Nick Smith finally got his second phase of Resource Management Act (RMA) reforms passed into law on Thursday as the Maori Party supported National in getting the required legislation through Parliament.
The 250-page RMA Amendment Bill contained 40 changes to the RMA which were critical for the government’s programme to increase the supply and affordability of housing, Smith said during the third and final reading of the legislation.
The Bill has split the National-led coalition government, with ACT and UnitedFuture both voting against it. ACT leader David Seymour used his speech to rip into the very need for the RMA, after the Productivity Commission had recently recommended the legislation be scrapped.
The debate also allowed for political parties across the spectrum to touch on their own housing and Election 2017 policies. The Green Party's Julie-Anne Genter used her time to outline how government also needed to tackle the demand side of the housing equation.
Labour’s Grant Robertson referenced the politics used to get Maori Party agreement for the Bill, with the compromises with National only revealed after it had been through the Select Committee process, meaning the public was not given a chance to comment on the agreements. “How is that not corruption of the process of this House?” Robertson asked.
Meanwhile, New Zealand First Deputy Leader Ron Mark said any party wanting to enter into coalition with NZF after the 23 September general election would need to accept their demand that the Amendment Bill would need to be repealed by any government that was in place with NZF's support.
'Biggest issue is housing supply'
Smith began the third reading by saying new National Planning Standards would simplify the 80,000 pages of RMA rules and policies that made it “a nightmare for New Zealanders to navigate. A country of 4.7 million people cannot justify that level of bureaucracy.”
It takes on average seven years currently for a council to complete a new plan, Smith said. “That is just too slow to adjust the sort of water and housing issues that our communities face.”
“One of the biggest issue facing our country right now is the supply and affordability of housing,” he said.
The supply of land was the core issue. “The cost of building an average 170 square metre house in Auckland has increased from $120,000 25 years ago to $365,000 today – a threefold increase. But the cost of the average section…has on the same period gone from $53,000 to $535,000 – a ten fold increase,” Smith said.
“You cannot pretend to be serious about improving the affordability of housing unless you are prepared to address the price of new sections and the reform of the very Act, the RMA, that governs their creation,” he said.
Smith listed several changes that were being made with the Bill, including: New requirements for councils to free up land supply, removing appeals on resource consents for residential developments, reversing the presumption in favour of subdivision, removes the double-charging system of development and financial contributions to a single tighter regime.
“This will help reduce the cost of sections down,” he said.
The Bill would also do away with the need for consents for minimal works. Smith noted examples of decks and carports that cost more for a resource consent than to build. Councils would be given power to waive the need for consents, be given a new 10-day fast track for minor issues, and the ability to resolve boundary infringement issues with the consent of the immediate neighbour.