Archive | Resource management

National talks new urban planning laws, business & environmental alliance says “Go further”

The National Party has been working steadily towards its latest election policy for most of its 9 years in government: new urban planning laws that would make it easier to build, and faster than the Resource Management Act.

It would incorporate parts of the Local Government Act & the Land Transport Management Act. The Resource Management Act would stay in place for non-urban areas.

Steven Joyce lining up some mud at Manukau in 2009.

But Resource Reform NZ, an alliance of 3 normally National-leaning organisations – the Employers & Manufacturers Association, Infrastructure NZ & the Property Council – plus the Environmental Defence Society, said yesterday the National proposal didn’t go far enough.

They want “an integrated governance, planning, funding & delivery system to guide resource management & national economic development”.

The catchcry: fit for purpose

The ministers releasing the party policy and the Resource Reform alliance used the same term as their base: fit for purpose.

The ministers (now spokespersons for the duration of the election campaign), Steven Joyce on infrastructure & Nick Smith on environment (but apparently not on building & construction) said in their campaign proposal yesterday: “A re-elected National-led government will introduce new fit-for-purpose urban planning laws separate from the Resource Management Act to encourage more responsive planning, faster development & better protection for the environment in our growing cities.

“New Zealand is growing strongly and we want to make it easier to build the housing & infrastructure for that growth while still ensuring our urban environments are some of the most liveable in the world.

“To do that we need to give our cities the ability to adapt & develop faster, while respecting & improving the urban environment – and the current planning system is not allowing that.

“The RMA’s one-size-fits-all approach has restrained the development of our cities, dragged on their economic performance and restricted the supply of much-needed housing & infrastructure.

“So National will establish a fit-for-purpose planning system that allows our cities to evolve in a way that improves the quality of the local environment, and makes them great places to live & work.”

Idea is to separate planning & environmental regulation

Nick Smith, also lining up some mud, in 2015.

Dr Smith said the new planning legislation would have clear & separate objectives for regulating urban & natural environments: “Over the past 9 years we’ve simplified the RMA and made it easier to build, but the RMA is only one part of the planning system, and we have reached the end of what can be done by making incremental changes to the act.

“We agree with a number of stakeholders that it is time to develop fit-for-purpose planning legislation dedicated to urban environments that includes the relevant parts of the Local Government Act & the Land Transport Management Act in one piece of legislation.

“So we will set up separate planning & environmental regulations specifically designed to encourage growth, while tackling the environmental challenges found in cities, such as air pollution & stormwater surges.

“This new legislation will work in parallel with our plan to put in place urban development authorities to redevelop specific brownfields areas in our cities to allow for more housing – the work for which is already underway.”

Dr Smith said National would “keep a close eye” on changes applicable to non-urban & rural areas through the existing Resource Management Act.

“National will start its urban planning reform process by consulting with key stakeholders, local government, iwi, experts & the public to develop fit-for-purpose legislation that works for cities.

“The successful Auckland unitary plan & the independent hearings panel review process shows we can put sensible rules in place that work for everyone. We want to use the same collaborative formula to create an urban planning system that enables growth, gives businesses the confidence to invest and adapts to the changing needs of cities.”

Reformists seek consensus for change, don’t detail their reforms

Resource Reform NZ reform of the resource management system needed to go much further. It recommended that this would be best addressed through cross-party consensus on the issue by a politically independent process, such as a commission.

Infrastructure NZ chief executive Stephen Selwood said: “We know New Zealand’s prosperity is being held back by the current framework the wider planning system operates within. It is no longer fit for purpose, and is why we find ways to work around the current system when we want to deliver the infrastructure that the county so desperately needs.”

Property Council chief executive Connal Townsend said: “The current unco-ordinated planning system is driving increasing housing unaffordability, the high cost of commercial development and reliance on outdated funding mechanisms such as rates & council debt. That means we’re simply not building enough, quickly enough with the quality & innovation needed to develop the cities & standard of living we all expect in the future.”

Environmental Defence Society executive director Gary Taylor said: “The environment is suffering too. The Resource Management Act is our pre-eminent environmental law. Yet the cumulative effects of permitted land use activities over the lifetime of the act have led to a slow but significant deterioration of the quality of our streams, rivers & lakes.”

And the fourth advocate for greater change, Employers & Manufacturers Association chief executive Kim Campbell, said: “For business, these issues are also stifling the ability to grow & expand. Which, in turn, also impacts employees & the families. Looking into the future, we face even bigger challenges in how we manage & respond to demographic changes, advances in technology, rising consumer expectations & climate change.”

Attribution: National & Resource Reform releases.

Continue Reading

PM talks $1 billion infrastructure fund, English talks payback frame, Smith talks grabbing more power

Prime Minister John Key announced a new $1 billion housing infrastructure fund today “to accelerate the supply of new housing where it’s needed most”.

The one-off contestable fund will be open to applications from councils in the highest growth areas – currently Christchurch, Queenstown, Tauranga, Hamilton & Auckland.

Mr Key & his ministers said in background to the fund: “Why a one-off fund? Longer-term, councils need to find new ways of funding infrastructure through existing funding tools or potentially coming up with new ones.”

The fund announcement comes 3 days after Auckland Council approved a $770 million increase in its annual budget to $8.77 billion, which right-wing critics of the council say is already too big.

The budget includes $705 million of capex for growth, numerous water & wastewater projects aimed at expansion in existing areas and for greenfield growth, and provision for the council development manager, Panuku Development Auckland, to work on transformation of about 18 centres & suburbs, including regeneration & new development.

English at odds with prudent policy

Finance Minister Bill English said the new fund “will help bring forward the new roads & water infrastructure needed for new housing where financing is a constraint. The Government will invest up front to ensure the infrastructure is in place. But councils will have to repay the investment or buy back the assets once houses have been built & development contributions paid.”

That’s to say, the Government is offering councils a programme forcing them to incur extra debt beyond long-term plan provision, on a timetable they can’t control, when, in Auckland’s case, the council is struggling to maintain its debt at a prudent level.

It’s a determined continuation of the Government’s intention, in Auckland, to dismantle the urban boundary and enable more greenfield development – 3 weeks before the panel which has spent 18 months hearing & working through submissions on Auckland’s first unitary plan delivers its considered recommendations to the council, including recommendations on that urban boundary.

Property Institute chief executive Ashley Church was quick to applaud the Government for its fund: “The move will go a long way toward overcoming Auckland Council’s major objections to opening up residential land on the fringes of the city.

“It follows a recent directive from Housing Minister Nick Smith, which required councils to open up enough land to cater for the growth in our fastest growing centres. The 2 measures have stripped Auckland Council of most of its excuses for inaction.”

Fairgray spelt out growth reasons which government could control

Mr Church’s view – and the Government’s intent – are at odds with research by the economist who led much of the council’s research on growth capacity & urban boundaries for the unitary plan hearings, Doug Fairgray.

Dr Fairgray said in a column run on this website on 24 June: “So what is driving this latest upsurge [in house prices]? Simply, the conditions which underpinned the price boom through the pre-GFC period have returned, but with greater effect. The principal drivers again include the ease of securing finance to purchase dwellings, stimulated by the strong competition among banks & financial institutions to increase their loan books, together with historically low interest rates making loans more affordable, and in particular the record levels of population growth in Auckland driven by record in-migration.”

The Government was able to address all those factors. It could also have addressed the heightened investor demand for houses throughout the 5 years since the market hit the global financial crisis bottom in mid-2011.

And, if Dr Fairgray is right in saying land supply is not the central problem, the Government’s move to hasten greenfield residential development will exacerbate long-term costs for commuters and council costs for the provision of community infrastructure.

Smith stretches Government talk to power grab on planning & consents

Building & Housing Minister Nick Smith said: “The fund will be available only for substantial new infrastructure investments that support more new housing, not to replace existing infrastructure.

“To access the fund, local councils must outline how many new houses will be built, where they will be built and when they will be available. Ideally, they will have agreements with developers on these issues.

“Funding may also have other conditions attached, such as faster processing of resource consents. All of this will require close collaboration between central & local government.”

Mr English said: “Infrastructure, and its financing in particular, is one of the 3 key constraints to building more houses – alongside land supply & consenting requirements.

“Councils have strict debt limits, which means some lack the headroom to invest in infrastructure now, and then wait for future development contributions to recover the costs. The fund will help provide more infrastructure sooner by aligning the cost to councils with the timing of revenue from development contributions.”

Depending on the number & timing of applications, it will require the Government to temporarily borrow up to $1 billion, which will increase net debt until it is repaid.

Dr Smith repeated Mr Key’s recent statement that the Government was also considering establishing urban development authorities to help further speed up the supply of new housing: “Urban development authorities have streamlined powers to override barriers to largescale development, including potentially taking responsibility for planning & consenting & other powers.

“These changes are just the latest steps in the Government’s ongoing, comprehensive programme to increase the supply & affordability of housing.

“They will complement the work of the housing accords & special housing areas, our social housing build, our emergency housing programme, the expanded HomeStart scheme for first-homebuyers, the development of surplus Crown land, the national policy statement [on urban development], Resource Management Act reform and the extra tax measures we took last year.

“We are making good progress in facilitating increased investment in housing with a record $11.4 billion of residential building work underway this year. This initiative to support councils with infrastructure provision is the next logical step in this programme.”

The council budget & infrastructure projects

Auckland Council’s budget for the year that started on Friday includes a rise in debt from $8 billion to $8.77 billion, but with interest costs held below 12% of revenue (11.3% for the last year, 11.5% for the next year).

Capex for 2016-17, up from $1.8 billion for the year just finished to a budgeted $1.95 billion, includes $1.375 billion for new assets, ranging from multi-year projects such as the city rail link & Ameti (the Auckland-Manukau eastern transport initiative) to a spread of local projects.

For just under $2 billion of capex & other outgoings, including $705 million for growth, the council budget includes $835 million to come from borrowings, $644 million from an operating cash surplus, $163 million in development contributions, $87 million from asset sales & $240 million from subsidies.

Key projects include $81 million on expanding the water collection system, $71 million on expanding wastewater treatment, and a number of other expansions & replacements of infrastructure.

The new Hunua 4 watermain will run 32km from the Redoubt North reservoir at Manukau Heights to the reservoir on Khyber Pass Rd, Grafton, costing $23 million this year.

Design will continue on the central interceptor for wastewater to support growth, replace aging assets and reduce overflows into the Waitemata Harbour.

The Waikato water treatment plant expansion will be completed and preliminary work, including getting consents, will be done for the North Harbour 2 watermain.

The budget includes $4.5 million on the start of the northern interceptor wastewater pipe, which will support northern & western growth and free up capacity at the Mangere wastewater treatment plant, supporting central & southern growth.

Upgrades to the regional water network include 2 new reservoirs at Pukekohe East, the first to start in 2017 and take 2 years to complete, and the second to follow depending on population growth.

The council’s development management arm, Panuku Development Auckland, had 2 transformation projects approved last December for Manukau Central & Onehunga, 8 other transformation projects to work on and another 8 to support, including development at Pukekohe, intensification at Avondale & New Lynn and redevelopment at Otahuhu.

Institute wants initiatives to encourage builders

The Property Institute’s Ashley Church said neither the Government nor the council should build the volume of houses required to address the shortage. He said the next step for the Government should be announcement of a series of initiatives designed to encourage the private sector to start building.

“Such measures could include a return of the ability to claim depreciation on dwellings constructed from now, removal of all loan:value restrictions on the construction of new dwellings, and an exemption from the ‘bright line’ test where the seller had built a home, rather than purchased an existing home.

“Moves such as these would very quickly create private & investor activity in new home construction and would lead to a focus on the construction end of the market – which has got to be preferable to the current situation where 42% of all purchases in Auckland are made by investors selling existing homes to each other.”

Mr Church acknowledged that the high cost of land, particularly in Auckland, meant these measures wouldn’t lead to a reduction in housing prices – but said they would “very definitely” contribute to slowing the growth in those prices.

Housing Infrastructure Fund – Q & A.pdf

Earlier stories:
1 July 2016: New house consents hit 9-year high but other sectors quiet
24 June 2016: Fairgray works through the question: Who’s really the house price villain?
6 December 2015: How Panuku proposes to lead transformation of Auckland

Attribution: Ministerial & Property Institute releases, council annual plan.

Continue Reading

Hobsonville precinct signing overcomes treaty breach and takes hapu into new development role

The signing of a memorandum of understanding at Hobsonville Point yesterday was all pretty ra-ra until Anita Mazzolini mentioned that, within 2 years of signing the Tamaki Makaurau claims settlement, the Government tried to breach that agreement.

The settlement gave the Tamaki collective – Nga Mana Whenua o Tamaki Makaurau – the right of first refusal over Government land to be sold within the next 170 years in an area roughly covering the Auckland region.

When the Government decided last year to dispose of parcels of Government-owned land to provide for housing, it initially bypassed that settlement condition and, at yesterday’s signing ceremony onsite at Hobsonville, Building & Housing Minister Nick Smith said they were different matters.

In a release on the signing, Dr Smith said: “This memorandum of understanding is just a first step in the Crown’s land development programme in the north-west of Auckland where Ngati Whatua o Kaipara has a right of first refusal. It is important to recognise that this legal right is quite different to the housing protocol & Mahi Ngatahi agreement with the 13 iwi over other parts of Auckland.

“There is no sense in having surplus Crown Land sitting vacant when Auckland has major housing issues derived from a shortage of land. It is a complex process freeing up this land for much needed housing, but we are progressing work in a pragmatic way to get homes built as quickly as practically possible.”

Mrs Mazzolini, who chairs Nga Maunga Whakahii o Kaipara Investment Ltd, said the memorandum meant the treaty settlement was now being honoured in a joint venture between equals – the Kaipara hapu and the Government through the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment’s Crown land development programme and the Hobsonville Land Co Ltd as a Government-owned developer of new housing.

The memorandum of understanding signing: Building & Housing Minister Nick Smith & Prime Minister John Key at rear and, seated left to right, Crown land programme director Roger Coulson, Haahi Walker (Kaipara trust) & Adrienne Young-Cooper (Hobsonville Land Co chair).

The memorandum of understanding signing: Building & Housing Minister Nick Smith & Prime Minister John Key at rear and, seated left to right, Crown land programme director Roger Coulson, Haahi Walker (Kaipara trust) & Adrienne Young-Cooper (Hobsonville Land Co chair).

The first land going to the hapu is the Village precinct at Hobsonville Point, which has been renamed Te Uru (the west wind).

Mrs Mazzolini said it was the director of the ministry’s programme to make use of idle Crown land, Roger Coulson, who came up with the idea of the memorandum as a win-win solution, taking the hapu into its first venture in property development through purchase of the Te Uru 9ha.

“Making money out of this is very important to us, but only as a means to an end. Even the ‘affordable’ houses at Te Uru will be way beyond the means of the hapu today,” she said

Te Uru ends separation of the 2 Hobsonvilles

Hobsonville Village, given a lift with a new supermarket & small business centre, is right next to the Kaipara site at Hobsonville Point.

Hobsonville Village, given a lift with a new supermarket & small business centre, is right next to the Kaipara site at Hobsonville Point.

Te Uru adjoins the old Hobsonville village, which has also been given a new lease of life following Progressive Enterprises Ltd’s development of a Countdown supermarket and an integrated hospitality & commercial centre, now almost fully leased.

The Te Uru land will have about 400 houses built on it, replacing a number of old Air Force houses on part of the site.

The Hobsonville Land Co will manage the Te Uru development, and the memorandum will also enable Nga Maunga Whakahii o Kaipara to draw on the company’s expertise to identify additional potential development sites and assess development possibilities beyond Hobsonville Point.

The Te Uru subdivision is to proceed next summer, for completion of the first homes in early 2018. Dr Smith said the development had “a strong affordability element, with 80% having to meet specific price points.15% are required to be below $450,000, 7.5% below $500,000 and 7.5% below $550,000. These 30% affordable homes under the Axis series programme will be sold to owner-occupiers and at least 50% of these will go to first-homebuyers. The remaining 50% will be sold below Auckland’s median house price.”

This agreement just a start

“We are also exploring a development agreement involving Ngati Whatua o Kaipara, the Hobsonville Land Co & MBIE on 18ha of NZ Transport Agency-owned land in Brigham Creek Rd. MBIE has reached a preliminary agreement with NZTA on purchasing this land for the Crown land programme and it is currently being subjected to due diligence. Other sites in north-west Auckland are also being explored.”

Mr Coulson said the agreement with the Kaipara hapu was “far-sighted & broad” and would enable high quality development, “in keeping with Nga Maunga Whakahii o Kaipara’s desires & values, that will also be of considerable value to the future housing & community needs of Tamaki Makaurau.”

Hulse, Smith & Key on housing crisis & solutions

Yesterday’s signing was also an opportunity for politicians to present views on Auckland’s housing crisis, as deputy mayor Penny Hulse did, followed by Prime Minister John Key.

Cllr Hulse said the memorandum of understanding, and the accord between the Government & Auckland Council creating special housing areas, weren’t just about policies & strategies, but were about getting people into housing.

She congratulated Dr Smith for making “a wonderful transformation to housing – this is about making smart things happen…. Despite all the criticism, the special housing areas are going great guns and I think we’re on track to make that 39,000 target [of consents for both houses & sections over the 3 years of the accord, which ends in September].”

Cllr Hulse went on to say that, with a 10:1 ratio of house prices to household incomes, “We’re in a housing crisis”. While she was starting hear some encouraging words on solutions, she said the main requirement was to reduce speculation, and to do that capacity had to be built.

“Is the council doing everything it could? No, we’re not. We need to get on with the unitary plan and zone land for development.”

Dr Smith said the memorandum was a “commonsense, pragmatic response” to Ngati Whatua’s needs: “It’s easy to give speeches and tell people to build houses… but building houses that are affordable is a big challenge.”

He said the Government was looking forward to extending the Hobsonville Point development model and linking it with the Crown land programme.

While everybody was “still looking out for the magic bullet”, Dr Smith said the housing solution would come in many pieces. He expected to make an announcement shortly on one of those, the urban development strategy. Another strand was the rise in the build rate, up from a low point of 4000 houses to 9500/year, but facing a labour capacity issue to reach 13,000/year.

Mr Key said Hobsonville Point was proof that housing at scale & in a range of prices, including affordable housing, could be built close to central Auckland. The prime minister then ventured a combined potted history & economic outlook for his audience: “Auckland has pressure on its house prices because it’s doing well. That’s true right around the world, it’s not solely unique to Auckland, and if everybody was leaving and house prices were going down, everybody would be asking, ‘What’s the Government doing about it?’”

Mr Key said before houses were built, planning was required and core infrastructure had to be put in, “but there are factors that just do change. In 2008, when I first became prime minister, nobody wanted to buy a house in Auckland.” He said the Government was considering introducing new tax measures, “but long-term supply is the answer”.

That supply could come in different forms from those preferred even a couple of years ago. Mr Key noted a change in attitude in his electorate, the rural & partly urban Helensville, where people were now saying they could live with a bit of intensification.

“And that’s where the infrastructure comes into it. Pretty soon people will be able to come through Upper Harbour Highway & straight to the airport, but you need more money, you can’t just magic it up, and anybody who tells you it is [possible to just find the money] isn’t telling the truth.”

Closing, Mr Key said Hobsonville was “just a really nice place to live. We shouldn’t have doom & gloom, we should continue to work on solutions for people, including everything we’re doing getting on top of government finances.

“The alternative would be a ghost town, [but buying a house] is actually more affordable than it was 8 years ago – the prices are higher but the interest rate is lower.”

Attribution: Signing event, releases.

Continue Reading

Government releases “everyday guide” to the RMA

Published 1 September 2006

Environment Minister David Benson-Pope has launched a 4-part guide for small business & the public about working with the Resource Management Act.The guide consists of a cd-rom, website, 0800 phoneline & brochures.

“People sometimes see the RMA as something of a hurdle to overcome when they want to make changes to their home or business. An everyday guide to the RMA will help to demystify the process and remove a few misconceptions,” Mr Benson-Pope said.


Want to comment? Click on The new BD Central Forum or email [email protected].


Attribution: Government release, story written by Bob Dey for this website.

Continue Reading

Nick Smith says resource management rules need to be about wanting to develop

“A country of 4 million people cannot justify having 72 different sets of rules for power transmission, harvesting forestry, subdivision, telecommunications & even brothels,” Nelson MP Nick Smith said in an address to the National Party’s annual conference.

He wants an Environmental Protection Authority to take over that job and incorporate the role of the Environmental Risk Management Authority.

His speech was on resource laws for sustainable development and it’s produced here unedited:

One of the exciting challenges for National in Government will be rewriting New Zealand’s key resource laws so that we might deliver on Don Brash’s vision to close the gap in living standards between New Zealand and Australia.  New Zealand has many disadvantages in the GDP stakes of living standards.  We are small and we are isolated but no country is as blessed with natural resources as New Zealand.  Developing these resources sensibly and sustainably is pivotal to economic growth and maintaining the unique Kiwi lifestyle.The framework for resource use in New Zealand was revolutionised in the late ‘80s with the abolition of the Ministry of Works, Department of Electricity and New Zealand Forest Service that were replaced with the Ministry for the Environment and Department of Conservation.  In parallel the old Town and Country Planning Act was replaced by the Resource Management Act.The Resource Management Act has not lived up to its promise.  It has become a bureaucratic monster that is stifling growth and contributing to an infrastructure crisis.  The Act set up a complex matrix of national, regional and district policies for Resource Management.  It is an indictment that 13 years down the track only 23 of our 72 district council plans are fully operative.  The paper war that has flowed from the Resource Management Act has to be seen to be believed.  This stack of district and regional plans, some as thick as 7 inches, shows just how bureaucratic environmental regulation in New Zealand has become.  This cartoon on the fiasco at Whitianga aptly highlights just how frustrated New Zealanders have become over the Resource Management Act.Let me give some examples of just how serious this issue is for our country.  You will be aware that the top of the South Island, from Timaru north, is currently in a power crisis because of the lack of transmission capacity.  All that is required is additional wires be added to the existing transmission towers built in the 1960’s, a job that would take engineers only a few months.  The problem for Transpower is that to get consent for the additional lines it will need to get a separate resource consent from each of the six councils and also the consent of 85 landowners, a process that is expected to take three or four years.  We have faced three power crises in the past four years and the public will not tolerate bureaucratic excuses for not getting on and installing the additional lines.Nor can there be any solutions to Auckland’s billion dollar a year traffic woes without substantive reform of the RMA.  The consent for this Albany to Puhoi section was applied for in 1991, but consent was not granted until 1998.  It is a nonsense that it takes longer to get a consent for a new road than it takes to build it.It is not just public infrastructure that is being stifled by the Act. Wenita Forest Products proposed a $30 million investment in a new timber processing plant just out of Mosgiel, but ditched the plans after two years of RMA wrangling.  Millions of logs are being exported from the Port of Otago when we could have been adding value in New Zealand.  This is just one of many.  The NZ Forest Industry Council noted last week that there were 21 new greenfield mills under development in Australia – none in New Zealand.  The one proposal approved in New Zealand approved, in Coromandel, is off to the Environment Court, and one of the appellants is none other than the Department of Conservation ie the Government.It is not just big business that is losing out from the Act. A young entrepreneurial couple in Nelson attempted to start up a business of a maize maze where people would pay to find their way around in a crop of corn.  They lost over $110,000 when the Council and Environment Court ruled that the activity was ‘unsustainable’.  One has to wonder how people walking around in a corn crop is so environmentally damaging.Community groups have also been caught in the RMA quagmire.  The Whangamata Marine Society has been trying for 12 years to get consent for a 200 berth marina and despite $750,000 and 13 hearings, still has not got a consent.Nor should we underestimate the impact on housing costs.  It now takes between two and three years to get consent for a subdivision, and the costs for the developer of holding this land inevitably gets passed onto the homeowner.This is not just an issue about billion dollar consents like Project Aqua.You may be able to dismiss these anecdotal tales noting that 50,000 consents a year are dealt with under the Resource Management Act except for the fact that comprehensive studies have confirmed the problems of the Act.  The Ministerial Panel on Business Compliance Costs, set up by Labour in 2000, identified the RMA as business’s number one concern.  The report has been ignored, and as Chapman Tripp noted in May 2001 the Government’s amendment bill actually made things worse and not better.Perhaps the most damning data is from this year’s IMD World Competitiveness Study.  It showed New Zealand’s overall ranking slipping from 16th to 18th out of 60 countries under this Government. It is extraordinary that New Zealand’s environmental laws ranked bottom – 60th out of 60 for compliance costs hindering business.Meanwhile, Minister Hobbs, dubbed ‘Minister Boo Boo’ as the fifth Teletubby after the mess she made of TVNZ, has ignored calls for reform.  She and Helen Clark scuttled Simon Upton’s 1999 Reform Bill, introduced legal aid for objectors and has added additional bureaucratic requirements for councils in respect of heritage and biodiversity.  I don’t hold out much hope for the latest review, although it is interesting that on school closures, Treaty issues and now the RMA how this Government will change its tune in response to pressure from the polls.National could be lazy and wait until after the latest review to state our view on the RMA but we are better than that, and if Labour steals our ideas then so be it.  The sooner change is made the better.In embarking on changes to the RMA we need to be careful that we do not throw the baby out with the bathwater.  There are some good features in the Act. The fragmented approach, where different consents were required for use of water, air, noise control and land use did not work.  We should retain an integrated approach.  The overriding principle of sustainability is also sound.  We have no right to create wealth at the expense of future generations of New Zealanders.  We must also retain the focus on environmental effects.  We don’t want to recreate the situation where council bureaucrats are interfering in decisions that are for businesses and homeowners to make.Nor should we kid ourselves that this area of lawmaking is easy. Some New Zealanders are quite contradictory in their views on property rights, believing they have the God-given right to do whatever they like on their land, but God forbid that their neighbour should do anything that affects their view, lifestyle or the character of their neighbourhood.The first major change I propose is the establishment of a New Zealand Environmental Protection Authority.  The existing Resource Management Act is the most devolved system of environmental regulation in the world and involves far too much duplication.  A country of four million people cannot justify having 72 different sets of rules for power transmission, harvesting forestry, subdivision, telecommunications, and even brothels (although if I had my way the rules would just say no).The EPA approach is that which is used in all the major Australian and American states.  The intention would not be to create a new agency but to expand the existing Environmental Risk Management Authority.  The advantage of national standards is that no consent would be required if the standard is met.The second major change I propose is rewriting the purpose of the Act to provide for sustainable development.  Parliament needs to deal to the anti-development culture that has grown out of the RMA industry in Councils, the Department of Conservation, and the Environment Court.  National should be up-front that we want to develop New Zealand and that our environmental rules are about ensuring we do that in a sustainable way.  We also need to make plain that property rights need to be recognised. If we are serious about fixing the RMA we must confront the political correctness over the Treaty that has infected the Resource Management industry.  We have seen state highways in Hamilton and prisons in Northland delayed and diverted as the Environment Court has speculated on the home of the taniwha.In the decision to decline an application by Genesis Energy for a long-term consent for the Tongariro Power Scheme, the Court said it would adversely affect the self-esteem of Maori to allow the ongoing diversion of the Whanganui River.In another woolly decision, the judge ruled that the difference between land and water has little meaning to Maori who tend to regard the elements as one.I better be careful where I head or Margaret Wilson will have me back before the courts on another contempt charge, but to be fair, Parliament has bought these sorts of rulings on itself with provisions like section six that requires all persons to recognise and provide for “the relationship of Maori and their culture and traditions with their ancestral lands, water, sites, wahi tapu and other taonga.”And if you think this stuff is bad, the Foreshore and Seabed Bill makes it a whole lot worse.  It will be near impossible with the new ancestral connection orders and customary rights order to get consent to do anything in the marine environment without the say so of iwi.Don Brash’s groundbreaking Orewa speech has set the scene for some commonsense thinking around these issues, but the ideas he so eloquently espoused go back 2,500 years to Aristotle, who recognised the basic truth that our laws must treat all persons equally.Applying Don Brash’s one standard of citizenship to the Resource Management Act will require rewriting 34 of the exclusive references to Maori culture and spiritual values and replace it with provisions that respect the cultures and values of all New Zealanders.  We need to get rid of the vague references to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi that are so ill defined.  We also need to reaffirm the separation of church and state by removing references to the spiritual world.One of the biggest problems with the RMA is the time it takes to get decisions, and that is why we must advance reforms that streamline the process.  It is a waste of time putting major resource consents through a council hearing when everybody knows they are of such importance that they will go to the Environment Court.  That is why National supports direct referral of big consents direct to the Environment Court.We have also thought about how we can get Councils to comply with the time-frames in the Act.  Theoretically, no fully notified consent should take more than 60 working days to process, yet the Manufacturers Federation has reported that less than a third of consents are processed within the statutory deadlines.  National’s policy of ‘a late consent is a free consent’ will help focus the minds of Councils on the need for timeliness.There is also the problem of the infinite number of additional information requests by Councils without any regard for the costs of getting additional consultants’ reports. National proposes that an applicant has the right to refuse further information requests and ask that a consent be judged on the information provided.We should also revisit the notion that appeals are de novo, i.e. that all the evidence has to be heard again.  The practice has evolved that evidence is withheld knowing you get a second bite at the cherry.  We could hugely reduce the costs of appeal by limiting them to issues of law and not allowing a regurgitation of the issues already canvassed at the first hearing.A major problem with the Act is that anybody can object to anything, anywhere.  It is National’s view that the pendulum in respect of public consultation has swung too far, to the point where minority interests can hold the majority to ransom.  That is why National will reintroduce standing, where a person has to have a genuine interest to be able to object.  We would also scrap the $2 million legal aid fund for environmental objectors and put that money into an effective environmental mediation service.  We also believe we need to give the Courts and Councils wider powers to reject vexatious and frivolous objections, and to award costs to applicants where objectors have unreasonably caused expense.Another major issue that has come into sharp focus during the debate on Project Aqua are the inadequacies of the Act in allocating scarce resources.  Here there has been a hot contest between the use of the Waitaki waters for hydrogeneration compared with irrigation.   The current approach of a bureaucratic battle, where an expert panel decides the allocation, is bound to fail.  The relative economics of farming and electricity generation changes by the day.  It would be far more sensible to provide a tradable mechanism in which the market can determine the best use of the water and in which participants can sell or buy water depending on their need.  It also provides a powerful incentive for efficient use of the resource.There is a parallel problem in the allocation of marine space.  It is no wonder that there has been a gold rush-type approach to applying for aquaculture space when there is no value ascribed to the resource.  Imagine if your local Council advertised that it had a couple of thousand hectares of land, and you could apply for some.National believes we need to move to tradable resource rights in a number of key areas.  We need to provide resource users with the security of ongoing rights. There is a complex and difficult job in the initial allocation as was
experienced with the fishing quota, but long-term this is a far better way in which to sustainably manage scarce resources.I cannot conclude a discussion on efficient resource management without also raising concerns about the Conservation Act.  The way this rigid statute prohibits any attempt to sensibly use so much of New Zealand needs to be revisited.  The classic current example is the Dobson Hydro Scheme on the West Coast.  The Minister point blank refuses to allow 0.03% of West Coast conservation land, to be taken for a project that would make the region self-sufficient in electricity. He cites the areas so-called unique conservation values when it is all cutover bush, 30% is gorse and broom, and the department has no record of it being used by recreationalists.The proponents, Trustpower, has put forward an attractive package that would see more area added to the reserve than that required from it, and an extensive ongoing conservation package to control pests and weeds that would enhance bird numbers and recreational opportunities.We need to include in the Conservation Act the concept of net conservation benefit.  This will encourage people to think innovatively about how you can create win-win economic environmental outcomes rather than the current rigid approach.There is a further huge issue of which National needs to lead a change in thinking.  The ideology of the 1980’s is that the only way to secure conservation or recreational benefits is for state ownership, and so the state is on a massive land grab in the South Island.There are 3 million hectares, or 10%, of New Zealand in high country leases.  Labour’s plan is to drive farmers off most of this and put it in the hands of the Department of Conservation.  DoC is struggling to properly manage the land it has got and I have serious doubts as to whether the land will be better looked after in state control.National believes it is just Green dogma to say that land must be exclusively used for conservation and recreation, or production.  There are really good examples in places like the Pupu Farm Park where multiple uses are compatible with smart management.  We want to apply this sort of approach to the South Island high country.So these are the eight key changes we want to make to New Zealand’s resource laws.  We are committed to introducing amendments to the RMA to Parliament within three months of being elected to office, and putting these in law within nine months.  It is a demanding timetable.  But if we want to solve Auckland transport congestion, if we want to unleash Canterbury’s irrigation potential, if we want to process the wall of wood in New Zealand, and if we want to keep the lights on, we must deliver resource laws that work better for New Zealand.This is all about marrying environmental excellence with strong economic growth, and National is up to that challenge.

Website: National Party speeches

Continue Reading