Poor land planning policies that led to excessive section prices need to be reformed in a Resource Management Act revamp, Environment Minister Nick Smith says.
"Poor quality decisions on land planning are making homes too expensive," Smith said.
"Plans are taking so long to develop they are outdated before they become operative," he said.
Smith called for submissions from local councils, planners and the public on the discussion document, which is available in full at the Ministry for the Environment here
Smith said there was a mismatch between the purpose of an RMA that barely mentioned urban issues and the reality of the vast bulk of consents relating to subdivision, infrastructure and building limits.
"The complex system of multiple policy statements and plans is cumbersome and inefficient," Smith said.
"It takes so many years to consult and resolve appeals that plans are out of date by the time they take effect. There has been a lack of coordination between central and local government over getting the right infrastructure in place at the right time," he said.
"Poor quality decisions over land planning have contributed to excessive section prices and adversely affected housing affordability. Reform is overdue."
The key proposals in the discussion document were stronger recognition in the Resource Management Act of urban design and infrastructure, reducing the number of plans, streamlining the process for plan development, better integrating local and national decision making and improving plan implementation, Smith said.
"The 51 proposals involve significant amendments to the Resource Management, Land Transport Management and Public Works Act and represents the most substantial changes for 20 years in urban planning."
Many of the ideas for reforms came from the government-appointed Urban and Infrastructure Technical Advisory Groups, Smith said.
Metropolitan Urban Limits
Metropolitan urban limits are subject to the review, and focussed on in a separate technical working paper.
The paper says MULs are blunt instruments in New Zealand compared to how they are used in other countries.
"They tend to be applied rigidly and do not consider the social and economic benefits and costs of their use. For example, the objective of the Auckland MUL is simply to protect rural and coastal environments," it says in the paper.
"MULs are used effectively as a tool elsewhere in the world (eg, Melbourne and Portland) because they are one part of a broad suite of tools, including ongoing monitoring of land supply, and are kept under review. This is central to their effective use."
The use of MULs, rightly or wrongly, has been accredited with contributing to housing unaffordability by limiting land supply and thereby raising land prices. Although there is evidence of a strong zoning boundary effect on land prices, there are a number of other factors which influence locational demand and therefore land prices:
• a market that favours new, large floor area, large lot detached homes which increase return on investment in land, and the lack of alternatives to these
• incentives associated with property investment which are not available with other forms of investment
• population growth, immigration policies and workforce composition.
• the quality and availability of transportation options
• the locations of business areas and the workforce skills required by those businesses
• the willingness of owners of large land holdings, both on the urban fringe and in existing urban centres, to develop their land for residential or business purposes
• the responsiveness of the rental market to housing supply (including apartments) and house price increases
• surrounding amenity levels, including school zones, and views
• time taken to journey to work or access services
• possible future increases in energy prices
• priorities for infrastructure provision and costs of delivering and maintaining infrastructure.
Any discussion on MULs needs to consider these other factors; in particular the effect on infrastructure provision where there is no MUL. There are many unanswered questions that need future analysis by officials and discussion with other parties, particularly infrastructure providers.
For instance, to manage and avoid rate increases, councils need to think about where best to provide for development. Considerations need to include the cost of infrastructure provisions.
Various locations will have different associated costs and will require a critical mass of development to make them affordable. Smaller developments may be able to provide some of their own infrastructure. Although, as WaterCare Services has noted, this can result in a proliferation of small plants which a public service provider often has to take over. This can also push up the cost to the rate payer through lack of economy of scale and poor environmental performance.
The use of MULs in New Zealand is a blunt instrument when compared to international uses of MUL. They tend to be applied rigidly and do not consider the social and economic benefits and costs of their use. For example, the objective of the Auckland MUL is simply to protect rural and coastal environments.
MULs are used effectively as a tool elsewhere in the world (eg, Melbourne and Portland) because they are one part of a broad suite of tools, including ongoing monitoring of land supply, and are kept under review. This is central to their effective use.
Read Smith's executive summary of the discussion document below:
An important component of the Government’s economic agenda is ensuring New Zealand cities are internationally competitive. This means cities that enable their citizens to enjoy a great lifestyle and affordable housing; cities that are efficient for business, encourage investment and jobs; cities that are attractive for visitors to support New Zealand’s increasingly important tourism industry. It is particularly important our cities compare well with Australia where people and capital can move so freely.
The Resource Management Act is not working well in the built environment to achieve this goal. There is a mismatch between the purpose of the Act that barely mentions urban issues and the reality of the vast bulk of consents relating to subdivision, infrastructure and building limits. The complex system of multiple policy statements and plans is cumbersome and inefficient. It takes so many years to consult and resolve appeals that plans are out of date by the time they take effect. There has been a lack of coordination between central and local government over getting the right infrastructure in place at the right time. Poor quality decisions over land planning have contributed to excessive section prices and adversely affected housing affordability. Reform is overdue.
In January, the Government appointed two Technical Advisory Groups to review policy around urban design and infrastructure. They concluded that we need to strengthen the recognition of urban issues under the Resource Management Act, consolidate the number of plans that are required and better coordinate central and local government decision making around infrastructure. They also made 85 recommendations on improvements to deliver better urban environments and the infrastructure we need. Officials have refined these proposals into this discussion paper to enable public input prior to Government decisions.
These reforms need to be considered within the context of the Government’s broader Bluegreen agenda of seeking to better integrate economic and environment policy. In 2009 we passed the Resource Management (Simplifying and Streamlining) Amendment Act and this year embarked on a second phase of reform of which these urban design and infrastructure issues are part. A common theme in these changes is providing stronger central government leadership, reducing unnecessary bureaucracy and replacing lengthy litigation with more collaborative processes. We are about making the Resource Management Act work better for New Zealand.
The future shape, style and success of our cities is at stake. We look forward to your input.
(Update 1 includes comments on MULs.)