By Praveen Menon
WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand's ruling Labour Party promised to deliver more homes and replace a 30-year-old law blamed for high housing costs and impeding urban development, as it looked to tackle a hot election issue ahead of early voting starting on Saturday.
Labour would replace the Resource Management Act (RMA), and continue its plan to deliver more than 18,000 public houses by 2024, party leader and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a policy announcement on Friday.
“Overly restrictive planning rules are one of the causes of high house prices," Ardern said, adding she was determined to remove unnecessary barriers to the supply of land and infrastructure for housing.
New Zealand's house prices have soared nearly 90% over the past decade, analysts have said, due to an acute housing shortage of over a 100,000 homes.
Successive governments have failed to ease the red tape around land approval, making land artificially scarce. For private developers the costs and consent process are significant hurdles, making properties unaffordable.
Ardern's flagship affordable housing project KiwiBuild also faltered and to date has just built about 600 homes, with nearly 1,000 under construction.
The housing crisis is creating a policy headache for Ardern as she seeks a second three-year term in the Oct. 17 polls.
Opinion polls suggest she is on track for a comfortable win, although the opposition National Party has been clawing back support.
Early voting for the election starts on Saturday.
Ardern also said the party would support first home buyers with loans and introduce regulations for property management services.
The party said it would bring up its core recommendations in the next parliamentary term if elected.
The opposition National Party has said the state housing waiting list has risen under Ardern, and claims it has a plan to deliver cheap homes faster.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Tom Hogue and Stephen Coates)