21 Jan 2015

Major RMA change needed - Govt

8:12 pm on 21 January 2015

Environment Minister Nick Smith has outlined the Government's plans to overhaul the Resource Management Act (RMA).

He said he wanted to prioritise housing affordability, acknowledge the importance of infrastructure, recognise urban planning and give greater weight to property rights.

In a speech in Nelson tonight, Dr Smith made it plain that he would not be just "tinkering" with the RMA - rather, that it had fundamental design flaws and required a substantial overhaul.

That included significant changes to sections six and seven, which set out the purpose and principles of the RMA.

Nick Smith.

Environment Minister Nick Smith outlined the Government's plans in a speech in Nelson tonight (file photo) Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

He admitted those would be the most contentious parts of the overhaul, as they were last parliamentary term, when the Government could not get enough support for the changes.

The ACT Party pledged support for change to the RMA after the election, which gave the Government the numbers it needed to get new legislation through, but both Dr Smith and the Prime Minister said they wanted broad support for the legislation - which would indicate the changes to sections six and seven will not be as dramatic as originally proposed.

Dr Smith said he wanted to reduce the mountains of plans and rules that made the RMA a barrier to new housing and jobs.

Auckland housing, pictured from Mt Eden.

Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

He also released a Treasury-commissioned report which argued the law was adding an extra $30,000 to the cost of an apartment, and $15,000 to the cost of a house.

Read Motu Economic and Public Policy Research's report: "Impacts of Planning Rules, Regulations, Uncertainty and Delay on Residential Property Development" (PDF, 1.2MB)

Dr Smith said the report indicated that over the last decade the RMA had added $30 billion to the cost of building.

"My ambition would be to take tens of thousands of dollars out of the cost of a section or house," he said.

"But if we're going to do that then we have to be prepared to tackle some of the quite contentious issues around the resource management, as I've outlined in my speech this evening."

He said there were three ways the RMA made the development of lower cost housing near impossible.

"The first is the way the act is used to constrain land supply and push up section prices.

"The second problem is that the RMA puts huge weight on protecting landscape, amenity, natural character and heritage without any consideration over the cost implications.

"The third problem [arises] from the consultation, submission and appeal rights of neighbours."

Dr Smith said neighbouring property owners' interests were in protecting their property rights and amenity, and little for increasing the supply of affordable houses for others.

The ten changes Dr Smith outlined in his speech were to:

  • Add natural hazards
  • Recognise urban planning
  • Prioritise housing affordability
  • Acknowledge importance of infrastructure
  • Give greater weight to property rights
  • National planning templates
  • Speed up plan-making
  • Encourage collaborative resolution
  • Strengthen national tools
  • Use internet for simplicity and speed

Dr Smith said there was a lot of work to do yet with officials, support parties, cabinet committees and in Cabinet to develop a detailed bill.

He said the changes would be pragmatic and moderate but still retain core environmental controls.

Dr Smith is aiming to have the legislation introduced in the first half of the year and passed by the end of the year.

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