RMA ‘broken’, not fit for purpose for local government

Dave Cull, president of Local Government New Zealand and mayor of Dunedin, says that the Resource Management Act is broken, and is effectively saying that the  is not fit for purpose, or at least not fit for local governments who want to progress housing developments.

Stuff: Don’t leave smaller councils with the claw hammer

On one hand we have the Urban Development Authority (UDA), the agency that will be responsible for delivering on the Government’s ambitious KiwiBuild programme.

To build at scale, the Government is looking to give the UDA the power of compulsory acquisition to assemble large parcels of land and the ability to shortcut the onerous public consultation processes required under the Resource Management Act (RMA).

On the other hand we have non-UDA projects, which still have to go through the RMA process.

This will give Government favoured projects a major time and cost advantage.

Make no mistake, the UDA is a good thing. The answer to the housing crisis is to remove the hurdles that have prevented us from building homes.  Local Government NZ has worked closely with Government on the UDA policy to ensure it works with local government structures as seamlessly as possible.

But there is a risk that, if we stop reforms with the UDA, we could be entrenching the housing problem, not fixing it.

Here’s why: by seeking a series of RMA carve-outs for the UDA, the Government is effectively admitting that our planning system is broken, particularly when it comes to urban development.

It is an acknowledgment that the RMA is too consultative and encourages a tragedy of the anti-commons. This is where everyone gets a say in a development, not just affected parties, and as a result many worthwhile projects never get off the ground.

The RMA’s consultation requirements also vastly complicate the already fiendishly difficult matter of assembling land for urban development.

Ironically Cull’s Dunedin City Council has just notified decisions on it’s Second Generation Plan (2GP) for Dunedin, and appeals have been lodged against some decisions.

One highlights the power of everyone being able to have a say. This appeal – ENV-2018-CHC-285 – The Preservation Coalition Trust  – wants Rural Residential rezoning deleted from the 2GP if ‘any portion visible’ from most prominent roads on the Peninisula, West Harbour, North East Valley and north to Waitati. That effectively means just about all land north and east of Dunedin.

Unfortunately, early signs suggest the zeal for building reform seems to be limited to the UDA, which will focus on a handful of really big projects, the kind that only the likes of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Hamilton or Tauranga could reasonably take on.

The rest of New Zealand will have to struggle on with the RMA – a claw hammer with a cracked handle and wobbly head.

Including Cull’s Dunedin City.

If we want to tackle housing affordability across the whole country, and not just in our big cities, we need to reform our national planning legislation to enable more residential building to take place, whether it be in Gisborne or Gore.

In short, we want to see everyone equipped with gas framing nailers.  That’s the kind of exciting contest that we want  – an even playing field that results in more houses, where we all end up winning.

He could start by addressing this in his home town, but it’s probably far too late with the advanced 2GP process.

Does he want to put that aside and start again? Or is he only advocating for elsewhere?