Sunday, January 25, 2015

Frank Newman: RMA changes on way

In 1991 the Resource Management Act (RMA) was heralded 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. Its political architects, Geoffrey Palmer and Simon Upton, were considered enlightened forward thinkers. It was also at the forefront of what would be a number of effect-based acts. In simple terms, the RMA 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.

Time has shown those enabling visionary ideals to be fanciful and foolish hopes. The RMA has become disabling and a very large gravy train for the planning industry that has grown up around it. Even worse, the RMA has handed radical activist organisations (like the Environmental Defence Society and the government's own Department of Conservation) an effective weapon which they have cleverly utilised to promote their own anti-private property rights agendas.

Virtually everyone, except planners, now accept Auckland's housing shortage is largely due to supply shortages brought about by planing rules designed to concentrate people within urban limits to force them to live like battery hens in multi-level housing blocks. Even an NCEA economics student knows that reducing the supply of housing without any change in demand will increase house prices.

The inflationary effects of the RMA and the impact upon home affordability are now so obvious that politicians in Wellington can no longer do nothing. Some 20 or so amendments to the RMA over as many years has failed to address the Act's fundamental problems. The National government says it will do so in legislation to be introduced this year.

The big question is how far the changes will go. At this stage the extent of the reforms are simply contained in a speech by Environment Minister, Nick Smith (speech to Nelson Rotary, 21 January 2015):

"...let me equally be plain that tinkering with the RMA won’t do. The Act has some fundamental design flaws that require substantial overhaul. The purposes and principles are out-dated and ill matched with the reality of the issues it manages like housing development. The plan making process is too cumbersome and slow. The Act needs re-engineering away from litigation towards collaboration. Property owners need stronger protection from unnecessary bureaucratic meddling. We need stronger national consistency and direction. We need to redesign the paper based planning and consultation systems for today’s age of the internet."

"The plan-making process is too cumbersome and slow...economic growth, jobs and exports need recognition...The idea that the only consideration in resource consenting is protection of nature is naive. This is not the National Parks Act."

"The most contentious of the planned reforms will be to the purpose and principles of the Act in Part 2. The significance of these provisions is that every plan, every rule, and every consent is tested against these provisions. We are not proposing changes to the over-riding purpose of sustainable management in Section 5, but we are proposing significant changes to Sections 6 and 7."
[Section 6 deals with matters of national importance - things like the coastal environment, the protection of outstanding natural features and landscapes from inappropriate subdivision, protection of significant indigenous vegetation,  and so on. Section 7 deals with a whole lot of Other Matters including kaitiakitanga and global warming.]
"I am also of the view that economic growth, jobs and exports need recognition. The idea that the only consideration in resource consenting is protection of nature is naïve. This is not the National Parks Act. When consideration is being given to allow a new factory, a new road, a new marine farm, a mine or a new tourism attraction, we need to carefully weigh up the effects on the environment alongside the benefits of economic growth and jobs. We are a Bluegreen Government that is quite upfront about wanting to utilise our natural resources to create jobs and increase incomes but we want to do so in a responsible way that avoids unnecessary harm to the environment."

At this stage the Minister is mouthing the right words.
 Whether those words will translate into meaningful reform remains to be seen. I hope to be pleasantly surprised if National has the fortitude to confront the vested interest groups and make the necessary changes to bring about the substantive change that is necessary. Unfortunately, all to often politicians are more concerned with wanting to be seen to be addressing the issues and do little to  actually address the problem.


Brian said...

Like you say Frank, they are fine words from Minister Nick Smith; but the old adage come out once again...
"Fine words butter no parsnips".
I for one, wonder if these words will be fulfilled in the reality of a Parliamentary vote and majority.
Or like many other changes, be merely cosmetic to sooth the raised feathers of our Green/Maori bureaucracy.

Changes to the RMA are not the total answer, the ever increasing migration into Auckland needs to be tackled. Together with the priorities that these days most Local Government Councils seem to ignore; namely core activities but rather concentrate upon entertainment.

A case of ...Ave Kaiser "We about to pay salute you"!

Malcolm said...

Frank: As far as I am aware all the Auckland rail network developments are being carried out under the Railways Act which is specifically exempt from the requirements of the RMA. Note that no roading works can be authorised in a similar fashion. If the RMA is such a wonderful Act why has Auckland Council avoided it for the railway works, yet applied it with rigour for roading (including the removal of 6 or so trees at Western Springs?

Anonymous said...

Last year we had a visit from an Auckland City Council officer to inspect our holiday homes septic tank & drainage installation as part of the RMA Act requirements for a subdivision. This very small subdivision affecting 6 owners had been completed approx year 2000 and recently ACC had taken over from the Franklin City Council who had issued completion certificates . All owners were presented with a letter together with an invoice demanding payment varying from $450 to $650 for one officer to visit and inspect our drainage. The reason for extra charges was given because some owners queried the charges for one man for one day approx $3,500 so it was extra for the officer to reply by phone. fax, or email. The officer stated we all had to shift our drainage 20 metres from the road even tho we all had completion certificates passed by the Franklin City Council.
To cut a long story short the outcome was we all agreed to pay ACC $100- each.
What annoys me as a Qualified Craftsman Plumber Drain layer Gasfitter is the cost generated by the RMA and councils requirement to install a so called new state of the art Septic tank compared to the old proven Septic Tank that has been operating successfully all over the world for over a century. There are old septic tanks in NZ that have been installed for 20 to 50 years or more and some never been emptied costing zero to maintain. The new so called state of the art septic tank under the RMA requires inspections twice a year costing over $100- each time plus electricity and I have had two pumps replaced since installation costing over $1,000 each to replace. On top of this we have the annual ACC charges plus every 5 years an officer can call and supposedly inspect our septic tank system without any qualifications and charge like a wounded bull.
There are septic tanks opposite that are installed below the high water and obviously seep into the harbor and ACC does nothing it only picks on the new owners who have been forced to accept the new design septic tank under the disguise of the RMA so the ACC can charge more money to aged beneficiaries. There is an identical septic tank across the road from our subdivision 1.5 metres higher than the foreshore & I am told he dose not come under the ACC RMA for inspections because he is not part of a subdivision. The new S O T Art Septic tank method with two pumps that pump from one tank to another and finally out to a native planted area is still the same as the old proven septic tank that has serviced the people of NZ & the world as they both dispose of S H I T. To top it off I have been advised the RMA will expire on the 31 December 2016 and the ACC has stated they will require $3.000 each from every owner of a holiday home in our case we use approx 2 to 3 weeks per year.