Saturday, November 1, 2014

Frank Newman: Relentless planners and you

Planners are never satisfied, and never give up. Central and local government have departments full of them - all charged with the task of regulating what landowners can't do on their land. Increasingly, permitted use rights once held by landowners are being replaced with discretionary rights exercised by council planning staff (and enforced at the landowners cost).

Underlying it all is preservation and a (false) presumption that landowners can't be trusted to do the right thing for future generations. Fortunately, Neanderthals had a more enlightened view of innovation and preservation.

Planners are dangerous people - dangerous in that they elevate their own perceptions of the world above those they are supposed to serve. In an ideal world landowners would be protected from such people by their elected representatives. They are our line of defence against socialist planners and the like of radical environmentalists such as the Department of Conservation (DoC); that's why we elect them.

Unfortunately the real world does not work like that. When it comes to defending property rights our elected representatives are nowhere to be seen. Here's an example.

Over the last year or so the Northland Regional Council has been progressing a new Regional Policy Statement. It's a high level document which the district council must put into effect when writing their own plans. The matter has gone through the submission process and is now in the final stages of mediation, and will soon head off to the Environment Court to resolve the outstanding matters.

It is during mediation that the rules are re-written. Everything before that is pretty much window dressing. Amazingly at no time during the mediation process have I seen a councillor from any of Northland's four councils. Either councillors can't be bothered or they have delegated their role to represent the public interest to their planning staff! The effect of that abrogation of duty is that property owners are largely unrepresented and have no say when it comes to shaping planning rules in our region.

The groups that are represented are DoC, the Environmental Defense Society (EDS), Federated Farmers, large corporations, agencies like NZ Transport Agency, and one or two high net worth individuals. All go into the process looking after their own particular interests and come armed with huge funding and highly paid lawyers and private sector planners. Rarely is there anyone speaking for private property owners.

The result is a Regional Policy Statement that has been manipulated by environmental extremists and vested interests. That's what's been happening ever since the Resource Management Act (RMA) became law over two decades ago and will continue to happen unless councillors do what they were elected to do, or until central government intervenes and radically changes the RMA process.

This lack of representation is a worry given the new proposal (Plan Change 85) by the Whangarei District Council to change zoning in the rural area.

This is a big deal. It affects more than 80% of the land area of the Whangarei District and, true to form, will take permitted rights from landowners and give discretionary rights to council planners.

Here is a snippet from the draft proposal.

  • Creating a new lot of 80ha (200 acres!) or less (but greater than 20ha) will require a resource consent and become a controlled activity. In other words, would be granted subject to complying with certain prescribed conditions.
  • Creating a new lot of 20ha (50 acres!) or less will require a resource consent and become a discretionary activity. In other words, would gain consent at the say so of the planning staff. That process will open the door for DoC, EDS, Iwi, and any other vested interest group or greenmailer to oppose the consent and subject the landowner to cost and delays.  
WDC is seeking comment on the draft provisions up until 19 December 2014. Feedback will then be considered and a proposed plan change will be prepared and publicly notified for formal submissions in mid 2015.

Invariable the same old players and their highly paid lawyers and entourage of experts will take the matter through to mediation and to the environment court, leaving landowners defenceless to the further erosion of property rights and subject to the whims of planning staff and the costs of their bureaucratic process.


jonno1 said...

Sadly, it's not only the planners but vested interests that are a problem. Two colleagues from my neighbourhood attended an Auckland Unitary Plan hearing on behalf of a group of us and were genuinely shocked at the self-interest displayed by every other submitter. Our submission centred on council upgrading infrastructure (in particular stormwater) ahead of approving intensified development, as our local community suffers from poor historical design. We weren't asking for any breaks for ourselves, just for some common sense to prevail. I understand that in the CBD there are already problems with water supply being inadequate for fire-fighting in some locations (this last bit is hearsay; I have no actual evidence of this).

Anonymous said...

“Capitalism, it is said, is a system wherein man exploits man. And communism — is vice versa.” Daniel Bell, The End of Ideology (1960).

Within Local Government we now have the groups on fees, exploiting the unrepresented or ineffectively represented producers of goods and services, and providers or Councils incomes.

Government and Local Authority employees and their Planners now set the rules and their fees, the rates, and the standards, having deemed employers, and owners of property who have created capital, and the security and source for all Council rates, now almost totally unable economically to even influence management of their own resources.


Huzat said...

Interesting I sought Councils assistance to seek a Neighbours tidying up a Lifestyle block with imported products strewn over several Ha. Council said no he had to apply for Resource Consent to operate as a trader. Council declined consent but when neighbour continued trading, Council introduced every possible reason why they could not enforce Councils decision. Council Planners are extremely helpful but their Management totally lacking in professionalism.Talking with Legal Counsel they suggest we have a watertight case but because they Council have access to ratepayers as funding providers they would appeal judgements up to the point where we would be unable to continue.