GOVERNMENT FINDS A WAY TO GET TOUGH WITH COUNCILS OVER PLANNING
By Richard Harman (author)
The Government has found a way of over-riding local authority planning regulations.
It is planning on forcing local bodies to take commercial viability into account when they are drawing up district plans and granting consents. .
The proposal replaces earlier hopes that the Resource Management Act would be able to be amended to take economic matters into account in planning.
The Government does not have the numbers to pass that legislation.
In essence the new proposal will give builders and property developers a say in whether a Council plan could actually work.
And it will not require legislation.
Environment Minister Nick Smith told POLITIK last night that the proposal arose out of the independent panels reviewing both the Auckland Unitary and the Christchurch District Plans.
The panels found that it was commercially viable to build only about a third of the houses that the planners claimed their plans allowed.
Mr Smith said planners living in an ideal world imposed requirements on things like setbacks, yard sizes and stud heights.
“But every time you add one of those rules you impact on the overall cost of the development,” he said.
“And the bit the planners don’t get is that you can’t force someone to do a development.
“They will only do it if it is commercially viable.
“Lots of those rules that get put in end up making these plans unviable.”
Mr Smith is proposing to capitalise on a Supreme Court Decision last year that said that a National Policy Standard (NPS), a little used device provided for in the Resource Management Act, “trumped” other sections of the Act.
That meant that if a planning requirement was in an NPS then that superseded any requirement a local authority might try and impose.
“It becomes another lever that makes the equation basically more sympathetic to providing for growth.”
So he is proposing that there be an NPS on urban development.
The standard will be drawn up next year using some of the $20 million set aside for use over the next four years in the Budget for more effective implementation of the RMA.
Mr Smith said there were two tensions to be resolved within the process.
“One is how liberal you are compared with how much control you put in place and how detailed it goes,” he said.
“Does it become very high level or how much does it start prescribing what Councils must put in their plans?”
Mr Smith is also proposing three other NPSs.
One will deal with bio diversity and this involves the prescription of significant natural areas ion farms which farmers complain restrict their ability to manage their properties.
He said iwi, Federated Farmers and Forest and Bird, had proposed that they set up a process similar to the Land and Water Forum to resolves the issues around this.
A more straightforward NPS will be on pest control.
Mr Smith said that up to half the cost of some pest control programmes could be absorbed in the consenting process and this would prescribe uniform national standards.
Work will also begin on an NPS for aqua culture.
And he is hopeful that he will get his amendments to the Resource Management Act into the House before the end of the year.
“It’s all being drafted up at the moment<’ her said.
The Prime Minister has said that the amendments will not include the controversial changes to Sections Six and Seven which would allow economic considerations to be taken into account.
Those are obviously not so urgent now that the Minister believes the National Policy Standards can accomplish the same goals.
The Opposition parties have all withheld judgment on the rest of the proposed changes to the Act until they see the actual text.
Mr Smith is under political pressure to hurry things along.
National Party conference delegates passed a remit calling for the act to be changed to make it more efficient and last week’s “Mood of the Board room” survey had concerns about Resource Management Act red tape high on the list of what worried the CEOs.
The Government has been n a political bind over the RMA with its usual ally, United Future’s Peter Dunne, a former associate Environment Minister, unwilling to countenance any radical change.
But as Mr Smith points out, the National Policy Statements can be simply agreed by Cabinet which consists only of National Ministers.