Sunday, May 26, 2013

Frank Newman: RMA a failure

The Resource management Act is about to get another makeover, the 21st since the legislation became law in 1991. The new changes are to be announced within the new few weeks and expected to take up to three years to put into effect. Twenty-one changes in 22 years is a clear admission that the Act is not working, and never has.

I recall in 1991 the Act was heralded by the politicians of the day as a visionary piece of legislation; one that would allow communities to enhance their future well-being while protecting what we have for future generations. It was also at the forefront of what would be a number of effect-based acts. In simple terms, it replaced a bunch of Acts that prescribed what you could do, with one that said a landowner could do petty much anything on their property, provided the effects on the environment were no more than minor or could be avoided, remedied, or mitigated.

Some 22 years later it is clear this utopian vision was a false hope. The RMA has become disabling and a very large gravy train for council staff, expert report writers, iwi, and the commissioners who preside over hearings. I would like to say these people have made a positive contribution to the well-being of our society but I believe the opposite is true. By happily extracting what they can from the process they have drained the spirit and resources of those with initiative and deprived society of all of the positive things that would have flowed from an enterprising society (like jobs!).

Even worse the RMA has handed radical activist organisations (like the Environmental Defence Society) a weapon of mass destruction which they have cleverly used to promote their own selfish agendas. In Auckland by the shortage of greenfields land for development and the obstacles objectors have put in the way of progress has caused inevitable delays and costs, so much so that central government is introducing special legislation to get the job done (the Housing Accords and Special Housing Areas Bill).

The effects of the new legislation would be immediate. I am advised by a developer of a large  housing project in Auckland that he expects his consents would be through within three months under the special legislation, against three to four years under the RMA process. That time saving represents a huge saving in holding costs and he avoids becoming the main course in the RMA gravy train. As a result, thousands of people will be in housing three to four years sooner and at a cost of the houses will be substantially less than would otherwise have been the case – probably $100k less!

That’s great news for Auckland, but what about the rest of us? Why do we still have to put up with the RMA nonsense? Sure Auckland has problems but so too does Northland. We are at the wrong end of all economic indicators - the lowest average income in the country and the highest unemployment rate. We too need the urgency that Auckland has been given. Why do we still have to entertain exaggerated concerns from environmental activists? Why should we have to pay for photocopied cultural assessment reports and for blokes to apparently sit around during site works just in case pipi shells are unearthed? Why do we have to engage various consultants to state the obvious then pay again to have a second opinion done when the first does not suit council staff? And so it goes on.

New Zealanders everywhere face the same urgency that Auckland faces. It’s time to be honest about the real impact the RMA has had on our communities.

In my view the single most important thing the inevitable changes to the RMA should address is the issue of compensation when the property rights are taken from a landowner. There is a blatant inconsistency at present that if property is taken for public works then compensation is paid under the Public Works Act. But is the land use is taken from a property owner under the RMA (eg it is designated an outstanding natural area) then no compensation is given, even though the landowner may not be able to undertake their business activity on that property. That’s wrong, and needs to be addressed.

Clearly, if rights are taken from a landowner for the “public good” then it is good enough for the public to pay for the benefit they have received. If council’s had to pay when taking a private property right from one person t give to “the community”, they may be less enthusiastic about taking it in the first place.


Geoffrey said...

I have long wondered when the magic "future' will arrive, and the then population is empowered to actually use the resources that we have selflessly reserved for them...

Wayne said...

Suspect the timing and subsequent changes is all to do with AGENDA 21

Lloyd said...

Totally agree. Scrap the RMA - easiest fix may be to just roll back the clock and reinstate the essential rules that the RMA replaced. Minimal fine tuning only! - not the nonsense that the RMA became.

Argus said...

Is there no way to hold politicians and people who get these things into law financially responsible for the damage they do?