Balance between environment and economy

Changes to the RMA announced yesterday are designed to get a better balance between environmental responsibility and economic growth.

In his opening remarks to the National Party’s annual conference Prime Minister John Key said:

New Zealand needs planning law that enables economic growth and jobs, as well as providing strong environmental outcomes.

The changes we are introducing are about striking that balance between our environmental responsibilities and our economic opportunities.

The latest reforms, which include changes to sections 6 and 7 of the law, are about providing great confidence for businesses to grow and create jobs, greater certainty for communities to plan for their area’s needs, and stronger environmental outcomes as New Zealand’s communities grow and change.

When National became the Government in 2008, we began a programme of reform to ensure that our planning law was about the sustainable management of our resources and timely decisions for New Zealanders and our job-creating businesses, rather than the endless bureaucratic delays people experienced under Labour.

The first stage of reform in 2009 involved 150 amendments to simplify and streamline the RMA, to reduce costs, uncertainties and delays.

This has improved outcomes for the environment, supported business investment and encouraged stronger economic growth.

These reforms reduced late consents from 31 per cent in 2008 to 5 per cent in 2011. That is a great achievement.

The 2009 reforms also created the Environmental Protection Authority, which enables the efficient processing of major urban and infrastructure projects that are crucially important to New Zealanders.

This process has led to the Waterview and Transmission Gully projects both being consented within nine months.

Previously these critical transport projects could be deadlocked for years.

The trade protection provisions introduced by the 2009 reforms have also helped tackle the so-called supermarket wars, where supermarket groups and other big retailers have spent years and years, and millions of dollars, fighting each other in the courts over their respective expansion plans.

Last December, Amy introduced a second resource management reform bill, which will deliver on our election promise of a six-month time limit for medium-sized projects, and allow easier direct referral for major regional projects to the Environment Court.

Today, I am pleased to tell you that the Government is ready to progress the third stage of RMA reform.

This will be the largest single set of reforms of the system since the law came into force in 1991.

A key part of these reforms will be addressing the heart of the housing affordability problem in New Zealand, by freeing up land supply and making it easier to build, extend, and renovate houses.

We want to see more houses built for families, and more jobs for builders and carpenters; not bureaucrats checking passports at the doors of open homes as Labour would have us do. . .

The Government’s comprehensive RMA reforms will deliver a system that meets the needs of our communities and our regions by enabling jobs and growth, while also providing for strong environmental protections in a timely and cost-effective way.

They are about breaking the cycle of delay after delay and delivering decisions; one way or the other. 

Our reforms are not about growth at any cost.

I have always said we have to balance our economic opportunities and our environmental responsibilities.  That is at the heart of our approach to planning law.

Our political opponents like to paint National as anti-environment.

That is nonsense.

We only have to look at Nick Smith’s sensible decision on the Milford Tunnel, or the extensive work we have done on managing water resources through such bodies as the Land and Water Forum, to see the balance and pragmatism that runs through our decision-making.

And that balance and pragmatism will continue to guide us in the reforms we make to improve planning law for the benefit of New Zealanders.

Environment Minister Amy Adams  said the RMA is not just about environmental protection, it is also our planning law.

There is no doubt that the Resource Management Act is a critical piece of legislation.

It must protect our natural environment and the qualities we hold dear as New Zealanders, while encouraging a successful economy and enabling a vibrant built environment.

As well as being environmental legislation is it also our key piece of planning legislation and it forms the basis for the decisions that determine what we can do on our land and has a huge impact on whether our communities will get what they need day to day; be that jobs, houses, infrastructure, recreation spaces  or other facilities.

And I believe that in this respect the system that has developed over the past 22 years is not serving us well.

Instead of enabling a strong housing supply – it is slowing or blocking development when it is desperately needed.

Instead of encouraging investors to create jobs – it is discouraging them with uncertainty, bureaucracy and delays.
Instead of protecting our communities and businesses with strong modern infrastructure – it hinders projects of all sizes with unnecessary costs, delays and process.

I’m sure most of you have heard the stories.  And the reason we all know them is because they are everywhere.

A recent Statistics New Zealand survey highlighted that potentially $800million of projects hadn’t proceeded over the 2 years studied, not because they were a bad idea or didn’t make the grade, but because applicants often found it just too frustrating to work their way through the RMA.

Closer to home, we all have our own RMA horror stories. Some recent ones I have come across include:
•       A $3500 consent being needed to do an $800 job to remove a chimney to help quake safe a home
•       Or $7000 in consent costs to add a further 4m to an existing deck
•       Needing a resource consent and an arborist’s report to trim a tree in your own backyard,
•       Heritage protections applied to a 14year old Lockwood home,
•       A consent being needed for a sea plane to do a one-off touch and go landing on a harbour
•       And visual streetscape rules applied to a back section not visible from the street.

Changes which address these sorts of unnecessary costs and delays shouldn’t impact unduly on the environment but will have a positive affect on the economy.

To claim that economic considerations have no place in the RMA is frankly ludicrous and ignores the very wording of the purpose section of the Act.

But I see no reason why we can’t have a system that safeguards New Zealand’s stunning environment while still ensuring we meet the wider needs of our people.

We have to move away from the misguided belief that seems to have developed that the more time and money that gets spent on a process, somehow the better the outcome will be.

Can it be right that a small number of people, if they have enough money, can re-litigate and hold up what the community has decided, sometimes for years at a time?

We currently have one of the most highly devolved planning systems amongst countries we compare ourselves to. . .

In essence the reforms announced will:

•       Bring in a simplified planning framework with central government providing greater direction and consistency, in the form of a national planning template, leaving local decision makers to focus on how those frameworks should apply in their local communities.

As part of this we will be revising and consolidating the current sections 6 and 7 of the Act into a single set of matters of national importance.

•       We will require plans to be more proactive so that more decisions are made up front and fewer consents will be needed

•       and, as the Prime Minister has already told you, where consents are required we will ensure the costs and processes are streamlined and proportionate to the activity so that projects aren’t held up or made to cost more than they need to.

•       we will require a single plan to be created between councils and made available electronically so property owners can more easily understand what all the rules that affect them are

•       We will require Councils to engage better with their communities and local iwi in their planning so that fewer drawn out legal battles are needed for communities to feel heard.

•       We will make councils more accountable to their communities for how they are meeting local environmental, cultural, social and economic needs… by requiring better reporting and benchmarking against indicators such as vacant section availability and prices, local employment information, water and air quality indicators, and so on.

•       We will require better consideration of natural hazards in planning learning the lessons from the Canterbury earthquakes and picking up the recommendations of the Royal Commission.

We are determined to create a system that’s more certain, less costly, and enables growth while protecting core environmental standards which are so critical to New Zealand. . .

The RMA has created a mass of red tape, added costs and caused delays.

The changes will address those problems.

Following the link to the speech will give you some practical examples of what the reforms will do and show how environmental responsibility and economic growth aren’t mutually exclusive.

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