Days to the General Election: 35
See Party Policies here. Party Lists here.

PM says Government will have to "rip up" RMA reforms and go back to drawing board; says will have to abandon rewrite of sections 6 and 7

PM says Government will have to "rip up" RMA reforms and go back to drawing board; says will have to abandon rewrite of sections 6 and 7
Prime Minister John Key speaking at a post-cabinet meeting in February. He is not scheduled to hold one today. Photo by Lynn Grieveson for Hive News.

By Bernard Hickey

Prime Minister John Key has abandoned any hope of a substantial re-write of the Resource Management Act (RMA) after the election of New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters as the MP for Northland.

The election of Peters has reduced National's ranks in Parliament to 59, which means it needs the support of either Peter Dunne or the Maori Party to support contentious legislation such as RMA reform. Dunne and the Maori Party opposed a National plan in the 2011-14 term to rewrite sections 6 and 7 of the RMA, which govern its principles around environmental protection. National wanted to introduce other aims such as economic development and affordable housing and Environment Minister Nick Smith had signalled in a speech in January that National wanted to introduce affordable housing into sections 6 and 7.

Key told Morning Report the Government the election of Peters would make governing more difficult, but not massively difficult. It would, however, scupper the Government's hopes for major RMA reform in this term.

"With RMA reform, there's just no question we've got to rip up what we've got now, go back to the drawing board and have another go," Key said.

"There's quite a lot of procedural stuff in the RMA that other parties will support, and Peter Dunne has indicated that he will, but when it comes to the core bit we were wanting to change -- section 6 and 7 of the Act -- Peter Dunne has publicly said he won't support it and I'd be surprised if he would -- so we just don't have the numbers because I can't see anyone else supporting it," he said.

"We can go away and look at it, but there's just no question there'll have to be a rewrite of those (proposals to reform) sections 6 and 7 of the RMA. We're going to have to go back to either the current law or something else that others will agree to, but they won't agree to much change, or any."

The Government had pinned its hopes for speeding up new housing supply on RMA reforms, which are also needed to replace the Special Housing Areas Act, which expires in 2016.

'Key ambitious for Northland'

Key said the Government had to learn from the Northland vote, but the vote had not been normal because it had been a 'two-horse' race once Labour Leader Andrew Little suggested to Labour voters they 'send a message' to the Government and back Winston Peters. The Greens also did not stand a candidate.

"We bled a bit of vote to Winston Peters, but not nearly as much as people think. Generally our vote has stayed with us. It was just we didn't get all the other stuff we pick up and we didn't get the vote splitting that we always get," he said.

Key said he personally thought the Government had represented Northland well, but there were "challenges" and the message he took from the result was: "They're ambitious for Northland and they want it to do better. To do better we have to do a number of things and it will be very interesting to see what role Winston wants to play in that."

He referred to an upcoming Nga Puhi settlement legislation, which he said New Zealand First had not supported in the past.

"What they need up there is more investment from the private sector. That would be easier with RMA reform, but will he vote for that? I doubt it."

'Most will say 'Yeah whatever,' on tide turning talk

Key told Stuff's Tracy Watkins the Government had received a message from Northland, but he denied it was a tipping point for the Government.

Key said the result reflected very localised concerns, rather than any sign of a loss of broader support.

"Unquestionably there's a message from Northland. They want their region to be more prosperous. We need to listen to that message and work on helping them to achieve their ambition for their region. No question about it we accept that message and take that on board," he was quoted as saying.

"But the beginning of the end? Most people will go yeah, whatever."

'Special set of circumstances'

National's campaign manager Steven Joyce would not agree it was a humiliation for the Government, describing the by-election result as a "unique set of circumstances."

Joyce told The Nation he took responsibility for the loss, which he said the Government would learn from.

"We'll be very focussed on learning what needs to be learned and actually making sure that it makes us stronger and tougher in 2017," he said.

However, he denied this showed the Government was facing 'third-term-itis' and it would not over-react.

"It's not a case of being complacent and not listening, but it's also not a case of overreacting in a way that the left obviously want us to."

Winston wants RBNZ reform before RMA reform

Peters downplayed the need for RMA reforms, referring instead to the more urgent need for reform of the Reserve Bank Act.

Peters told Morning Report regional New Zealand was struggling because of high interest rates and a high exchange rate, while the big cities forged ahead on a consumption boom.

"The RMA is now made as the excuse for the lack of progress. It is not the cause of the lack of progress. The central thing up here goes to the heart of the Reserve Bank Act and the fact that people up here in farming and fishing and forestry, as in so many other parts of the country, are trying to compete in circumstances very unfavourable to them, and their incomes are declining," Peters said.

"The RMA has always needed reform. It always would need reform in a modernising economy, but you don't throw the baby out with the bathwater and say that's the reason for the present demise," he said.

"You have a look at the central circumstances where farmers up here face interest rates six, seven times higher than their international competitors, and that's just got to stop. I hope the Government got that message on election night."

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

We welcome your comments below. If you are not already registered, please register to comment.

Remember we welcome robust, respectful and insightful debate. We don't welcome abusive or defamatory comments and will de-register those repeatedly making such comments. Our current comment policy is here.


Can we not have affordable housing and protect the environment?

(a) there is a tonne of affordable housing outside of auckland
However if you mean
(b) creating new, additional housing stock plus infrastructure on raw agricultural land the anser is no
(c) reducing the cost of existing housing stock - the answer is "show me how"

If the land has already been converted to agriculture from natives there is no significant difference in terms of impacting the environment from plopping a house on it, the damage has already been done IMHO.

Of course we can but their proposed changes to sections 6 and 7 of the RMA would have had negligible (if any) impact on housing affordability.  Point is, the things that would have the most impact in terms of deflating the Auckland housing market situation are just matters that are simply off the table for a National party.  Hence, the RMA became the smoke and mirrors .. we want to look like we are doing something, strategy.  Thing is, their other proposals for changes (i.e., those outside the section 6 and 7 changes) would actually make some needed improvement. Labour told them last year they'd go along with those changes. They could have passed them last year.
But no. The National government is playing politics with genuine progress.  A more cynical executive would be hard to find.   

Nailed it!

National (and the country) are now, and ongoing, paying the price of the Bolger governments stupidity in adopting the communist inspired, Labour - Palmer RMA Bill in 1990 and passing it into Law. They were warned at the time and given other, deveopment focused, options but lazily ignored them. Now they are pinned on their own lance.

John Key is being two faced again. If he proposed making affordable housing as measured by the ratio median house cost to median household income a National Policy Statement in the RMA they would get cross party support in Parliament. They could have done this at any point in the last six years but they choose to play two faced politics.....

Exactly my point as well.

Yep, and now they have someone new to blame - Winnies fault for winning a by-election. The nat supporters seem to buying this as well.

Craig I think the days of voters, even National voters accepting what John Key says at face value is over.
There have been too many times where John Key has treated the public like fools with his lies, brain fades etc.
So National can try to blame unaffordable housing on Winnie but given National has lost its creditabilitty and they haven't explained what the RMA reforms are and how that would make a difference why should anyone believe them?

We are in the seventh year of promises of action. Year by year more people wake up to the fact that if the Nats were serious about affordable housing they would have achieved something by now. To their credit they have piled up an impressive list of circuses, diversions and other entertainments none of which have had any impact on house prices (especially in Auckland):

  • Hide's RMA tweaks in 2008
  • Change of purpose of local government (2012)
  • Special Housing Acccords (2013)
  • Changes to Kiwisaver rules to allow first home buyers easier access to funds
  • Change to development contributions regime (2014)
  • Referring the issue of land use for residential building to the Productivity Commission (2014)
  • Shuffling the deck chairs of social housing ownership (2015)

Anything but do one or both of the two things that will bring land costs (and therefore the cost of all houses) back down:

  • compuslory acquisition by government and/or councils; and/or
  • enforcing the "Right to Build" that is already in the RMA and which all councils block

communist inspired?  On the other hand in a  democracy 50%+ of the voters dont seem to want the RMA reformed, and want the NZ environment protected that is the free choice we make.

Of course we can have affordable housing and protect the environment. 
They don't want affordable housing. Too many vested interests.
Look at Houston, Texas if you want affordable housing. A city that dwarfs Auckland and you can have brand new homes for sub $200k. 
There is no shortage of land in New Zealand, only an artificial one created by government at all levels.

This "Houston, Texas" thing is coming up quite a lot here. So there is one city in the world that's better organised than Auckland. Makes me wonder: if Houston is such a great example, are there any other cities around the world copying them?

Thank you Pouggey, the Houston example is BS, Houston is wildly different from Auckland in geographical terms and enjoys the (unrivaled) USA economies of scale during the construction process.  They're comparing apples with roast pork. 

There are lots of cities around the world with affordble housing. Many of them are not dependent on single occupancy vehicles and stand alone housing sprawl like Houston. German cities like Berlin, Frankfurt etc are affordable. London in the 1930s had affordable housing before the 1947 Town and Country Act restricted supply. 

Thanks Brendon,
So would German cities be better examples then of how we could do things better? I understand though that in Germany you're free to build whatever/wherever you want?

I think so pouggey. I think the Houston/Texas model has a lot going for it, the end result is very affordable. MUDs for instance could easily be adapted to work in New Zealand. The thing about the US though is they have six times the amount of motorway distance compared to NZ per capita. This has been provided by the US Federal government since the 1950s Highway building projects. This is why US cities and States are so car dependent and why so few US cities try to balance road transport systems with other modes of transport. 
In Germany I have read there is a right to build in there constitution. But this is hard to track down. I suspect the fact they have many competing regions/local governments with a practice that when a resident moves to a new area funding automatically follows means their is an incentive to have liberal planning rules, with high quality amentities such as new developments immediately being integrated into the public transport, bike lane, park and pedestrian networks.
Germany also have cultural attitudes that might offsett NIMBY behaviour -ideas like the old sayings such as 'city air makes you free'.
Not that everything is all rosy in Germany I argue here that problems with EU politics and demographics is a cause of deflation and lack of hope for the young in that part of the globe.

Yes, and the progress in being able to adopt a MUDs-approach has nothing to do with changes to sections 6 and 7 of the RMA - if anything to do with the RMA at all.  Am I right there, Brnedon?

I think so Kate. Certainly National has not explained how there RMA reforms are meant to work. 
I asked a similiar question of Peter Nunnes a planning economist who writes for transportblog. His answer was National has kept it changes cloaked in secret.....


Pouggey check this link about German housing.

Interesting. Thanks Brendon.
Unfortunately there seems to be a huge cultural difference between Germany and the UK (which sounds very similar to NZ).
Also, in NZ it seems cows are more important than housing. Government were quick enough replacing Ecan with their chosen dictators (to cater to farmers' needs) - I can't see them doing something similar to city councils...

Pouggey I think you are bang on about this being a cultural or social value thing. If NZ returns to affordable urban development it will be our way, it might take aspects from Texas or Germany or even pre- Town and Country Act Britain but the end result will be unique to NZ.
I don't hold much hope for the current administration making much inroads as they are a typical 'status quo' conservative government. But NZ is capable of cultural change and it is possible that in the future we value people more than cows. That we devolve funding and decision making power to regional transport bodies to ensure regional equity and competition, thus fixing the likes of undemocratic Ecan. That opportunities and hope for future generations is the guiding light for our towns and cities.
On a bigger global level we seem to getting into a mess because we have hit a crisis and our response is to do the same thing faster, to concentrate on our strengths and ignore our weaknesses. Japan/Germany exporting powerhouses but domestic weaklings that cannot confront social values that is causing women not to have children. China cannot face up to its democratic deficit. The EU has made a mess of political and economic unification. NZ seems to think the route to economic success is to double down on cow numbers.....

London had affordable housing in the 1990's like Auckland. Before Basel and unprecedented mass immigration.
Another boom & bust cycle, this bust delayed with international QE & ZIRP.

What makes Houston a great example, or the whole of Texas, or any of the cities that Brendon has mentioned, is not the terrian (if it was, what is Aussies excuse for being unaffordable), it is they have a right to build policy and make it easy for supply to be increased to meet demand, unlike NZ, Aussie, Califonia, Canada and the UK. 

Thanks Dale.
Regarding the increase of supply you are probably referring to land?
But also, is there a BRANZ equivalent in those cities/countries? It seems to me there's plenty of affordable materials available but we aren't allowed to use them!?
How easy is it for example to build a strawbale house?

There are other inefficiencies in the process of getting a new dwelling built but they all fade into insignificance compared to the cost of land. Auckland Council's own reports show that the median priice for a bare section in Auckland (presumably serviced) is $475K. The cost of the equivalent rural land and all the infrastructure required to make that section useable would tot up to about $100K leaving someone pocketing $375K for nothing.
The population estimates for the US metropolitan statistical areas is out. I was looking at Jacksonville, Florida. Same size as Auckland, growing at a clip not far off Auckland's average over the last ten years, terrain looks a bit difficult (i.e wet) in parts, median house price: $186K.

NZ Housing has gone from Affordable ("Cheap" even, compared to other countries), to Severely Unaffordable in the last 10-15 years or so.
You must be right: I can't imagine building materials to have tripled in price during that time... so the increase must be land related.

Two other things about Houston, it's not as attractive for Chinese investors & doesn't have a government guarantee for tax free capital gain.
Not that demand has anything to do with it of course - it's all supply supply <SQUAWK>

Could it perhaps be due to the low cost of (illegal) labour In Houston?

Positioning, pure and simple.
In two years' time, when Awkland median prices cruise past the $1m mark, the dollar stubbornly refuses to sink below $USD0.70, median incomes rise 0.5% p.a., the Canterbury rebuild money fades into the sunset, and the provincial  metrollopes sink yet further into welfare sink-hole-dom (although eminently affordable with that...), the Gnats' cry will be
'You Political NIMBY's and the scuppering of the RMA reforms, are the direct, major cause of <insert your electoral gripe here>.  Eat That. Oh, and Party Vote Gnashonal, pretty please'.
(Perhaps we need a neologism:  contract Political NIMBY, which is a bit of a mouthful, to 'PIMBY' ?)

Spot on, and of course it will be the NZ First, Labour, United First and the Greens fault.
However, when you look at what that lot offer as an alternative, is shows no party is really interested in making the real systematic changes that are needed.

Such as rounding up every last TLA 'planner' in the nation, and giving them a simple choice:

  • spend the rest of their natural lives in Telford or Milton Keynes
  • retrain and go work for Concision or similar modular manufacturer

Call it the Lee Can Do approach.....

It was a TLA planner that recently decided to grant the Ports of Auckland a non-notified consent to build their proposed wharf extensions.  Yes, non-notified.  I think I read somewhere that more than 99% of resource consent applications are non-notified.  What I think you likely object to with respect to planning is its complexity - the myriad of different rules for different localities - the myriad of different means/methods used to calculate Development Contributions etc etc.  Many of these things could be improved by the central government getting off its "do nothing" approach and writing some National Standards and National Policy Statements.

A friend told me this, not sure how reliable this is; Aldi, a Geraman owned and solid third supermarket competitor is Australia was looking at expanding their business in NZ.  But one thing that got them nervous is the RMA, Progressive Enterprises and Food Stuffs will use the RMA to stop them from opening their stores. 

It took the best part of 10 years for Amberley in North Canterbury to get a Countdown because of planning/RMA restrictions and that is with the current cosy supermarket duopoly arrangement. I can quite believe that is the reason Aldi is not in NZ. For me this explains why milk costs more in Invercargil than it does in London.

We need Aldi here....they are giving over priced Tesco and Waitrose etc....a run for their money....and getting more customers daily.
It is called competition.  (And something to remember, it is your money you are wasting)
Something sorely lacking here in NZ, that is why Aussie rules and beats us, better fed, but Britain and Germany win hands down, in the food stakes.
Somepeople have a lot of vested interest in maintaining the status quo.
Some people are fed-up of over priced commodoties in a country that can produce all it needs...yet people go hungry.
Go figure.

Funny thing is Aldi is selling NZ made dairy products and they are cheaper than Countdown or New World (taking 92c exchange rate)

It wasn't so much the planning/RMA restrictions - it was the way the competitors were using the legal process to block such applications.  Subsequent amendments to the RMA deal with this type of 'vexacious' litigant.  So, any number of these historical problems associated with competition/competitors using the RMA process in a disingeuous manner should not arise in future.

As someone in the middle of a modest development (which has very strong council support), the problem is that these vexacious litigants cost substantial sums for the applicant and can potentially scupper a project (if they continue long enough).
Worse still, they form a NFP... "concerned citizens of my back yard'... chase the applicant to the environment court and then 'wind up the NFP' when you lose and costs are awarded.

Do you mean when you win and costs are awarded (in other words they wind up the NFP and hence avoid paying any of those costs)?
Another point though - NIMBYism-type objections to a proposal are not necessarily vexacious. If the activity (i.e., development form) is not permitted by the plan rules, then what might be perceived as a NIMBY reaction/objection is a legitimate reason for an affected landowner to oppose such a development.  Which is why Plan Changes which seek to define geographic areas for, say, intensification to multi-story development are always controversial.  Effectively, planners are trying to change the rules so as to enable/facilitate new/alternate forms of urban development.

Yes, typing too quick !... when you win...
Actually in my case, I've got a contradiction between planning rules... complicated (but due to a former subdivision and surveyor/council oversight).
Despite taking an Urban Design Panel approach and working well within their guidelines and recommendations, this previous oversight means the building I (and the UDP/Council) want, will have some minor breachs of the planning rules.
It gets more spurious... the 'interested party' whom I have been informed will be objecting,  are 'the tenant' in a nearby building and happen to be a large Engineering and Environmental Consultancy. The issue they don't like, is permitted within the plan... however I assume given their expertise they will complain on the basis of the mnor variations from the plan, that I have been encouraged to do by the UDP...
Oh, for good measure they are a principle contractor/advisor to the local authority ! 
I'm sure you can find hundreds of examples of this... all different, but all with the same underlying issue; "parties with tenuous links/interest in projects of all sorts are using the RMA as a vehicle to stymie geniune projects, becuase it doesn't please that individual or group".

Sounds interesting. I'm sure you've got good legal/planning advice but on the limited info above, I'd recommend that you use the ADR mechanisms available within the RMA and negotiate/mediate with the consultancy firm leading the objection and remove the 'nice to haves' that the UDP are recommending (permitted or not). If these design features are of no consequence to the viability/profitability of your development, then a more pragmatic approach might save you the grief/delay associated with a protracted adversarial process.

I work in the foodstuffs industry and find it utterly disgusting how the two big players carry on.
You know you offer a terrible service or product when it' easier to fight the competition in the court room.

Brand Key in Trouble?
>China ... Five million people were left homeless, but within three years, 3.6 million homes had been rebuilt.
>Put a man on the moon within the decade...
Where there is a will to do anything; there is a way.
Save the planet?
Start by LEAVING IT IN THE GROUND! ( Coal, Gas and Oil )

Sad day for all you people that are waiting for the property 'bubble' to pop. Doesn't look like supply will increase anytime soon. Thanks Winston! You just made me richer.

Housing shortage is only one of many factors for the current property bubble. Few percentage in interest rate hike will pop it too, or when the Chinese buyers realised that our houses are built out of cardboard boxes

Oh boohoo.
Yes the tide has turned. JK turned on the media last Friday. Given that there is nothing of substance behind the smiling face portrayed in the media I think we can take JK falling out of love with them as the sign that the end is visible.
If Key was serious about making housing affordable for all New Zealanders (which he isn't) then there was never any need to amend ss 6 & 7 of the RMA. Funnily enough amending those provisions would have made life easier for the extractive industries (mining, drilling and feliing) but would have had ZERO effect on the price of houses.
Key has just failed the same test Cunliffe failed back in October. You can't spin your way out of an unexpected failure. The public have already seen through you once. Why do you think they won't see through you a second time.

Thank you, Kumbel.  I couldn't agree more - and you got it right on the intention of the sections 6 and 7 changes being to pave the way for the extractive industires .. those that rely on exploiting the natural environment in the lowest cost manner.

Your access to our unique content is free - always has been. But ad revenues are under pressure so we need your direct support.

Become a supporter

Thanks, I'm already a supporter.

Days to the General Election: 35
See Party Policies here. Party Lists here.