The Resource Legislation Amendment Bill – Environment Minister Nick Smith’s revision of the Resource Management Act – passed its third reading on Thursday, without the support of Act’s David Seymour or United Future’s Peter Dunne but courtesy of the Maori Party’s 2 votes.
Dr Smith, as usual, mentioned 2 factors at the heart of the changes – the exorbitant rise in Auckland house prices and the many voices demanding a freeing up of land supply.
Also as usual, he refrained from mentioning 2 other factors. The first has come in 2 parts – the immigration spike under Labour in 2003-04, which got supply & demand seriously out of kilter, followed by the longer run of high net immigration under National that started in late 2012 and was well underway in 2014.
The most important factor
The second, and I think most important factor in the whole resource management hubbub, is that the Resource Management Act has been widely condemned but the failure to balance supply & demand falls entirely to incompetence.
The first factor in that incompetence concerns the supply of potential residents. Natural growth is predictable and the supply of migrants can be controlled, at least to some extent. The return of Kiwis from a depressed Australian economy is outside the norm, but ought to have been taken into consideration in the allowance of other migration.
Both Labour in 2003 and National now have used immigration to boost the economy. Their consideration of the impacts has been negligible, until too late.
Through the Regional Growth Forum devised in 1996, expansion of Auckland’s urban footprint was anticipated to allow some of the growth to a population of 2 million over the next 50 years, but the notion of a compact city had arrived and the bulk of growth (70% of it) was expected to occur within the existing metropolitan urban limits.
Quite how another 200,000 homes were to be dropped into place was never quite worked out, but the fact that they’d be needed was evident over 20 years ago.
All very well, but Auckland had 7 territorial councils & one regional council, Auckland City followed by Manukau collected the bulk of the region’s business rates, and the fringe councils (including Waitakere) struggled to supply adequate infrastructure on a diet of residential rates.
The fringe councils looked for ways to increase their rating bases, such as encouraging business, and developers looked to the fringes for cheaper land for housing, only to find themselves entering an intense battle, certainly between regional & local politicians, sometimes also between the competing urges of different localities.
Attempts to expand those urban limits were contested by the Auckland Regional Council, which focused more on environmental protection, although expansion of the limits was envisaged.
The 2003-04 immigration spike necessitated more housing, but the supply was inadequate, and political thinking on what was required was abysmal.
None of the above involves hindsight. Certain measures were plainly required 21 years ago and after 5 years of strong growth – and some of the how-to is still awaiting a decision.
The ability to intensify development has been made easier by Auckland’s new unitary plan, but funding of infrastructure was an issue then and remains largely unresolved today. Sewage overflowed into the harbour then, the issue was recognised, and it still overflows.
Intensification will include more housing redevelopment, not necessarily medium-rise apartment buildings, in suburban streets. The supply of new suburban subdivisions has started via housing accords & special housing areas, but also through standard subdivision.
Smith sees many positive impacts
Enter Dr Smith & the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill. “The reforms in this bill will help increase the supply & affordability of housing, grow the economy with more jobs & higher incomes, support infrastructure investment and improve environmental management,” he said after the third reading was passed on Thursday.
The 700-clause bill makes 40 significant changes to the Resource Management Act, Public Works Act, Conservation Act, Reserves Act and the Exclusive Economic Zone (Environmental Effects) Act. They include:
- 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
- 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.
“These reforms will reduce the number of consents required by thousands. Councils will have a new power to waive the need for consents for minor issues, and a new 10-day fast-track consent will be available. This boils down to things like homeowners wanting to build a deck having to consult only with an affected neighbour, and no consent being required for issues that involve minor or temporary rule breaches.
“This Bill is pivotal to resolving New Zealand’s long-term housing supply & affordability problems. The cost of a section in Auckland has increased 10-fold over the past 25 years, from $53,000 to $530,000, as compared to the 3-fold increase in the cost of building, from $120,000 to $360,000. The key solution is making sections easier to create and more affordable. This bill introduces a specific requirement on councils to free up land, removes appeals on residential developments, reverses the presumption in favour of subdivisions and removes the double charging system of financial & development contributions.”
Resource Legislation Amendment Bill
Text of bill & related supplementary order papers
Nick Smith booklet, 26 November 2015: The second phase of Resource Management Act reform
15 March 2017: Bill opponents talk “shambles”, not ideology
15 March 2017: RMA reform bill scrapes through second reading
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 release, growth forum strategy.