National Politics

RMA reform needs to be done right

By Simon Court, ACT party infrastructure and local government spokesperson, and civil and environmental engineer with 23-years’ experience in roles for the private sector and local government.

Reform of the Resource Management Act is one thing that seems to be agreed upon across party lines in Parliament.

Despite this consensus for change, there is still disagreement about what this change should look like. Labour’s proposed Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA) is a prime example of change that doesn’t address the problems at hand.

An example of the current issues with the RMA were made clear when the McCallum Bros in Northland recently had its application to renew consents to extract sand from deep water declined. This special coarse sand is used to make concrete in the Auckland City Rail Link and Central interceptor projects. Aucklanders should expect lengthy delays and a huge cost increase in the price of everything that gets built as a result of this.

How can communities thrive when getting consents for basic building materials like sand and rock are almost impossible?

You would hope the NBA Bill addresses these problems, but it doesn’t. The NBA Bill has had no input from the developers and businesses who get things built, and appears like it’s going to be more of the same – a recipe for more costs, more red tape, and less affordable homes.

The key changes made are not about allowing greater ease in gaining consents, instead it is focussed on letting bureaucrats and iwi decide the regional planning rules to say where you are and are not allowed to do stuff.

That is also what the Infrastructure Commission says. They point to years of delays and billions added to consenting costs in the past five years as one of the main reasons construction costs have risen so much.

ACT believes that one way to reduce planning and consenting costs, is to simply stop planning and consenting stuff we already know how to do well.

A code of practice for common activities like earthworks and drainage would avoid the need for thousands of consents every year, saving tens of millions and years of delay for housing and infrastructure projects.

The Government is squandering an opportunity to create meaningful change that could improve the lives of New Zealanders and restore the ideal of a property-owning democracy.

The proposed NBA Bill will create a planning system that provides less certainty and less accountability than the RMA does today, at a time when more localised, adaptive and agile processes are needed to manage development and natural hazards.

Instead of progressing this approach, ACT supports repealing the RMA and replacing it with separate Environmental Protection and Urban Development laws.

For reform to be successful ACT believes 10 meaningful changes are needed from any new legislation.

  1. Protect property rights and expand the ability of property owners to use their land for maximum utility.
  2. Address the artificial scarcity of land which severely restricts housing supply, caused primarily by the lack of adequate infrastructure services.
  3. Remove gateway tests requiring developers to first convince planning authorities why they should be allowed to build, rather than how effects are managed.
  4. Reduce the range of activities which require consent by instead referring to codes of practice to manage effects.
  5. Limit who should be allowed to object to private plan changes and consent applications to only those directly affected by a proposal.
  6. Prioritise outcomes (like being able to make concrete) over effects which can be mitigated and remedied.
  7. Base environmental protections only on science, not social and cultural constructs.
  8. Remove contradictions and overlapping provisions in environmental law so all parties have a clear understanding of their rights and responsibilities.
  9. Address tendency of current planners to delay resolution of conflicting outcomes, and provide compensation for time delays in consenting and planning decisions.
  10. Increase certainty for investors, developers and local councils so they do not live in fear of activist planning commissioners and the Environment Court.

We don’t need to be telling people the city should be this shape or that shape. We should be enabling people to develop their property.

We should be enabling councils to focus on funding good infrastructure because that’s how you let the next generation build homes like the previous one did.

All parties agree resource management reform is necessary, but Labour’s approach is not the reform we need.


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