s recently returned from an 18 month stint with the NZGBC in a similar role to Chapa’s and is now in Melbourne as the City’s advisor at the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group.

Craven spent quite a bit of time in Christchurch, which is a big continuing story, after the devastating earthquake in September 2010.

For now, he says, the big focus is not so much on green buildings but on creating high seismic resilience, which is understandable, course. And when you see the kind of work required to internal structures of re-builds now underway, he says, you can see the cost will be significantly greater than regular construction.

What’s challenging is who is going to pay the higher rents to make new office buildings viable? Previous CBD rents hovered around $250 a square metre but to warrant a new build landlords have to find someone willing to pay $400 a sq m.

Craven says that during the past few years since the quake many businesses moved out to the suburbs where they’re enjoying lower cost rents and to cap it off, landlord have managed to lock in many long term deals to kep their new found tenants in place.

Two corporates who have decided to go 5 Star Green Star in their rebuilds in the CBD Kathmandu and Vodafone and they need to be congratulated for their leadership, Craven says.

Renewable energy? Partly

On a more national level another issue that is emerging in New Zealand is energy. The majority of energy is renewable, mainly from hydro, but the smart thinking is it’s time to change the thinking, Craven says.

“It’s a furphy that all electricity generated is renewable Yes, it’s about 80 per cent renewable but the rest is gas.

“To some degree there is a bit of complacency – why do we need to worry so much about energy efficiency because this is powered by hydro?”

What can change that scenario are two things, he says. One is big net immigration that NZ has experienced and the other is climate change with drought already starting to impact some parts of a country.

Public transport

Transport is another problem area with growing calls for better public transport,.

Craven says that Auckland, with a city of 1.5 million people, suffers dreadful congestion and access is a serious issue for many people. Its steep volcanic hills make cycling harder than in other places.

More to come

These issues and and more will be just some of the stories we will explore in the weeks and months to come, as we get to deepen and broaden our acquaintance of our close neighbours.

About Us

And for New Zealanders who don’t know us yet The Fifth Estate was launched in April 2009. Our ambition then and now is to provide a place where the passionate people we could see working hard to transform our built environment, our economy and society could exchange news and information. We’re there to “help fast track the sustainability revolution”. As UN climate boss Christiana Figueras said during a recent visit to Oz, this is the third big revolution for humanity (after the industrial and technological revolutions) and it’s coming fast.

Our publication was inspired by Australia’s arid, but far from barren centre. That’s a far cry from leafy green NZ, we know, but in the end the lessons, we think, are the same – they’re about resilience and how to survive the massive climate challenges that confront us all.

The more we speak to each other and learn, collaborate and cross pollinate, the better chance we have to limit global warming.

Your say

Our OpEd section is called Spinifex, after the spiky grass that tumbles across the Australian outback looking harmless enough but in fact holding the precious topsoil together. It’s named for our readers and contributors who are doing all the precious work – they’re the ones at the pointy end of sustainability, we reckon.

So send us your stories, your ideas, your provocations and we’ll share and collaborate.


 Kia ora New Zealand

This article was updated on 22 May 2015

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