SMITH OPTIMISTIC RMA REFORMS CAN BE ACHIEVED
By Richard Harman (author)
The Government is still optimistic that a Bill to reform the Resource Management Act can go through Parliament later this year.
Last Friday the Prime Minister, John Key, conceded that it was “very unlikely” that the Government would be able to get the votes to include economic objectives into the Act’s principles and purposes.
United Future’s Peter Dunne opposes this which leaves the Government needing the Maori Party to support the changes.
A spokesperson for co-leader, Te Ururoa Maxwell told “POLITIK” the party was till in negotiation with the Government.
The Government has been leaning on its support partners to give greater weight to economic development, including housing, in sections six and seven of the Resource Management Act.
But Key conceded it was now "very unlikely" that would happen.
The probability of us getting our partners to agree to substantial change are very low," he said.
"I think if you go and ask [United Future leader] Peter Dunne, he'll tell you he's pretty immovable."
MAORI PARTY SUPPORTS MOST CHANGES
The Maori Party also opposes changes to Clauses Six and Seven.
The Māori Party is happy to support around 95 percent of the proposed changes which are around streamlining the processes,” their spokesperson said.
“We see little room to move on the hierarchy of priorities – environmental must come first.”
BUSINESS NEW ZEALAND PESSIMISTIC
Business New Zealand CEO Phil O’Reilly has today argued that recent indications of ‘no change’ to sections 6 and 7 of the Act meant it was now clear that after six years Parliament is incapable of delivering anything more than the lowest common denominator – process changes.
“The RMA is directionless,” he said.”
“It has been amended so many times since its passage into law that it is now unclear what Parliament wants it to do.
“The question is not whether certain sections should be merged or amended, but what the Act is trying to achieve.”
He said the need for fundamental reform of the law was desperate.
However it is understood other business groups are not so hardline and have discussed a more pragmatic approach with the Minister which would end up with a new Act achieving much of what Mr O’Reilly wants.
NICK SMITH BELIEVES VERY SUBSTANTIVE CHANGE POSSIBLE
And Environment Minister Nick Smith, though he has to accept defeat on the failure to get the support parties to agree to changes to clauses six and seven, is optimistic that substantial change can be achieved.
He told “POLITIK” that discussions with support parties were progressing constructively and that he didn’t want to make any public statements till those negotiations had ended.
“I remain optimistic that we will be able to progress a very substantive reform bill in the second half of this year,”
SPECIAL HOUSING AREAS ONE WAY OUT
What looks likely is that the Government will get much of what it wants in terms of speeding up the consenting process but it may plan on resorting to more regulation to get around planning hurdles.
The use of the Special Housing Areas in Auckland is an example of how regulation can speed up and simplify the consenting process.
The Housing Accord and Special Housing Areas aims to enhance housing affordability by facilitating an increase in land and housing supply in certain regions or districts, identified as having housing supply and affordability issues.
In effect the economic clause that Mr Smith wanted in the RMA exists in this Act when it comes to housing.
The Act requires a process of negotiation between the Minister and the Council to establish the Housing Accord and then to specify areas that may become Special Housing Areas.
For potential builders in the areas there is a speeded up and more permissive consenting process.
Interestingly it strictly limits who has a right to comment on the consent:
- The owners of the land adjacent to the land subject to the application.
- The local authorities in whose district or region the land subject to the application falls.
- Any infrastructure providers who have assets on, under, or over the land subject to the application or the land adjacent to that land.
- If the land subject to the application or land adjacent to that land is subject to a designation, the requiring authority that required the designation.
Under the Resource Management Act the local authority can decide who has a right to make a submission on the consent and allows up to three months for those submissions to be heard in a public hearing.
There is an appeal process beyond that hearing which can take years.
The Special Housing Areas submissions can also go to a public hearing but it must be concluded within a month.
They too can appeal to the Environment Court.
NATIONAL POLICY STANDARDS MIGHT ALSO HELP
The Minister has made it clear that he sees National Policy Standards as a way of dealing with some of the problems with the Act.
As things stand at present establishing a National Policy Statement is a complex process involving a Board of Inquiry.
The Board is required to reconcile the particular environmental standards it is considering with Clauses Six and Seven of the Act but once that is done, a Supreme Court decision last year said that was the end of the matter.
It was the National Policy Statement, not the RMA itself, which governed the particular environmental protections it set out to implement, the Court said.
The use of National Policy Standards was strongly advocated earlier this year by the pro-market NZ Initiative.
Untypically it advocated National Policy Standards and centralisation
”Too often, councils, firms and communities are left to interpret the complexity of the RMA by themselves amid a notable lack of guidance from Wellington<” it said.
“This delays decisions, needlessly adds to cost, and creates uncertainty in a sector that is already highly speculative and riddled with risk.”
The RMA currently has 433 Clauses. Whilst undoubtedly there will be a variety of views on each one, only two are the subject of outright opposition.
It’s that which presumably gives rise to the Minister’s optimism.