Chris Trotter on National’s “developers’ charter” #RMA reforms

John Key PM + Nick Smith at Hobsonville housing development 24.8.14 [Hannah Peters - Getty Images AsiaPac]

The Never-Ending Suburban Dream: Dr Nick Smith’s purported determination to make housing more affordable by “reforming” the Resource Management Act has been widely derided as little more than a National Party recommitment to the urban development model of the 1950s and 60s. In short, to quote Peter Dunne, “a developers’ charter”.

Chris Trotter []###
Friday, 23 January 2015 at 08:53
New Zealand Doesn’t Need A “Developers’ Charter”
By Chris Trotter
THE LAWYERS and the environmental lobbyists are already gnawing at Dr Nick Smith’s proposed changes to the Resource Management Act (RMA). Forewarned by the National-led Government’s first, abortive, foray into environmental law reform back in 2013, a forearmed Opposition has this week re-joined the battle with renewed energy.
The United Future leader, Peter Dunne, has warned against turning the RMA into a “Developers’ Charter” – a potent political riff upon which his parliamentary colleagues have been only-too-happy to extemporise.
Has the Prime Minister, rubbing shoulders with 1 percent of 1 percent of the 1 Percent at Davos, given equal heed to the venerable Member for Ohariu? Given that few politicians’ appreciation of middle-class New Zealanders’ tics and tells is stronger than Mr Dunne’s, if John Key isn’t paying attention to him, then he should – and soon.
Not that, in the brutal numbers game that determines whether a piece of legislation succeeds or fails, Mr Key needs the endorsement of Mr Dunne. The parliamentary arithmetic of environmental law reform requires no complicated figuring. The Act Party’s grace-and-favour MP for Epsom, David Seymour, has already signalled (well in advance of any actual shouts of “Division called for!”) that he will be supplying Dr Smith with the single vote necessary (in addition to National’s 60 votes) to ensure the passage of the Government’s environmental reforms.
Which is, when you think about it, extraordinary. With sixty MPs, National’s current parliamentary caucus is, by historical standards, a large one. It is also slavishly obedient.
[…] It has been a very long time indeed since a National Party politician “crossed the floor” in any kind of procedurally meaningful context. For many years now absolute caucus discipline has not only been assumed – it has prevailed.
Such robotic compliance is not good for the health of National’s caucus; the wider National Party organisation; nor, ultimately, for that of parliamentary democracy itself. Voters need to believe that there are at least some MPs whose definitive allegiance is to values and principles more enduring than the arguments of their Party Whip. On matters crucial to both the social and the natural environments, the practice of representative democracy should rise above the crude calculations of purely partisan arithmetic. It should be about reason and science; about being persuaded by the evidence and securing the greatest good for the greatest number.
Replacing New Zealand’s much admired RMA with a “Developers’ Charter” would be about none of those things.
Read more

█ This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 23 January 2015.

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Posted by Elizabeth Kerr

*Images: (top) Hannah Peters/Getty Images AsiaPac – John Key PM and Nick Smith at Hobsonville housing development (August 2014); – Chris Trotter tweaked by whatifdunedin


Filed under Architecture, Business, Construction, Democracy, Design, Economics, Geography, Media, Name, New Zealand, People, Politics, Project management, Property, Site, Town planning, Urban design

10 responses to “Chris Trotter on National’s “developers’ charter” #RMA reforms

  1. Elizabeth

    Some blue-coloured effrontery in parts at today’s ODT light editorial.

    We are now in the second and most significant stage of change [RMA reforms], the part aborted last year when National lost the support of MP Peter Dunne and the Maori Party on this matter and lacked the numbers to push amendments through Parliament.

    ### ODT Online Sat, 24 Jan 2015
    Editorial: ‘Reforming’ the RMA
    ”The devil is in the detail” is a well-known idiom that is so often so true. In the case of the Government’s plans to change the Resource Management Act, the idiom applies. Environment Minister Nick Smith’s statements this week are but an outline of what the Government has in store. Dr Smith outlined 10 areas for change, which he aims to have passed into law by the end of the year. In general terms, much of what is proposed looks positive.
    Read more

  2. Elizabeth

    Compared to Chris Trotter, John Armstrong has an even better grip on Nick Smith’s RMA game.

    Smith is intent on pinning most of the responsibility of the Auckland housing crisis on the failings of the RMA.

    ### NZ Herald Online 5:00 AM Saturday Jan 24, 2015
    John Armstrong on politics
    Nick Smith sets up RMA as straw man for housing
    OPINION: Minister trying to hoodwink public over real causes of crisis
    The new political year has barely got into first gear, but one senior politician who should know better has already tried to pull the wool over the public’s eyes.
    Nick Smith deservedly got plaudits for his 10-point plan to radically overhaul the Resource Management Act (RMA) from those who are most affected by this hapless piece of legislation – the business community and local government.
    But the Environment Minister blotted his copybook by releasing a lopsided Treasury sponsored report which made the financial burden imposed on developers by town planning regulations look to be far higher than is likely to be the case.

    It seems property developers are not turned on by fast-track planning procedures in the new “special housing areas” designated by councils. They would rather progress resource consents under rules and regulations with which they are familiar.

    There is no question that many of the changes that Smith is contemplating making to the RMA make sense or, in hindsight, are long overdue. That is a tribute to his capacity for innovative thinking.
    But things are not always straightforward when Smith is running the show.
    The tone and strength of his language in his savaging of the RMA this week prompted immediate concern in the environmental lobby that he was trying to manufacture a crisis where there wasn’t one – just as he did at ACC in 2009 – in order to implement ideologically based changes.
    The fear was that Smith was using the same blueprint in order to throttle the environmental principles in the RMA to the advantage of big business.
    Read more

    █ John Armstrong is the Herald’s chief political commentator

    This column appeared in the Otago Daily Times of Saturday, 25 January 2015 (page 35).

    • Diane Yeldon

      I always pay attention to John Armstrong. Seems to me to talk sense, be insightful and have no particular bias. I fear these changes to the RMA are motivated to help those who make money make more money and to hell with the inevitable environmental consequences.

  3. Elizabeth

    The RMA has been used as a stick to beat those accused of being anti-progress.

    ### ODT Online Wed, 1 Apr 2015
    Editorial: Brakes on RMA reforms
    OPINION Prime Minister John Key’s statement that National will have to ”rip up” its proposed changes to the Resource Management Act in the wake of New Zealand First leader Winston Peters’ win in the Northland by-election seems somewhat petulant given longstanding and widespread opposition to the plans. Mr Peters’ win in the longtime National seat sees the Government’s numbers drop to 59 seats – no longer a majority, even with support partner Act’s one seat.
    Read more

  4. Elizabeth

    Main changes: new national planning templates for councils, faster and more flexible planning processes, reduced requirements for minor consents, and stronger national direction on issues such as housing.

    ### NZ Herald Online 12:59 PM Thursday Nov 26, 2015
    Resource Management Act reforms to be introduced
    By Isaac Davison
    The Government will introduce its long-awaited Resource Management Act reforms to Parliament next week after securing the support of the Maori Party. The reforms to the country’s main planning document stalled two years ago when National’s support partners refused to back them because of their potential impact on the environment.
    That impasse has now been broken, and Government planned to hold the first reading of the legislation next week. The most controversial proposals around environmental protections had been diluted, Environment Minister Nick Smith said. Dr Smith said today the bill would support business growth and housing development while also ensuring more effective environmental management.
    Read more

  5. Elizabeth

    Peter Dunne will not back revised reforms, telling the Otago Daily Times talks broke down when National refused to provide him with a draft of the legislation.

    ### ODT Online Fri, 27 Nov 2015
    Dunne hits out over RMA reforms
    By Eileen Goodwin
    United Future leader Peter Dunne has hit out at the Government over its revised Resource Management Act reforms, questioning the “real agenda” and whether it is a “smokescreen” to water down environmental protections. […] The reforms have been softened after the Government’s support partners – including United Future – baulked at the lower environmental protections.
    Read more


    ### Bowalley Road [blog] Friday, 27 November 2015
    Build Now – Save Later
    By Chris Trotter
    WHY IS THE GOVERNMENT so reluctant to get its hands on the housing crisis? Reviewing its performance over the past seven years, it is clear that John Key is prepared to do just about anything to reduce homelessness – except build the houses that people so desperately need.
    In Auckland, where the crisis is most acute, Dr Nick Smith keeps announcing the creation of Special Housing Areas (SHAs) to streamline the building consent process. Nine more of these were promulgated by the Minister for Building and Housing on Monday, bringing the tally to 106 SHAs – space for upwards of 48,000 new homes!
    …. Unfortunately for Dr Smith, the Market has so far displayed minimal interest in constructing homes for poor people. (Or even, it must be said, for tolerably well off people.) According to the Labour Party’s Housing Spokesperson, Phil Twyford, the Auckland City Council has been able to account for only 102 houses completed in Dr Smith’s SHA’s since 2013.
    “We now officially have more Special Housing Areas than actual houses built in them”, quips Mr Twyford.
    Read more

    ● This opinion piece also appeared in the Otago Daily Times today.

  6. Elizabeth

    A lot of the changes relied on what the Environment Minister might think was reasonable, which the commissioner said was subjective.

    ### 10:17 am today
    RNZ News
    Commissioner: Proposed RMA changes too broad
    By Kate Gudsell, Environment Reporter
    Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright is warning proposed changes to the Resource Management Act (RMA) give the Environment Minister broad and potentially far-reaching powers. Submissions on the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill closed yesterday and Dr Wright recommended that several amendments not go ahead.

    █ Listen to a live interview with Dr Wright on Morning Report
    Audio | Downloads: Ogg MP3 (3’ 33″)

    Some good changes were suggested, such as adding natural hazards into the legislation, the commissioner said. She also empathised with concerns around housing consents and the intent to speed things up and simplify them. But Dr Wright said much of what was suggested was too broad and open-ended. In several cases, this was driven by concern about affordable housing but that would be better dealt with through a national policy statement rather than wide-ranging changes to the RMA, she said.

    What’s ‘reasonable’?
    A proposal for a national planning template, in which central government would be allowed to specify objectives, policies, methods and other provisions rather than councils following a standard template, was among her concerns. Dr Wright said that amendment appeared to allow central government to include any kind of direction within the template, which could not be challenged by the Environment Court….

    Notification of resource consents
    One clause would allow the Environment Minister to decide whether certain activities needed to be publicly notified or not at all. It would also allow the minister to effectively exclude certain people, or classes of people, from making submissions. Dr Wright said this was quite extreme….
    Read more

    ODT: DCC up in arms over Bill

  7. Gurglars

    The government should enact legislation which ensures more immigrants start their lives in provincial areas. The price of housing will ultimately ensure this, but for Auckland with an isthmus only 3km wide and many creeks, harbours and inlets cutting into the land area and making transport solutions uneconomic is the wrong place for New Zealand’s largest city. Auckland and Wellington have future problems with earthquakes and possibly a volcano or two, Christchurch has current earthquake problems.

    A government looking forward would consider the correct place for an ever increasing population. Napier/Hastings may be a possibility but the 1928 earthquake should also disbar that region.

    The only possible solutions are to develop Invercargill, Nelson (although geography is a problem), but for expansion reasons, a port and land availability, and lack of earthquake or volcanic problems there is only Timaru that fills the bill. Cheap land should be the attraction for the government.

    So if you’re unhappy about the Dunedin courthouse being earthquake sensitive or Oamaru or the prospect of a major earthquake in Wellington, a volcano in Auckland (which you should be if your concerned or fearful about most of the unlikely scenarios people are afeard of today), Vote Timaru!

  8. Elizabeth

    HISTORY Quakes statistics 1500 moderate – reading 15.3.16 []
    Quakes statistics 1500 moderate -reading 15.3.16[][click to enlarge]

  9. Elizabeth

    Mon, 21 Mar 2016
    ODT Editorial: Democracy not negotiable
    OPINION It takes something significant to unify the various voices around Dunedin City Council’s table. Last week it was, ironically, one of New Zealand’s most divisive pieces of legislation, the Resource Management Act, and its proposed amendment, the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill.

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