Thursday, May 20, 2010

Owen McShane: Three Tales of Stupidity

1. EnergyWise or EnergyStupid.
In the Straight Furrow of May 18, Grant McLachlan, in his Human Nature column tells of a farmer exploring the idea of installing a micro-hydro plant to divert some of the water falling over a ten metre waterfall on his property to drive a micro-hydro plant rather than pay $200,000 to replace the aging power line to the national grid. According to the Energywise web site the generator would cost about $15,000, which looked like a good deal, and all in accord with our National Policies promoting renewable energy and so on.

Then he went to the local regional council who advised that it would cost about $100,000 for the resource consent. And that was just for the ecological study and flow measurements. (Councils normally require a consent to extract the water and then after it goes through the turbine a discharge consent to put it back in the river. I suppose they have to cope with the loss of mauri in the process.) He found that experts who were not on the council-approved list would do the job for a few thousand dollars, but the approved experts quoted $40,000 and $50,000 for the same task. Obviously there is money growing on these "approved consultancy" trees.

Then these approved experts said he would probably also need a landscape architect and an "iwi consultant." Then they decided it would have to be notified. So, all up, this small micro-hydro plant would cost $200,000.

So now we know why there are so few micro-hydros around our countryside.

2. The Joy of Defeating Success.
Last Friday's Central Leader tells us that the Onehunga Market has had to close after the Auckland City Council demanded the market close down because it needed a resource consent. The consent would cost at least $15,000, (and maybe $30,000) but worse, the market would have to close for the three to six months it would take to process. The market operated on Saturdays only, and opened in mid-March.

Instead they will look for a new location. The "proper" zone is one block away. Council's position is that the market did not choose to pursue a resource consent, so they closed. Hardly surprising, given that they could have spent all that money, wasted all that down-time, and still ended up having their application declined.

The kindly Council spokeswoman explained where the money goes:

"If the council determined that the application needed to be processed with limited notification or full notification the overall deposit would be $11,000 or $22,000 respectively. The costs reflect the time spent by the planner handling the consent, any hearings commissoners, adminstration assistants and any experts that are involved."

So much for "vibrant" downtowns, and promoting fresh fruit and vegetables, home gardening, sustainable lifestyles, and local initiatives and innovation, and all that other stuff Council documents are full of.

3. Wasting resources on Waste.
Writing in the New Zealand Herald's CollegeHerald page, Adam Roscoe, a year 13 student at Green Bay High School, tells the story of how "$250,000 was flushed down Karekare's toilet in democracy's name".

Just before we left our house at Karekare Beach to finally move to Kaiwaka in 1995, Council began making noises about replacing the old concrete toilets just across the road.

Adam Roscoe reports that the consulting on this major project (three dunnies in a timber shelter) took seven years. While the battle raged the untreated waste from the primitive loos continued to pollute the nearby stream. It might have gone on forever, but finally Council sought a decision from an Environment Court Commissioner, who recognised "the undisputed need and value of an upgraded toilet system for visitors to this popular recreation area."

They must be flash dunnies because they cost $479,000 to build. I wonder how much it would cost a private individual to build the same set of dunnies in a private camping ground.

However, the total cost to Council was $730,000 because the cost of consultation was about $250,000.

This takes no account of the seven years of wasted time and all the anger and resentment created by this process which bitterly divided the community. Five years into the drama the old system finally failed and had to be supplemented with Portaloos – which you can admire even today from Google Maps if you target the car park area.

It was fun using Street View to peek at our old house again too. The trees have grown and we would be well screened by now.

Adding it all up.
These three tales, all collected in only one week in May, explain why so many people claim that the regulation of construction and development is now a bigger industry than the industry it is meant to regulate.

The productivity commission has its work cut out.

For more information, please visit the Centre for Resource Management Studies website here:


Anonymous said...

You have highlighted very well the need for radical reform of the RMA. The costs are simply absurd. Granting this monopoly to councils has given them an opportunity to build an empire and pass it onto the applicant, and allow so-called experts to rort the system like thieves.

The government can spout off as much as it likes about lower taxes, etc but the few dollars a week tax savings is a drop in the ocean compared to the cost impositions from local councils.

Sally said...

Wasn't National going to do something about the bureaucratic red tape?

Anonymous said...

It is things like this that make me weep!None of this bureaucracy is necessary. The people who want to undertake this work are surely the best people to decide these things. All of the consultation and handwringing simply confirmed a common sense decision. It is past time that we tackled this nonsense and swept it away forever.

TimM said...

Makes you wonder where this money ends up though. If the councils are charging so much for processing consents then why do they also continue to increase rates so often? The only thing that springs to mind is profligacy. Looking at the council buildings in Wellington I wonder how it came about that people beg on the street just two blocks up Cuba St, while the mayor and councillors sit in their monuments to profligacy.
A core tenet of government, local and central, should be austerity. Efficiency seems to be too much to ask for.

PGTips91 said...

I am convinced that the councils and the brigade of advisors are in secret collusion.

I recently gave up plans to build a flat under my house after council demanded both a $20,000 'Development Contribution' and a geo-technical report costing thousands of dollars even though the entire project was within the existing building profile. That was on top of spending more on plans and consultations to get a permit than I initially thought would build the entire structure!

Of concern is the readiness of the 'consultants' to provide their services at high cost. A call by our advisor brought a representative onto our site the same day, with the subsequent quote. Chatting to the person doing the preliminary work I discovered that they had arrived from the UK just three months earlier. It seems to me that, like a flock of sparrows around bread crumbs in winter, specialists are being attracted here by the easy, well paid work spawned by councils.

It all seems so entrenched and unnecessary to me. No wonder that businesses caught in this trap have simply folded. No wonder the cost of housing is continuing to escalate so rapidly.


ross said...

What a joke! But we should be crying, not laughing. Your examples are born out by everyday experience....hundreds of thousands of dollars spent to find where the Heathcote River mouth resides. And multi millions to define all other river mouths under the RMA. Thousands of dollars to erect one basketball hoop locally in a public playground. $40 million annd still rising for a very basic public hall in Manukau...that wasn't going to cost the ratepayers a cent according to the Mayor. And so on...
I doubt NZers would tolerate the 'eficiency' of Nazi Germany whereby the first residents knew of a new autoban was the arrival of trucks to shift their possessions before demolition of their homes!
But on the other hand NZ's lurch into 'planning la la land' is equally unacceptable.
The nub question would seem to be...(given our multi billion dollar 'investment' in democratic legislatures locally and nationally) "Is it possible in a technologically complex world, to construct a set of statutory rules which stand on the own merits as enforceable instruments?"
A perceptive American once noted..."they (govt.) want to run (the particular industry) like a supermarket carpark with no white lines (understandable rules) to show you where to park...but with a thousand attendants to direct you."
Therein lies NZ's most significant problem.... almost every productive industry &/or private activity is beset by complex requirements to seek approval of an army of bureaucrats plus a legion of fellow-traveller 'experts, before your 'request' can be granted.
The key issue is our scandalously ineffective rule-makers....voted into office by us...who tend to judge their suitability by their haircut, dress and tv persona.....ohhh, ummmh, then it seems nothing much is going to get any better?