By Bernard Hickey
Environment, Housing and Building Minister Nick Smith has detailed a 10-point plan to rewrite the Resource Management Act (RMA) this year to boost housing supply and improve housing affordability.
Smith delivered his overview of plans to overhaul the RMA in his 20th annual speech to the Nelson Rotary Club and released a 65 page paper from Motu on the RMA's impact on housing supply to back up his call for major reform.
The report estimated the RMA added NZ$30,000 to the cost of an apartment, NZ$15,000 to the cost of a home and had reduced the capacity for housing development by 22%. It indicated the RMA had added NZ$30 billion to the cost of building over the last 25 years and reduced new housing stock by 40,000 homes.
“The Government is planning the most significant overhaul of the Act since its inception 25 years ago. We want to modernise the purpose to make it more practical and relevant, standardise council plans and simplify the process for gaining consents," Smith said in the speech.
Smith said he wanted to make 10 major changes to the RMA and wanted to build a broad base of support, even though National and ACT's David Seymour could pass the changes on their own. He described the reforms as pragmatic and moderate. National abandoned an attempt to reform the RMA last year before the election because it could not garner the support of ACT's Peter Dunne and the Maori Party's three MPs. The election result meant National only needed ACT's support after the election.
"We want to reduce the mountain of plans and rules that make the RMA a barrier to new housing and jobs, but retain the core environmental controls that ensure we keep New Zealand special and such a great place to live," he said.
Smith outlined 10 changes, including:
1. Adding the management of natural hazards such as quakes, floods, landslides and volcanoes.
2. Properly recognising the urban environment, given 80% of consents are in cities but there is no direct mention of cities in the current RMA,
3. Specifically recognising the importance of affordable housing in the RMA.
Smith said the current act put huge weight on protecting landscapes, natural character and heritage without any balancing of the cost implications.
"When deciding whether a sub-division will be allowed, whether an apartment building can be built higher, what section size or apartment size will be allowed, side yard requirements, set-backs for viewing shafts, there is no legal requirement to consider the impacts these will have on the supply and affordability of housing," Smith said.
4. Including the provision for appropriate infrastructure into the RMA. Smith also said he viewed economic growth, jobs and exports as needing recognition in the Act. "The idea that the only consideration in resource consenting is protection of nature is naive. This is not the National Parks Act."
5. Give more explicit recognition to property rights. "We are looking at amendments that limit the degree to which council officials can meddle in people's lives," he said.
6. Consolidation of rules across councils. There are currently 80,000 plans and rules across 78 Councils that would reach 10 metres high if stacked up. Smith pointed out there were 50 different definitions of how to measure the height of a building.
7. Speeding up the plan-making process, which currently takes 6 years to complete a plan.
8. Building a new collaborative way or resolving resource management issues, rather than use litigious and adversarial approach. He pointed the Land and Water forum as one example of a new approach.
9. Strengthening the powers for national regulation to allow for a law change for national regulation after one round of national consultation, backed up by an immediate fine system. Smith said the Government wanted to have such a rule in place to ban dairy cows from streams and rivers from July 2017.
10. Use the Internet for notification of new plans, rather than using paper for notifications to all submitters.
Smith said he planned to draft and introduce the bill in the first half of the year, before advancing to a full select committee process and passage before the end of 2015.