21 Jan 2015

Keep RMA standards high says group

4:11 pm on 21 January 2015

The Environmental Defence Society is hopeful the Government won't shake up the Resource Management Act too much in its bid to increase affordable housing.

Environment Minister Nick Smith is speaking this evening at the Nelson Rotary Club, where he is expected to outline changes to the Act.

Chairman Gary Taylor said it accepted there were a number of things that could improve the Act, but hoped the Minister would take a moderate approach.

He said it would not be acceptable for the Government to seek to lower environmental standards as originally proposed.

Mr Smith will tonight set out the Government's plan and timeline to significantly change the Act.

Auckland houses

Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

He hopes the planned changes to the RMA will make it easier to use, boost development and so bring down house prices.

But one property developer said it would not make much difference if there was not also a huge investment in infrastructure.

Equinox Group chief executive Kerry Knight said there was a lack of infrastructure in Auckland which was a problem for big projects.

"That's got nothing to do with the RMA. It's got something to do with the council."

Developers constantly found themselves in fights with councils who tried to make them upgrade surrounding intersections, roads and pipings, he said, and it was not fair that developers be burdened with that cost.

Mr Knight called on the government to "spend a few billion dollars" on infrastructure in Auckland.

"Lend it to the council if you need to, and then you'll be paid back in two or three years time. Tinkering with the RMA is just politics."

The Property Council, which represents developers, agreed that changes to the Act would have little impact if there was not also a commitment to boost infrastructure.

Chief executive Connal Townsend said that needed to be a priority.

"Developers are now looking at the outskirts of the city and saying ... 'we're keen to go here, but oh, there's no fundamental piping in the ground'."

He said it was unreasonable to expect developers to pay for infrastructure such as stormwater pipes in new residential zones.

But he said just because changing the Act would not be a silver bullet does not mean the Government should give up.

"We shouldn't just throw up our hands and say, 'oh well let's not think about the RMA'," said Mr Townsend.

"All the settings are around actually throttling the supply of land, placing obstacles in the way of development. We've got to get balance back."

He said he was looking forward to seeing what the Government has to announce tonight.

But Kerry Knight, from Equinox Group, has not been happy with the process.

"People like us, who are just nothing developers or whatever, have no say whatsoever, aren't listened to."

A Treasury report on changes to the RMA will also be released today.

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