Archive | Legislation

Bill opponents talk “shambles”, not ideology

Opposition to the latest Resource Management Act reforms is less about ideology, more about competence, practicality & effects on process.

The Resource Legislation Amendment Bill scraped through its second reading in Parliament yesterday by a 2-vote majority, 61-59, courtesy of Maori Party support.

Building, Construction & Environment Minister Nick Smith has promoted the bill’s value, particularly in addressing Auckland’s housing shortage.

The rest of Parliament’s parties, however, reject that basis for the bill and criticise the bill’s structure.

Act MP David Seymour commented: “And you thought RMA reform couldn’t get any worse. The latest Resource Management Act reform won’t be any more effective than the previous 18 reforms to the act.

“Nick Smith is dreaming if he thinks the worst of RMA negotiations are behind him. The consensus from across the political spectrum and from submitters is that the proposed reform is a shambles, adding complexity instead of cutting bureaucracy.

“Our housing shortage is bad enough as it is. Adding more iwi consultation, cost & complexity to the development process would be disastrous for prospective homeowners. Therefore Act cannot support this bill.”

Mr Seymour said that, post-election, “a stronger Act Party will make National commit to fundamental RMA reform that simplifies processes, values property rights and gets houses built.”

Labour says housing crisis assertion wrong

The Labour Party said, in its select committee minority view: “The assertion that the bill is needed because the RMA is the cause of the Auckland housing crisis is wrong, and is no justification for this flawed bill. The following table shows that more new houses were consented in Auckland & New Zealand in 2004 than in 2016. The RMA was in force throughout.”

Labour continued: “The very broad range of submitters opposed to the bill included Local Government NZ and a great many regional & district councils, major land developers including Fulton Hogan, major corporates including Fonterra, infrastructure owners including airport & quarry owners, all environmental non-governmental organisations, the NZ Law Society and numerous others.

“Even amongst the minority of submitters who supported parts of the bill, many used guarded words like ‘we support the intent of the bill’ before criticising much of its detail.

“The bill, if passed, would add complexity to the Resource Management Act 1991 and make it less effective and more expensive to use, rather than better. Legitimate complaints by submitters include:

  • The draconian ministerial regulatory powers to override plans and control consents, and to limit rights of participation. These are tantamount to a return to the National Development Act 1979, and are on the spectrum of the patently excessive regulation-making powers abused under the former Economic Stabilisation Act 1987
  • The power to standardise plan formats & definitions inappropriately extends to the content & substantive provisions of plans
  • The rule-making powers of the minister are also far too broad
  • These 3 forms of ministerial powers are so poorly constrained and patently excessive as to be constitutionally outrageous
  • The bill also overrides – and allows the minister to further override – local & district council functions in such a broad & fundamental way that it overturns the traditional division of power & roles between central & local government
  • The limits to public notification & participation, including on the subdivision of land, are wrong. Those concerned include land developers, and the owners of existing infrastructure concerned about reverse sensitivity effects on their operations. Many submitters said that earlier changes to notification have worked in recent years, and that further change is unnecessary
  • The department said the regulatory powers that can limit rights of participation are intended to apply in urban areas, but the sections as drafted also apply to regional councils and could be used to stop people advocating against pollution of rivers
  • Water conservation orders are undermined
  • New provisions introducing unreasonably short time limits for some council processes will have the unintended consequence of councils making more activities discretionary rather than controlled. Overall this will complicate & delay consent applications rather than speed them up
  • The codification of collaborative processes is unnecessary, wrong in its detail and adds further complexity to the RMA
  • Plan-making processes are curtailed, with insufficient safeguards to ensure that single-step processes are fair & robust when appeal rights are abrogated
  • Appeal rights are curtailed, to the detriment of adversely affected private parties, councils, communities & the environment
  • The important experience & wisdom of the Environment Court is lost from many decisions
  • Many changes introduce more complexity to the RMA, through convoluted decision-making criteria & extra process alternatives. The multiple flow diagrams helpfully produced by the department to assist us illustrated how this bill makes the RMA processes more complex
  • There are a myriad other changes to the RMA & other acts being amended by the bill, many of which are wrong.

The Labour Party concluded: “Some of the changes proposed to national guidance through policy statements & environment standards are appropriate, but others are unnecessarily complex and will give rise to less consistency, not more.”

Greens’ analysis an indictment of ministerial & National performance

The Green Party – regarded by many in mainstream business as a fringe outfit to be disparaged – presented an analysis in its minority view which was an indictment of ministerial & National Party performance.

The Greens said: “The Resource Management Act is a crucial foundation of New Zealand’s environmental law & planning system. Changes to it should be based on sound analysis & evidence and have broad cross-party support so they are enduring. The bill has neither. Many of the changes appear driven by ideology & anecdote, rather than robust analysis & evidence.

“The bill attracted 647 unique submissions & 94 form-style submissions, many of them critical of its fundamental aspects. Many included detailed technical analysis of the bill’s clauses & their implications, and represented a significant investment of time & expertise by submitters.

“Resource users such as Fonterra, quarry operators, and infrastructure operators such as airports made similar points in opposition as environmental interests such as Fish & Game NZ, the Environmental Defence Society, and Forest & Bird.

“Federated Farmers, for example, described the proposed ministerial regulation-making powers as ‘excessive’ and the provisions which allow central government to intervene directly in local council plans as ‘heavy-handed’.

“Sir Geoffrey Palmer, presenting evidence for Fish & Game, described the regulation-making powers which would override the provisions of regional & district plans as a ‘constitutional outrage’. ‘Due process is replaced by executive fiat.’”

The Green Party said the bill’s changes put executive power & individual property rights ahead of community & environmental wellbeing: “They insert new processes for national direction, plan-making, consideration of land-use & other activities and public notification ,while previous changes in 2013 are still bedding in. The changes emphasise fast decision-making ahead of good outcomes. “The bill is likely to make the RMA & its implementation more complex & litigious, and increase costs for councils & users of the act.

“Limits on rights to appeal council decisions to the Environment Court restrict access to justice and the court’s ability to be a guardian of the RMA’s purpose of sustainable management and a check on poor decision-making.”

The Greens’ submission continued with extensive detail on the committee process, ministerial powers, national direction & plan-making before traversing more ideological issues such as public participation, the permissive approach to subdivision & residential activities, fast-track consenting, and the other acts of Parliament affected by the proposed amendment.

The party’s minority view concluded: “The bill is not fit for purpose. It significantly increases ministerial powers while removing or restricting basic rights of public participation. It will expedite development activities with few environmental safeguards and scant consideration of sustainable management. The bill puts private rights & development ahead of the public interest and environmental & community wellbeing. It should not proceed.”

Links:
Select committee’s commentary and the revised bill
Nick Smith booklet, 26 November 2015: The second phase of Resource Management Act reform

Related story today:
RMA reform bill scrapes through second reading

Earlier stories:
6 March 2017: RMA amendment back for second reading
10 November 2016: National gets Maori agreement to advance RMA reforms
14 March 2016: Council says Government approach wrong on resource management reform
27 November 2015: RMA reform introduced

Attribution: Ministerial & opposition releases, select committee report.

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RMA reform bill scrapes through second reading

The latest Resource Management Act reform bill – title, the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill – scraped through its second reading in Parliament yesterday by a 2-vote majority, 61-59.

Labour, the Greens, NZ First, David Seymour (Act) & Peter Dunne (United Future) all opposed it this time. At the first reading, Labour supported the bill’s introduction and NZ First abstained.

Building, Construction & Environment Minister Nick Smith introduced the reform to Parliament on 26 November 2015 and it had its first reading 7 days later. The local government & environment select committee reported it back to Parliament on 6 March.

Dr Smith said the intent was “to improve environmental management, help increase housing supply & affordability and support jobs & growth”.

He told Parliament: “The Resource Legislation Amendment Bill is the largest package of reforms to the Resource Management Act since it was first passed 25 years ago. It contains 40 proposals that make significant changes to 5 different acts.

“This reform is critical to addressing housing supply & affordability by making it easier, faster & less costly to create new sections. Section prices in Auckland have gone from $100,000 in 1990 to $530,000 today and are the core reason housing has become excessively expensive.

“It addresses this core issue by opening up land supply, reducing the time taken to get consents, reducing the cost of land subdivision and enabling the construction of infrastructure. Parties that are opposing this bill are blocking the very changes that will make housing more affordable.”

On the Maori Party’s agreement to support the bill, Dr Smith said: “The Maori Party has supported the bill to this stage, and we are continuing to work with them to ensure detailed changes as a result of the select committee process are consistent with their agreement with the Government. I will be meeting with the Maori Party co-leaders on ensuring we have got the detail right.”

“This second phase of the Government’s RMA reforms builds on the first, and will support the additional jobs, infrastructure & housing needed for a strongly growing & successful economy.”

Links:
Select committee’s commentary and the revised bill
Nick Smith booklet, 26 November 2015: The second phase of Resource Management Act reform

Related story today:
Bill opponents talk “shambles”, not ideology

Earlier stories:
6 March 2017: RMA amendment back for second reading
10 November 2016: National gets Maori agreement to advance RMA reforms
14 March 2016: Council says Government approach wrong on resource management reform
27 November 2015: RMA reform introduced

Attribution: Ministerial & opposition releases, select committee report.

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RMA amendment back for second reading

Parliament’s local government & environment committee reported back on the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill today, and Environment Minister Nick Smith said it would go to a second reading this week.

Green Party environment spokesperson Eugenie Sage described the bill as “a charter for property developers with its permissive approach to subdivision. It encourages urban sprawl, ad hoc subdivision & development with little consideration of the impacts on neighbours, streams, beaches, transport & infrastructure provision.”

But Dr Smith said the amendment would “improve New Zealand’s environmental management, helps increase the supply & affordability of housing and supports jobs & growth. It contains 40 proposals that make significant changes to 5 different acts and is the most comprehensive package of reform to the Resource Management Act since its inception 25 years ago.”

It’s in the second phase of the Government’s resource management reforms, and has 12 significant provisions:

  • National planning standards to reduce complexity & cost
  • Streamlined planning process to improve responsiveness
  • Discretion for councils to exempt an activity from consents
  • Strengthening of requirements to manage natural hazard risks
  • New 10-day consent category for minor activities
  • New requirements for councils to free up land for housing
  • New provisions to enable stock exclusion from waterways
  • New provisions requiring decommissioning plans for offshore platforms
  • More generous compensation for land required for public works
  • Better alignment with other acts like Reserves, Conservation & the exclusive economic zone beyond New Zealand’s shores
  • Collaborative planning process to encourage community-led solutions, and
  • Improved Maori participation arrangements.

Dr Smith said the Maori Party had reached agreement with the Government to support the bill through all remaining stages in Parliament following detailed consideration of the initial policy and the inclusion of proposed changes to strengthen the original iwi participation agreement.

”The mana whakahono a rohe/iwi participation agreement provides a better framework for councils to meet their existing obligations to consult with local iwi. Many councils already have these agreements through Treaty settlements or good practice. The Government supports these provisions because we want iwi involved in how natural resources are managed and because formalising the process will help achieve better outcomes with less delays & costs.

“This is a huge bill and the Maori Party was not a member of the select committee. They need time to digest all of the select committee’s detailed changes to ensure they are consistent with their agreement with the Government. I will be meeting with the Maori Party co-leaders on ensuring we have got the detail right.”

Links:
Report on the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill (101-2) [PDF 1469k]
Resource Legislation Amendment Bill

Attribution: Ministerial & Green releases.

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National gets Maori agreement to advance RMA reforms

The National majority in the Government and its Maori Party partners have reached agreement on policy issues in the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill. Environment Minister Nick Smith said yesterday this would enable the bill to pass its second & third readings.

Dr Smith said: “This legislation is critical to the Government’s programme of improving New Zealand’s environmental management, increasing the supply & affordability of housing and supporting economic growth. This is the most comprehensive package of reform to the Resource Management Act since its inception 25 years ago, and it is welcome news that we have the parliamentary support to put these 40 changes into law.”

He listed the 12 major provisions in the bill, which is part of the second phase of the Government’s resource management reforms:

  • National planning standards to reduce complexity & cost
  • Streamlined planning process to improve responsiveness
  • Discretion for councils to exempt an activity from consents
  • Strengthening of requirements to manage natural hazard risks
  • New 10-day consent category for minor activities
  • New requirements for council to free up land for housing
  • New provisions to enable stock exclusion from waterways
  • New provisions requiring decommissioning plans for offshore platforms
  • More generous compensation for land required for public works
  • Better alignment with other acts like Reserves, Conservation & Exclusive Economic Zone
  • Collaborative planning process to encourage community-led solutions, and
  • Improved Maori participation arrangements.

“The Maori Party has strongly advocated for improved iwi participation. This has been achieved through including the mana whakahono a rohe/iwi participation arrangement in the bill. This enables iwi & councils to enter into agreements on how iwi can be involved in resource management processes, so as to ensure their perspective is heard & understood. Many councils already have these agreements through Treaty settlements or good practice. The Government supports these provisions because we want iwi involved in how natural resources are managed and because formalising the process will help achieve better outcomes with less delays & costs.”

The Government first proposed the reforms in the bill in 2013, but couldn’t advance them when it couldn’t secure enough parliamentary support. National introduced a revised bill without the controversial changes to the purpose of the act last December, with the support of the Maori Party for the first reading but subject to further discussion on significant issues such as the iwi participation arrangements.

Submissions were heard on the bill from April to June, and the select committee received 2 departmental reports – one in August and the latest last week. Opposition parties refused an extension last week of the select committee report-back date beyond 7 November, so it was reported pro forma. The Government will refer the bill back to the select committee again today.

Dr Smith said: “The select committee has a major task ahead to work through the 500-page departmental report and refine the drafting of the bill. The Government wants to advance the legislation as quickly as possible, but this is an area of law where getting the detail right is particularly important. It may be completed this year, but may flow into early next year. We will also need to consult with the Maori Party on the detailed drafting when the bill is reported back to Parliament to ensure it is consistent with the agreed policy.”

Link:
Resource Legislation Amendment Bill Q&As.pdf (pdf 298.25 KB)

Attribution: Ministerial release.

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Council says Government approach wrong on resource management reform

Auckland Council has told the Government it’s taking the wrong approach to improving resource management law by extending central government decision-making into local processes.

The council submission, endorsed by its Auckland development committee on Thursday, opposes numerous points where the Government is proposing not just to have an overview but to have a say in decisions, right down to zoning.

The Resource Legislation Amendment Bill passed its first reading in Parliament in December and submissions on it close today. Most of the amendment proposed in the bill would be to the Resource Management Act, and that’s what the council submission has focused on. Other affected laws are the Reserves Act, Public Works Act, Conservation Act and Exclusive Economic Zone & Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act.

Key points the Auckland Council submission makes:

  • The Government has a number of related initiatives underway; this one should be deferred pending a full review of the planning system, starting after work on the wider reform programme has been completed, so end of 2017-beginning of 2018
  • The council would support a wider review of the planning system that looks at how best to achieve integrated outcomes – including funding – as opposed to ongoing ad
  • hoc amendments
  • Many proposed amendments would impose additional costs on local bodies, and there’s no accompanying analysis
  • Effective iwi engagement is more the result of strong relationships supported by good practice than legislative requirements
  • The Government’s approach to Maori involvement in hearings is over-complicated & less appropriate than the current council system; instead, the Government should invest in building capacity in tikanga Maori.

The council says in its submission a number of amendments expand ministerial powers to the extent of determining plan content or giving the minister other decision-making powers: “These will diminish local decision-making.”

On timing & order of reform, the council says: “There are a number of inter-related planning & urban management initiatives amongst the Government’s wider reform programme. Foremost, the Government has instructed the Productivity Commission to inquire into the system of urban planning, which could result in a fundamental review of the Resource Management Act. In addition, work is proceeding to develop a national policy statement on urban development, which will include content addressing ‘development capacity’.

“Auckland Council is concerned that amendments to the Resource Management Act at this time amount to tinkering in the face of significant issues being considered in the Government’s wider reform programme. The proposed amendments may enact new Resource Management Act provisions before the issues are fully understood & resolved in a co-ordinated manner, with implications for the coherency of the planning framework & the wider reform programme.”

The council says it would support guidance being provided under the Resource Management Act through instruments such as national policy statements & national environmental standards: “At issue, however, is the extent to which the proposed amendments extend beyond the provision of guidance and enable methods, rules & plan content, such as the zoning of particular land, to be determined by the minister.

“The council supports a ministerial oversight role that focuses ministerial attention on the operation of the overall planning system & the provision of guidance. Auckland Council opposes provisions that erode local decision-making and provide for ministerial decision-making power on plans.”

Understandably, the council supports making processes more efficient, but it says the Government has got that wrong too: “The council supports the aim of making processes under the Resource Management Act more efficient. This can be achieved by making processes more proportionate or by supporting established, good practice. Auckland Council contends, however, that the proposed amendments will increase processing & cost. The council proposes that the district plan could clarify the kinds of circumstances that would require notification of resource consents as an alternative to the bill’s proposed amendments.

“An amendment in the bill would require that submissions to resource consents & plan changes are struck out if they do not pass prescribed tests. The council proposes that this amendment is opposed.”

On the role of iwi, the council says it wants to maintain the relationship-based approach it has established with the Independent Maori Statutory Board and Auckland’s 19 iwi. It supports the appointment of hearings commissioners with expertise in tikanga Maori, but suggests its own approach of appointing, with Independent Maori Statutory Board involvement, a pool of independent planning commissioners (including those with tikanga Maori expertise) “is more appropriate than consulting with iwi on planning commissioners every time a hearing is held. Auckland Council would like to see the Government’s intention matched with investment to build capacity in tikanga Maori.”

Links: Productivity Commission, urban planning inquiry
Council committee agenda

Earlier stories:

9 March 2016: Kaipatiki board tells Government to get on with fundamental tasks
11 December 2015: Planning system is next Productivity Commission target
5 October 2015: Commission sends land for housing report to Government
10 August 2015: Council has forthright message for Government on land for housing
19 June 2015: Key points from land for housing report
19 June 2015: Commission looks behind high land prices

Attribution: Submission & presentation.

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RMA reform introduced

The Government introduced its substantive bill overhauling the Resource Management Act to Parliament yesterday. Environment Minister Nick Smith said its intent was “to support business growth & housing development while also ensuring more effective environmental management.

“This bill is about reducing the bureaucracy that gets in the way of creating jobs, building houses, and good environmental management. It provides for greater national consistency, more responsive planning, simplified consenting & better alignment with other laws.”

However the hard stuff – changes to sections 6 & 7 of the act – have been left out.

The 180-page Resource Legislation Amendment Bill comprises 40 changes contained in 235 clauses & 8 schedules. It makes changes to the Resource Management Act 1991, the Reserves Act 1977, the Public Works Act 1981, the Conservation Act 1987, the Environmental Protection Authority Act 2011 and the Exclusive Economic Zone & Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012.

Dr Smith said: “The bill addresses the significant problems with the cumbersome planning processes of the Resource Management Act highlighted in recent reports by the OECD, Local Government NZ, the Rules Reduction Taskforce & the Productivity Commission.

“Standard planning templates will be introduced so we don’t have every council reinventing the wheel and having dozens of different ways of measuring the height of a building. Plan-making, which currently takes 6 years, will be sped up and made more flexible. A new collaborative planning process will encourage different interests to work with councils on finding solutions to local resource problems.

“The bill simplifies the consenting process. It narrows the parties that must be consulted to those directly affected – meaning a homeowner extending a deck only has to consult the affected neighbour.

“Councils will have discretion to not require resource consent for minor issues. A new 10-day fast-track consent will be available for simple issues. Councils will be required to have fixed fees for standard consents so homeowners have certainty over costs.

“Consents will no longer be required for activities that are already properly regulated by other acts. These measures will reduce the number of consents required each year by thousands.

“This bill will deliver improved environmental management. It will enable national regulations that require stock like dairy cows to be fenced out of rivers & lakes, with instant fines for breaches. It strengthens the requirements for managing natural hazards like earthquakes & sea level rise from climate change. It requires decommissioning plans for offshore oil & gas rigs. It will improve the transparency of New Zealand’s clean, green brand by ensuring consistency in council environmental reporting on issues like air & water quality.

“The bill contains dozens of provisions that will improve the process of resource management decisions. There will be millions of dollars in savings from simpler, plain-language public notices that enable the detailed information on plans & consents to be accessed on the web. The bill recognises email communications & online filing. It also encourages early dispute resolution on cases appealed to the Environment Court.”

Dr Smith said the Maori Party supported introduction of the bill after intensive discussions over several months: “Some reform proposals, including changes to sections 6 & 7, are not in the bill. The proposals consulted on publicly in 2013 on improved Maori participation in resource management have been included in response to the Maori Party’s strong advocacy. Discussions between the National & Maori Parties will continue in response to public submissions & debate as the bill progresses through Parliament. National will also be seeking the support of other parties in Parliament, noting that all but the Greens have publicly stated that they recognise the need for reform.

“This is a moderate reform bill that will reduce the cost & delays for homeowners & businesses, as well as improve New Zealand’s planning & environmental controls.”

Links: Q&A
Information booklet
Resource Legislation Amendment Bill

Attribution: Ministerial release.

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Templates in next round of RMA reform

The Budget allocates $41.2 million to 3 environmental projects:

  • $20.4 million more over 4 years to provide greater national direction & support to councils in implementing the resource management reforms
  • $4 million more towards supporting the Environmental Protection Authority’s role to implement the exclusive economic zone legislation in 2015-16
  • $16.8 million to support the Government’s programme of improving the management of freshwater.

Environment Minister Nick Smith said: “A key priority in 2015-16 is progressing the Government’s second phase of Resource Management Act reforms. These reforms involve stronger national direction and greater use of national policy standards & national environment standards.

“The funding will also support the development of planning templates to enable a more standardised & simplified approach to resource management.”

Attribution: Ministerial release.

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Propbd on Q Th22Jan15 – 2 units sell, RMA reform, Motu research

1.30pm:
Both units sell at Ray White auction

Ray White City Apartments sold both units today at its first auction for the year. Auction results:

Emily Apartments, 22 Emily Place, unit 4E, sold for $565,000, sales agent Gillian Gibson

Parnell, Aero, 27 Cheshire St, unit 6, sold for $365,000, Donald Gibbs.

Earlier stories today:

I’ve posted 2 stories on Building, Housing & Environment Minister Nick Smith’s announcement yesterday of what he’s proposing in the next round of Resource Management Act reform – a short version of his 10 main points, and a long version from his speech in Nelson last night. More on that topic to come today, along with details from the Motu Research working paper on construction costs, also released yesterday.

Links: Smith lists 10 RMA changes, 3 ways to defeat cheap housing, 2 new laws (short version)
Smith outlines RMA reform aims
Nick Smith speech in full
Full Motu Research paper

Attribution: Company release.

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Smith lists 10 RMA changes, 3 ways to defeat cheap housing, 2 new laws

Environment Minister Nick Smith listed 10 changes last night that he wants to see to the Resource Management Act.

He said 4 were crucial if the act was to work better:

  • Add the management of significant natural hazards
  • Properly recognise that 80% of consents are about urban issues
  • Specifically recognise affordable housing
  • Add the provision for appropriate infrastructure
  • Give more explicit recognition to property rights
  • Prepare a national set of rules
  • Speed up the plan-making process
  • Foster collaborative resolution of issues
  • Strengthen powers for national regulation
  • Electronic communication.

Dr Smith said the Resource Management Act had 3 ways to make developing new lower-cost housing near impossible:

  • The way the act is used to constrain land supply & push up section prices
  • It doesn’t balance environmental protection by considering cost
  • Neighbours’ appeal rights.

Dr Smith said the Government aimed to have a bill drafted & introduced in the first half of the year, advancing to a full select committee process for passage by year’s end.

He said councils & resource management practitioners needed a change in culture: “We need a ‘can do’ rather than ‘can’t do’ mentality. We need a tighter focus on actual environmental effects. We need officials to be practical and to appreciate the impact of the time and costs of how they administer the RMA.”

Dr Smith said he’d introduce 2 acts this year for other environmental issues:

  • Environment Reporting Act, a new act to give greater clarity to New Zealand’s clean, green brand
  • Marine Protected Areas Act, work to be advanced on a new act to enable better ocean management and establish recreational fishing-only areas.

Links: Nick Smith speech in full
Full Motu Research paper

Image above: Dr Smith at the small homes lab, Hobsonville, in 2014.

Attribution: Ministerial speechnotes.

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Smith outlines RMA reform aims

Building, Housing & Environment Minister Nick Smith stacked 80,000 pages of council resource management plans & rules on the rostrum when he delivered his speech in Nelson last night on reforming the Resource Management Act.

“This mountain of red tape well illustrates the need for an overhaul of the Resource Management Act,” he said.

Sitting up the top was the most recent of these numerous documents, the Auckland unitary plan, and it represents a quite different requirement from legislative reform. That plan is about guiding development of a city-region, a very different prospect from the needs of New Zealand’s many villages & small towns.

While Dr Smith sees merit – and most New Zealanders would agree with him – in reducing the mountain of red tape and creating a common national set of rules, writing a regional plan that takes into account local peculiarities remains a worthwhile exercise.

It would, if that’s what it’s going to do. There is a danger, however, that Auckland’s unitary plan will be as dangerously inflexible as the metropolitan urban limits proved to be and, if that is the outcome, Dr Smith’s simpler-faster national rulebook might be a better answer.

Dr Smith comes to the latest round of resource management reform after much of the repair work on leaky buildings has been done – but Auckland Council has remained cautious because some repairs have leaked again – and the bill for seismic upgrades remains unclear. (These are Building Act rather than Resource Management Act issues, but they relate to the mindset change Dr Smith wants to see).

It is easy to ignore those issues of fundamental construction technique in the desire to get more houses built, but what is required is a mindset enabling faster consenting coupled with continuing safety checks.

Dr Smith told his Nelson audience: “The act is not working for New Zealand or New Zealanders. It is making housing too expensive. It is hampering job & export growth. It is stymying much needed infrastructure. And it is not doing a particularly good job of managing vital natural resources like freshwater & the coastal environment.”

His final point was this: “We also need a change in culture among councils & resource management practitioners. We need a ‘can do’ rather than ‘can’t do’ mentality.”

What he can’t do is load the task of changing that culture on to councils without absolving them of liability if, inevitably, they sometimes get their compliance decision wrong.

Dr Smith said last night: “The purpose of this speech is to build a broad constituency for considered but substantial reform of the Resource Management Act this year. I want to give some political & historical context to the Government’s plans. I am releasing the latest research on the impact it is having in areas like house prices and giving some practical examples of how the act is failing. I want to outline the direction & timetable for reform, but announcements on the detail will come at a later date….

“The focus in the building & housing area is to increase the supply, affordability & quality. On 1 April we will be introducing the new HomeStart scheme that will help 90,000 KiwiSavers pull together a deposit for a new home. We have a huge housing programme of work in Christchurch & Auckland and new initiatives in the pipeline. Another challenge will be finalising the legislation on earthquake-prone buildings, a difficult issue that will have major implications for thousands of older buildings in provincial areas like Nelson.

“However, the most challenging of my jobs this year will be the reform of the Resource Management Act. The act, in governing the use of water, land, air & the coast, and which is responsible for protecting heritage, native plants & animals, is so wide-ranging that it has implications right across the economy and into almost every facet of life.

“There is not a single official anywhere who understands this huge pile of Resource Management Act plans & rules. Even at a local level, only a few individuals working in council or in planning consultancy will fully understand how the rules work in their city or district.

“The problem with this complexity is that it is difficult to make the connection between the labyrinth of RMA rules and the significant decline in housing affordability & home ownership over the past 25 years.

“Today I am releasing a Treasury-commissioned report by Motu Research and respected economist Arthur Grimes and property researcher Ian Mitchell titled, The impacts of planning rules, regulations, uncertainty & delay on residential property development.

“The report identifies that a significant number of housing projects were abandoned because of the delays & uncertainty of the Resource Management Act. It estimates that for projects that proceeded, the act added $30,000 extra cost to each apartment and at least $15,000/section. It also says that Resource Management Act rules reduced development capacity of homes by 22%. If you extrapolate this study over the past decade, the Resource Management Act has reduced housing supply by 40,000 homes and added $30 billion in cost.

“This research is consistent with the work of the Productivity Commission. It made plain that tight land regulation under the Resource Management Act, with rules like the Auckland metropolitan urban limit, was the single greatest factor in driving house prices to all-time highs. The example of a 29ha block of unimproved rural land in Flat Bush, just inside the council’s urban limit, appreciating in value from $890,000 to $112 million in just over a decade shows how Resource Management Act regulation is helping make land speculators rich at the expense of young aspiring homeowners.

“And it is not just housing developments that are frustrated by the bureaucracy of the act. The Government’s small business advisory group cites the Resource Management Act as the biggest single regulatory frustration for those small enterprises trying to grow & create wealth for our country. Business NZ last week cited Resource Management Act reform as their most important legislative issue this year for maintaining New Zealand’s economic & employment growth.

“The concern is backed up by international research. The OECD published in November a comparative study of its 34 member countries on the cost burden of environmental regulation. In most OECD reports, New Zealand ranks very well as a good place to do business & create jobs. We ranked bottom when it came to the administrative burden of the Resource Management Act. I have no problem where there are costs to achieve good environmental outcomes. The OECD study actually showed that many countries had more stringent environmental policies than New Zealand but a far lesser administrative burden.

“A key difference of the New Zealand system of environmental regulation under the Resource Management Act is that we have a very fragmented system, where there are differing rules in every district & region, and secondly that we require consents for most activities when most other countries simply had national standards that had to be met.”

Dr Smith said tinkering with the act wouldn’t do: “The act has some fundamental design flaws that require substantial overhaul. The purposes & principles are out-dated & ill-matched with the reality of the issues it manages, like housing development. The plan-making process is too cumbersome & slow. The act needs re-engineering away from litigation towards collaboration. Property owners need stronger protection from unnecessary bureaucratic meddling. We need stronger national consistency & direction. We need to redesign the paper-based planning & consultation systems for today’s age of the internet.”

He said the most contentious of the planned reforms would be to the purpose & principles contained in part 2 of the act: “The significance of these provisions is that every plan, every rule and every consent is tested against these provisions. We are not proposing changes to the over-riding purpose of sustainable management in section 5, but we are proposing significant changes to sections 6 & 7.

“I do not subscribe to the view that the current 18 issues listed in these sections are something akin to the 10 Commandments and carved in stone. There are 4 particular changes that are crucial if the act is to work better.

“The first is that the management of significant natural hazards has got to be added. New Zealand is one of the most natural hazard-prone countries in the world, with significant risks from earthquakes, floods, landslides & volcanoes….

“The second change we need to make is to properly recognise the urban environment. 80% of resource consents are about urban issues, yet currently they rate no direct mention in the purposes & principles of the act. It is as though the act was designed for a Garden of Eden prior to the development of cities. The careful design of our urban environments so we have places to live, work, shop & play and the appropriate transport links to travel between them is core to the proper functioning of the Resource Management Act.

“The third change is specifically recognising the importance of more affordable housing. The Productivity Commission’s 2012 report noted a sharp shift in the type of housing being built since the Resource Management Act was enacted. They noted that 30 years ago, New Zealand built a healthy mix of new homes across the price spectrum, whereas today new homes are pitched towards the top of the market. 35% of new homes built were sold below the then median house price as compared to just 5% today.

“There are 3 ways in which the Resource Management Act makes the development of new lower cost housing near impossible.

The first is the way the act is used to constrain land supply and push up section prices. Section prices have increased way more significantly than the built house cost. If the section costs $250,000, nobody is going to put a modest $150,000 building on it.

“The second problem is that the Resource Management Act puts huge weight on protecting landscape, amenity, natural character & heritage without any balancing consideration over the cost implications. When deciding whether a subdivision will be allowed, whether an apartment building can be built higher, what section size or apartment size will be allowed, side yard requirements, setbacks for viewing shafts, there is no legal requirement to consider the impacts these will have on the supply & affordability of housing.

“And then there is the third problem arising from the consultation, submission & appeal rights of neighbours. Neighbouring property owners’ interests are in protecting their property rights & amenity, and little for increasing the supply of affordable housing for others. I’ve seen neighbours object to adjacent land being used for housing because they like the outlook of green pasture & frolicking horses, which they view as their amenity values that the Resource Management Act says must be protected.

“Neighbours will often push for conditions that will increase the cost of adjacent housing developments or make them unviable. At one hearing, a neighbour was quite blatant in wanting conditions that would ensure that only millionaires could afford to build, noting that this would also enhance his own property’s value. More commonly, such blatant self-interest is dressed up in language of ensuring only quality developments are allowed. It is not that there are not legitimate neighbourhood interests, but rather that the process does not have anyone actively advocating for the young family wanting access to an affordable house or apartment.

“We need to make important changes to confront these problems. Councils need to be required to free up sufficient land for development to keep pace with growth. They also need to explicitly consider housing supply & affordability alongside factors like amenity, natural character & heritage.

“The fourth change is adding the provision for appropriate infrastructure to the purpose of the act.

“Good infrastructure is essential to the functioning of a modern nation – whether it be for transport, communication, water or energy. The stories of 19th century London, Auckland or Nelson without a reticulated sewer system emphasise the connection between the environment & infrastructure. Even today, many of our urban water pollution problems relate to poorly designed or maintained sewerage & stormwater systems. The absence of any mention of the importance of good infrastructure is an anomaly in the Resource Management Act that needs addressing.

“I am also of the view that economic growth, jobs & exports need recognition. The idea that the only consideration in resource consenting is protection of nature is naïve. This is not the National Parks Act. When consideration is being given to allow a new factory, a new road, a new marine farm, a mine or a new tourism attraction, we need to carefully weigh up the effects on the environment alongside the benefits of economic growth & jobs. We are a bluegreen government that is quite upfront about wanting to utilise our natural resources to create jobs & increase incomes, but we want to do so in a responsible way that avoids unnecessary harm to the environment.

“These changes to sections 6 & 7 require careful drafting. We are reviewing the proposals drafted 2 years ago in light of the most recent case law. We want to ensure the act remains focused on environmental effects, but with a better appreciation of the way plans & rules impact on housing affordability, jobs & economic growth and the development of our cities.

“A fifth change we wish to make is to give more explicit recognition to property rights. There always has to be a balance between the rights of a person to use their own land and the wider community interests, but the pendulum has swung too far. We are looking at amendments that limit the degree to which council officials can meddle in people’s lives. We also want greater discretion for councils to waive the need for resource consents where the wider environmental effects are negligible….

“A sixth change is to consolidate this mountain of Resource Management Act rules across our councils. It does not make sense for a small country of 4½ million people to have each of the councils reinventing the wheel. For example, we have over 50 different definitions of how to measure the height of a building. We intend to legislate to require councils to use standard planning templates. Councils will still be able to choose from these templates what will apply in different areas but, rather than having hundreds of different rules across the country in residential areas, there will be a standardised range.

“A seventh important change is speeding up the plan-making process. The process set out in in schedule 1 of the act is cumbersome, inflexible & slow. It takes on average 6 years to complete a plan. We have had residential housing go from boom to bust and back to boom in this timeframe. The OECD has made plain that responsive & timely plan-making is essential to avoiding the sort of property bubble that wreaked havoc in the recent global financial crisis. It is not just the economy that is harmed by this arcanely slow Resource Management Act plan-making process. Canterbury’s biggest Resource Management Act issue is the management of fresh water. Yet, after 18 years, it still had no regional water plan. Auckland took 15 years to develop a coastal plan for one of New Zealand’s most cherished areas – the Hauraki Gulf.

“4 times in recent years we have had to pass special legislation to get around the Resource Management Act’s slow plan-making process. We did it to get a water plan in Canterbury, did it again to support the Auckland council’s ambition to get a new super-city unitary plan in place in a reasonable time, and a third time to support Christchurch’s rebuild. The special housing areas legislation I put through Parliament in 2013, and which expires next year, was required to make new areas available for residential housing without taking years for areas to be zoned. This all points to the need to develop new & faster ways to produce plans. The difficulty here is that, while everybody supports faster plan-making, nobody is prepared to give up their opportunity to be consulted, make submissions, make cross-submissions and to be able to appeal. Our reforms will simplify the plan-making process but also provide new & alternative ways of producing good quality plans.

“The eighth change is about fostering a new collaborative way of resolving resource management issues. The Resource Management Act processes currently favour a litigious & adversarial approach. We have been experimenting with collaborative processes where those with a range of interests are encouraged to get around the table and find a balanced solution. It has worked very successfully with the Land & Water Forum, and the creation of new marine reserves in areas like the sub-Antarctic, West Coast & Kaikoura. We are proposing amendments to the Resource Management Act that will facilitate & encourage these sorts of solutions.

“The ninth area of reform is around strengthening the powers for national regulation. The Resource Management Act makes provision for national policy statements & national environment standards, but these have been used infrequently. Our government has done more in 5 years than previous governments in the preceding 18 years covering coastal management, freshwater management, metering of water takes, contaminated land & renewable electricity. However, these tools remain cumbersome. Take a simple issue like requiring all dairy farmers to fence their stock out of rivers. It is a policy most New Zealanders would agree with and, indeed, farmers & Fonterra have developed a clean streams accord to that effect.

“To implement such a policy under the existing law, the Government would need to write a national policy and consult extensively on it. When passed, each council would then have to change their regional plans with another process of consultation. After even this, the council would not be able to implement the policy until each individual farmer’s resource consent came up for renewal, a process that is likely to take about 30 years. This is ridiculous.

“We are proposing a law change that will enable national regulation of these sorts of issues after one round of national consultation, and the power to implement immediately backed up by an instant fine regime. Our plan is to have such a rule in place for dairy cows to be banned from streams & rivers by July 2017.

“The 10th & final change I want to signal is the need to reframe the act into an era of electronic communications. The current act still requires truckloads of paper to be shipped between submitters. For example, all submitters on a plan change must get a copy of other submitters’ views. There are sometimes 10,000 submitters to a plan and the council can be required to provide a paper copy to each of the other 9999 submitters.

“The public notification requirements are equally arcane. Councils need to be required to have their full up-to-date resource management plans publicly available on the net, and in a form that is readily accessible & understandable to the general public. The age has also arrived that councils, rather than being required to send out full applications & submissions in paper form, need simply to make the information available on the net.

“These 10 broad areas of reform set the direction for this Resource Management Act overhaul. We have a power of work ahead to do with officials, with our support parties, at Cabinet committees & Cabinet in developing a detailed bill. Our ambition is to have a bill drafted & introduced in the first half of the year, advancing to a full select committee process for passage by year’s end.

“Changing the law is just part of the solution. We also need a change in culture among councils & resource management practitioners. We need a ‘can do’ rather than ‘can’t do’ mentality. We need a tighter focus on actual environmental effects. We need officials to be practical and to appreciate the impact of the time & costs of how they administer the Resource Management Act.

The key political challenge with these reforms will be in being bold enough to ensure we make progress on core issues like improving housing supply & affordability while ensuring we maintain the core environmental controls that protect that which makes New Zealand such a great place to live. It’s a bluegreen balance I’m confident our government can deliver.”

Links: Nick Smith speech in full (including examples which I’ve omitted)
Full Motu Research paper

Earlier stories:
7 November 2014: Productivity Commission launches land supply regulation inquiry
23 July 2014: All but 2 Productivity Commission recommendations on local government rules accepted
18 July 2014: Productivity Commission sets out ideas for better regulation
30 October 2012: Government ticks off answers to all Productivity Commission recommendations
10 September 2012: Opponents say RMA advisory group report “a Trojan horse”
6 July 2012: RMA advisory group’s “suite of principles” a new straitjacket
13 April 2012: Productivity Commission misses key affordability point – again
29 January 2010: 2 new advisory groups will take reform to heart of RMA & infrastructure processing

Image above: Dr Smith, announcing the Auckland housing accord at Hobsonville in 2013.

Attribution: Ministerial speech.

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