27 Nov 2015

Will changes to the Resource Management Act ease the housing crisis?

8:45 am on 27 November 2015

Faster consents, less interference if you want to extend your deck, and a national standard for how to measure a building.

New housing in Upper Hutt.

The building industry doubts proposed changes to the RMA will be a game-changer. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

These are just some of the things Environment Minister Nick Smith is promising with changes to the Resource Management Act (RMA) which the government plans to introduce next week.

But will they make any real difference to the Auckland housing crisis?

The building industry says that while changes to the RMA will free up land, it is not a fix for Auckland's housing affordability problem.

Chief executive of the Property Council Connal Townsend said the bill was no silver bullet.

"I think from the development point of view, we're still not convinced that the RMA is the best way going forward.

"I think it possibly is time to think about the Local Government Act, the RMA, the Land Transport Management Act - whether they all really mesh together very well, and to have a fresh look.

"We're pretty chuffed that the Productivity Commission has been asked to do some work in that space."

Other changes were positive and one of the proposals to help free reserves for housing could make a difference straight away.

"It just allows councils to move faster in terms of re-allocating land for different purposes to meet growing population. There's a very fast, easy one.

"Probably national templates and things are going to be a slower burn, longer term thing."

National templates mean similar planning standards apply throughout country. The government said it made no sense for a small country to have, for example, 50 definitions of how to measure the height of a building.

But chairman of the Urban Design Forum, Graeme Scott, said the changes would not have much of an impact on the shortage of affordable housing.

He said some of the ideas, including the national templates, were good - but others probably would not work.

"The ten-day fast-track idea - well good luck with that.

"But it's the councils that have to do it, and whether they have the resources to do that sort of thing, we'll wait to see."

He said the changes could help people get their home renovations done faster, but would not have too much of an impact on the shortage of affordable housing.

"It's not going to be a game-changer but there is no particular one game-changer I don't believe, and this is just part of a basket of things that needs to be done.

Housing development north of Porirua.

National templates would mean similar planning standards applied throughout country. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

"We would like to see it go further in the near future but I guess small steps is the way the government is approaching it, given that it needs to get other parties' support."

Chairman of the Environmental Defence Society Gary Taylor saw some positives in the changes.

"In some respects it's a victory for nature and for the environmental movement because the objectionable elements that were earlier proposed have been completely dropped.

I'm referring to the earlier proposed changes to sections six and seven, which would have lowered environmental standards in New Zealand."

But he said there are fish-hooks in there too.

Mr Taylor will now assess the proposed changes, before preparing a submission for a select committee.