Two years ago I quoted from a story appearing in the NZ Herald, written by Bob Jones. The story involved one of his buildings, a 17 story office tower in downtown Auckland. A tenant had blocked out some of the windows so when they vacated Jones wanted to restore the window panes.
Jones says, "..we were then informed by a planner my Auckland office uses for council dealings (which can be laborious) that under the new council rules, changes to a building's appearance require resource consent and we would be subject to penalty if we simply put back the window...we were then told that under the new Draft Unitary Plan, not yet enacted, our building being within 50 metres of a designated Maori heritage site, we needed RMA approval (for a new shop window, for God's sake), this instantly forthcoming at a cost of $4500 plus the approval of 13 iwi."
It turns out that not just one iwi needed to be consulted, but 13 ranging from Taranaki to Whangarei! The nonsense gets worse, as Bob Jones describes.
"One respondent bearing that fine old Maori name of Jeff Lee, representing something called Ngai Tai Ki Tamaki, contacted the planner...after advising the planners verbally that no Cultural Impact Assessment Report was required for the window, he nevertheless asked them to consider it - brace yourselves - given his ancestors, centuries ago, gathered in the vicinity.
Lee then wrote, outlining his terms for 'assessing the window's cultural impact' which, he said, would take him 'a total of six to eight hours'. For this he sought $90 per hour plus GST and 'travel expenses of 0.77c p/km.'
At this stage we became involved and told the planners to tell Mr Lee to get stuffed. In the words of my company's manager, a historian knowledgeable in Maori history and who speaks the language: 'It's a classic case of bureaucrats worried about cultural correctness without thinking through the consequences.'
I more succinctly call it a racket..."
Unfortunately what Jones told of then, is about to get worse. Yet another Bill amending the Resource Management Act is before Parliament at present. It has passed its first reading and is now back before a select committee. When the Bill was first introduced in November last year it only did so because of some back-room wheeling and dealing between National and the Maori Party.
Last week the Maori Party extracted further concessions from National in return for their further support (and this may not be the last as there are many more steps in the process).
The Maori Party have described it like this:
"Iwi have a role as kaitiaki of our natural resources based on the spiritual and cultural relationship they have always had with the environment. Māori therefore must be given a crucial role in the management of these resources including our rivers, mountains and national parks. It is our responsibility and right to protect, restore and enhance the environment. The mechanism proposed to achieve kaitiakitanga in the new Bill is through Mana Whakahono ā Rohe Agreements. The principles underpinning mana whakahono agreements will ensure both iwi and councils have a mutually agreed understanding of how iwi will be involved and what is required of iwi and councils. This will also support wider stakeholders understanding of why, how and when they are required to engage with iwi.”
At present there are no provisions for any public consultation over the last minute inclusion of these new provisions in the Bill - it is up to the Committee's discretion as to whether the public be given an opportunity to have a say on the matter via a new submission process.
To be quite blunt, National's RMA reform process has become a mess.
The positive changes that Nick Smith gloated about when starting out on the current reform process, have through political deal-making, been replaced with provisions embedding the very things Bob Jones wrote about two years ago - which he described as a racket.
What politicians should have learnt from 2016 is that they ignore the silent majority at their own peril, and 2017 will be no less challenging for the political establishment, especially in Europe where once minor parties are gaining traction. But we should not forget that there is also a general election here in New Zealand no later than the 18th of November next year. This time next year we will know if the mood for change reaches our shores.