Speech to Universal Design Conference 2018

Thank you, Elise, for that lovely welcome, and I want to thank conference sponsors Lifemark and Be. Accessible and the wonderful people at the Design Office at Auckland Council. I want to start by thanking you all for the passion and commitment over a long time towards bringing real change to the way we make our homes and communities accessible.

The Prime Minister said that we are a government of change. We've been in office just over 10 months now and I think you can see that there's some change happening and a lot more coming

It's no coincidence that I hold both the portfolios of Housing and Urban Development and Transport. We recognise that where we live, how we live and how we get around are all part and parcel of how we build safe, sustainable and accessible communities.

Yesterday, my colleague spoke to you about the development of a disability strategy and the value of universal design and I want to thank a number of people who have lobbied me at Carmel's direction since I walked in the door this morning. I'll chat to her when I get back to Wellington!

I want to build on some of those ideas and talk more specifically about how we can use good design to build better and more inclusive communities. Affecting real change to the way that we shape places and nurture our communities cannot be an afterthought. It needs to start at the beginning by working together to design for change.

The challenges that we face as a city in the case of Auckland and as a country mean that too many have been left behind. We're facing a culmination of pressures, insufficient housing supply has led to housing that is unaffordable to so many New Zealanders.

Poor planning and infrastructure have caused underperformance in our urban centres and underdeveloped transport networks have fostered a heavy dependence on private motor vehicles and we know people with disabilities feel and experience these challenges more acutely.

Lack of appropriate housing and infrastructure limit our choices and where we live, work and study, which in turn further inhibits opportunities for success. That is why quality housing, transport and urban design are priorities for our government.

We cannot go on building our towns and cities as we've been doing. Advocates for people with disabilities have been saying this for years and to a large extent have been ignored. However, the consequences of poor design and lack of investment are plain to see. We know that thriving, diverse communities lead to a stronger, more productive and more prosperous country. To address these issues, we need to go back to design. We need to work together and think differently about how we approach building healthy affordable homes. Multimodal integrated transport systems and infrastructure that supports liveability and sustainability.

I want to talk about housing in particular. We believe that healthy accessible and affordable homes should not be out of reach for all New Zealanders. Our government was elected with a mandate to fix the housing crisis and alongside my colleague, the Minister for Building and Construction, we’re working together to ensure that all New Zealanders are better served by the houses we build.

We're committed to building more public housing and more affordable housing and we recognise that we need to do more to show leadership in integrating accessibility into those plans. Our flagship KiwiBuild program will deliver over the next decade 100,000 modest affordable starter homes for first-home buyers and second-chancers. Half of these here in Auckland. The program is ramping up in its early years as we establish the mechanisms for rolling out that 10-year program.

I'm particularly excited about the opportunity for master planned whole-of-community design presented through large-scale projects and I'll talk a bit more about that in a moment. Government will be working with councils and the private sector to ensure that these new large-scale housing developments can meet the needs of a diverse range of households including disabled people.

The scale and the certainty provided by our commitment to building at scale in this way also gives us an opportunity to kick-start a larger-scale transformation of the whole building system. It's about more than bricks and mortar, we want to find new and innovative ways of designing and delivering homes for New Zealanders. Homes need to be able to respond to contemporary and future needs of increasingly diverse households. The average life span of a house in New Zealand is 90 years so we're not just building houses for the here and now, we're building them for the long-term.

We have to think about the fact that our houses will continue to be there as successive generations of occupants experience life's joys and challenges. So we have to think about good design that will meet a wide variety of needs, design that will last the lifetime of the house and the people who live there. So it means thinking about accessibility right from the very start.

We need to sure that we identify any barriers that might exist and provide people with the opportunity to make choices about where they live. In the meantime, we're working on a number of practical initiatives such as identifying what a minimum accessible standard for residential housing might look like. I want us to ensure that the houses that we're building, whether through KiwiBuild or the public housing build program or houses that are built and sold on the open market but are within large-scale developments that the government is coordinating and leading alongside councils and others, that we offer an appropriate diversity of tenures, of housing types and affordability to meet the needs of all.

My aim is we will settle on a policy that will extend the principles of universal design across the country's housing stock, making the most of the opportunity provided by our build program and I invite you to work with us on that in the coming months.

I was recently pleased to appoint Dr Huhana Hickey to the board of Housing New Zealand. Housing New Zealand will play a role in the new ambitious approach to modernising our built environment. They are the country's biggest landlord, they are responsible for currently 67,000 homes across the country. They serve a very diverse group of tenants. They are present in almost every community from one end of this country to the other. They have a balance sheet of $25 billion and they're currently investing approximately $4 billion in building 6,400 additional public houses. So, Housing New Zealand has a very, very important role to play and Dr Hickey's appointment means that the lived experience of disabled people will have a clear focus and voice at the governance level of that organisation.

My commitment is to ensure the $4 billion that we're investing in new public housing and the $2 billion recycled capital fund that support the KiwiBuild program will see better choices and better outcomes for disabled people.

I have to tell you that whoever said there is no place for government intervention in the housing market was flat-out wrong. A hands-off approach to housing policy is what's got us into this mess. We need a government that has the political will to intervene in the market not only to increase the supply but to deliver the improvement and the quality and standard of housing that we want to see so much.

I know that when the Minister was with you yesterday she mentioned the New Zealand Disability Strategy and also the possibility of legislation that would enshrine in law our commitment to a charter of rights and obligations around disability access and universal design. I want you to know that I strongly support this initiative that Carmel is taking and I will be working with her to convince our colleagues in government that this should be an important priority moving forward.

I wanted to mention our plans to establish an urban development authority because I think this also provides an opportunity for us to really change the way that we build whole communities and it an important opportunity to drive forward the universal design agenda. With the Urban Development Authority, I hope to spend most of next year taking legislation through the House to establish the authority. It will be a powerful delivery organisation capable of driving real change and urban renewal. It will lead complex large-scale urban development projects to build whole neighbourhoods, whole communities, with all the things that strong communities need - access to jobs, transport connections, open spaces, shops, community centres, and education facilities.

These new developments will have a mix of public and community housing, affordable KiwiBuild homes and open market homes both for ownership and for rental. These integrated developments are essential to the building of inclusive, thriving communities and in thinking about how we design well-functioning urban communities like this, we can properly plan for communities in a way that meets the needs of a wide variety of households and people. So, universal design will have a really important role to play, not only in the design of the neighbourhoods and the spaces in between the homes, but also in the architecture of the homes that we build.

Let me turn to transport which I think is also an area where there are huge opportunities for us to advance this agenda. We need to integrate our communities so they are connected. For decades, we've operated under what I think of as a 1950s development model of 3-bedroom stand-alone homes, a low-density city connected by motorways and roads. Well, the world has changed and our country has changed and we can no longer just potter along with that mid-20th century development model. It no longer meets the needs of our society, so we need to change only the way we build our communities, but also think about the way that transport infrastructure is a powerful driver of the shape of our cities.

So we embarked on a mission now with a new transport policy that recognises that cities of any scale must have modern, efficient, rapid transport and public transport alongside the roads and motorways. This is what we've done with our transport policy, we've recast the entire transport policy based around the idea of access. The point of a transport policy is to give people access to the things they need, whether it's work, education, family, community, recreation. And so, it means that no longer will building a motorway be the default option to try to solve every transport problem, that our transport system - and we spend together the best part of $5 billion a year on transport in this country - that when we have a transport problem we'll look at the full range of solutions, whether it's rapid transit, public transport, building more urban communities, transport hubs, a big investment in walking and cycling infrastructure - we just recently announced in the next three years we're going to spend $390 million on walking and cycling infrastructure. That is the biggest investment in walking and cycling infrastructure that we've ever seen in this country and it not only makes good economic sense - walking and cycling infrastructure typically has an economic value three or four times better than your typical road project - it also makes our communities liveable and provides people in many cases with a genuine alternative to sitting in traffic or sitting on the motorway every morning and afternoon and has enormous public-health benefits as well.

We see transport planning as an important part of our approach to enabling quality Australian development and building inclusive and liveable cities. Along with Auckland Council, we have a fully funded 10-year transport plan in this, our biggest city, the first time it's ever happened, and within that plan there's a whole lot of new approaches I think are going to make a big difference. So, one really important change - and it might seem a small thing but for the first time now councils can get access to central government funding through the national transport program to invest in the construction and maintenance of footpaths.

You'll know that - and I know this from my own family experience - my mum, who's no longer alive, spent her last year getting around in a wheelchair and a mobility scooter and she lived in a rest home during that time just along the road from where my family lives.I used to go with her a lot around the local streets and I'd be walking alongside and she would be on her mobility scooter. The quality of the footpaths was appalling and I'd never noticed that before. I thought, you know, they're footpaths. But the quality was so bad that it made it risky for her getting around the neighbourhood. Councils all around the country really struggle to find the resources to properly invest in the quality of footpaths, so these changes, I think, will make a significant difference, particularly for anyone who is visually impaired or has a restricted mobility. If we can improve the quality of footpaths it will make it a lot better for people getting around communities.

Of course, there are other physical barriers such as unsafe walkways, buses that are difficult to board, but there are also barriers that are less tangible such as lack of accessibility information or attitudes towards assisting those with disabilities. Increasing people's access also involves safe walking and cycling networks as well as fast and frequent public transport. This priority is reflected in our government policy statements on land transport which really re-balances transport spending and sends a very clear signal to the transport sector and local government that this government is determined to provide greater access and more transport choices.

We're spending more than ever on public transport. We will invest around $3.9 billion in public transport over the next three years to build the capacity of the network and improve the frequency of services. In addition to increased investment to walking and cycling and public transport, we're also developing a regulatory package aimed at improving the safety and uptake of walking and cycling. We know if we want people to walk around our cities more we have to provide safer infrastructure to do that and one of the interesting areas weir starting to explore is the potential for lowering speed limits in residential communities and, again, as a local MP I'm very conscious that we have some intense traffic congestion problems in the suburbs, particularly around schools and major arterial roads, and the problems are much, much worse at the end of the school day, because of mums and dads doing the school run. If we can make our neighbourhoods and streets safer, parents will allow and encourage their kids to walk and cycle to school. If we make neighbourhoods more accessible and safer, it will have a virtuous effect overall and end up reducing congestion.

The last thing I wanted to mention on transport is that we are looking at improvements to the Super Gold Card for those over the age of 65, and in concert with our confidence and supply partners, the Greens, we are looking at a green transport card which is likely to be aimed at those on low incomes or on a benefit, another step forward toincreasing accessibility for the transport system.

Finally, you asked me to touch on accessibility and tourism which is about welcoming all travellers into our cities and around our country and the importance of investing in the right facilities and infrastructure to support that. Tourism makes a massive contribution to our country's prosperity. We aim to ensure all New Zealanders benefit from the value that tourism delivers and that tourism delivers opportunities for inclusive growth. From a transport perspective, we accept that more is needed to meet the accessibility needs of a diverse mix of travellers, whether they are older adults, families with disabled children or those who don't speak English as their first language, there is a rich diversity out there in the world of people who would love to visit our country and experience what we have to offer here, so we need to think about how we can ensure that the growth of the tourism sector provides for them.

We're focusing on establishing this country as a high-value destination that has year-round appeal to visitors from many different places. International visitor arrivals are increasing. We're projected to have more than 5 million visitors a year by 2024. That's almost 40% more than last year. So it's an area of growth, huge growth. If we don't manage and invest to meet those challenges, we're going to create big problems for ourselves but growth is also an opportunity and so it's an opportunity to do things differently and investing in infrastructure and services that will genuinely meet the needs of a very diverse tourism market is something we can do.

So, let me conclude by saying that our government wants to create world-class, successful, modern and resilient cities. It's a big challenge but it starts at home with us. All of us, regardless of our abilities, share similar aspirations of being able to live, work and play in thriving, sustainable communities. We want to improve the well-being and living standards of all New Zealanders and we want to keep building on their success.

I mentioned that we really redesigned our entire transport policy around the idea of access, that we all have access to the things that we need on a daily basis. It's fundamental to our thinking and I will be working closely with Minister Sepuloni to ensure that our work on housing, transport and urban development reflects that fundamental principle and is a strong contributor to both to the New Zealand Disability Strategy and the project to put in place legislation to enshrine these values.

I'm reminded of a constituent in the electorate I represent who came and saw me recently. She told me she has a disorder that - in quite a short period of time, has really restricted her mobility. She told me of the troubles she had had securing a private rental for her and her husband and partly because her service dog was considered a pet that would cause damage and it was a nightmare that took her such a long period of time to try and find somewhere where she could live. We still have a long way to go.

I look forward to working with you and with the wider universal design community to build a more inclusive and accessible future for our homes and our cities. Thank you.