By Bernard Hickey
I had the joy over the holidays of watching 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' for the umpteenth time.
There are so many resonant and hilarious moments in the film, but none more so this time than the 'Knights who say Ni!'.
The Knights who say Ni! are a forest dwelling tribe who are famously feared for saying 'Ni!' to stop travellers in their tracks.
They demand sacrifices to allow people to pass and in the film demand Arthur buys them a shrubbery. They are exceptionally good as chanting Ni! and the mere sound of the word strikes fear into all who hear it.
The Knights appear as mythical and mysterious creatures with their own customs and language.
I laughed my head off because I have known many Knights who say Ni! They are the people who always say No.
They are the ones who know exactly how to make submissions under the Resource Management Act to stop something happening.
They are the council officials who stop you from building a deck or demand an outrageous fee to build a basement.
They are the lawyers, council officials and consultants who know how to use the RMA to string out the process, to force changes in projects and to use their own 'language' to frighten others into submission.
The modern day Knights who say Ni! are the NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard) and BANANAs (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything) who have used the RMA and the innumerable plans and plan changes to stop things happening anywhere near them, or to force any development into such a box that it benefits the neighbours more than the new occupants.
The RMA Knights who say No have been a shadowy tribe until now and it's been hard to pin much damage to the economy on them.
After all, land prices have doubled and trebled in the biggest cities and the NIMBYs and BANANAs have profited royally by simply saying No to new developments that would add to housing supply.
They're not complaining.
Now the sky-rocketing housing costs are hitting the Government through higher accommodation supplements and the economy more broadly through higher interest rates than would otherwise be needed.
So now Housing and Environment Minister Nick Smith has the NIMBY and BANANAs squarely in his sights and has some ammunition to argue that 25 years of Knights saying No in the forest of the RMA have been extremely damaging.
This week he cited a Motu study of Auckland developments to show RMA rules, delays and uncertainties added NZ$30 billion to the cost of building and reduced new housing stock by 40,000 over the last decade.
His speech in Nelson proposing a 10-point rewrite of the RMA cited numerous examples where RMA madness was stopping property owners up and down the country from developing their properties.
There are now 80,000 pages of RMA rules from 78 councils that would reach 10 metres high if stacked on top of each other from 78 councils.
There are now 50 different definitions of how to measure the height of a building.
Smith gave several examples, including:
1. How a 29 hectare block of land in Flat Bush that had risen in value from NZ$890,000 to NZ$112 million in just over a decade simply because it was just inside Auckland's Metropolitan Urban Limit.
2. How a medical centre in Nelson that had to spend NZ$57,000 on fees and consultants simply to get approval for seven new bike stands costing NZ$35 each.
3. How an elderly couple planning a new house near Nelson had their plans rejected because their living area did not face the street.
4. How Bob Jones had to consult with 13 iwi and pay NZ$4,500 for a resource consent to replace a ground floor window.
5. How a primary school in Nelson had to spend NZ$100,000 on consenting to get re-designated as a secondary school even though the buildings and grounds weren't changing.
6. How neighbours of new sub-divisions have used the RMA to block or delay development to preserve their rural views, which are protected as an amenity under the RMA.
Motu estimated the cost of regulations in a sub-division at up to NZ$60,000 per house and up to NZ$110,000 per apartment.
Restrictions around ceiling heights, the need for balconies, view shaft restrictions were the culprits. Smith's plans for RMA reforms are rightly focused on improving housing supply and affordability.
They are also rightly focused on stripping away the magical powers and mystique of the NIMBY Knights who say No! and who damage both the economy broadly and a younger generation locked out of the housing market.
This article first appeared in the Herald on Sunday. It is here with permission.