$1 in 3 wastefullly spent by govt

September 19, 2018

The New Zealand Initiative’s Fit for Purpose? Are Kiwis getting the government they pay for? shows we’re not getting value for money.

Dr Bryce Wilkinson explains:

Taxes in New Zealand have risen four times faster than incomes in the 20th century. Taxes now take more of our income than in almost any country outside Europe. We have become a high tax country.

We, the public, need the government to spend our tax money well.

Government is a dominant provider of many activities, including health and education. Poor performance here would harm current and future New Zealanders.

Government also dictates much resource use through ownership and regulation. It is a major landowner, and there are 50 times more Parliamentary Acts now than in 1908.

It should aim to get the best possible outcomes for New Zealanders from its assets. It should also regulate wisely and administer those regulations well.

The report’s focus on value for money is not ideological. Who would not want to see government doing the best possible job for New Zealanders?

This shouldn’t be ideological or partisan, but the left does too often mistakenly equate more spending with better spending.

How well is government spending our tax money?
The quality of much government spending is poor. The Productivity Commission’s inquiry into public sector productivity showed why. Public sector agencies are not focused on productivity. Measures are too often lacking or neglected.

A 2013 report published by a Canadian think tank, the Fraser Institute, assessed outcomes compared to spending in 192 countries. South Korea came out on top. Its government was spending 27% of GDP to achieve a performance score of 7.5. In New Zealand, government was spending 38% of GDP for a score of 5.5.

Perhaps, one-third of New Zealand government spending is wasteful. That represents around 13% of GDP, or $20,000 per household, annually.

Every cent not wasted is a cent more to spend on something we need, or to leave in taxpayers’ pockets.

Imagine the positive impact of that money being spent where it has a positive impact instead of being wasted and/or of each household keeping more of what they earn.

A 2009 OECD report similarly assessed spending efficiency in school education. The indicated level of waste in New Zealand spending on education was one dollar in six.

Less waste would mean more money to improve outcomes. Currently, around 17% of 15-year-olds can barely read. The government has likely spent more than $130,000 on each of their schooling. Few would regard this as an acceptable outcome.

Nearly a fifth of children getting through school unable to read and write is appalling. There will be many reasons for this failure and wasting a sixth of the budget will be one of them.

That extra dollar in six spent well could improve pay and conditions for teachers and support staff, provide extra help for pupils who need it and/or do away with at least some activity fees and fundraising.

In health, even official reports acknowledge a lack of focus on productivity. The OECD has also assessed the efficiency of health spending across member countries. A 2010 report indicated that New Zealand could spend 2.5% of GDP less a year for similar outcomes. Of the order of one dollar spent in four looks like waste.

One dollar in four wasted – that’s 25% of health spending that’s not getting spent where it should be.

Such findings from international comparisons are only motivational. They do not show what New Zealand would need to change or whether such changes are plausible. Their value is in inviting us to learn from countries that seem to be doing better.

In some cases, government providers would be more focused on productivity if users had more choice of providers. Government providers can fail to give value for money when users are captive. Users will be more empowered if they have a wide choice of providers and if state funding follows them. The funding of pre-school education has this feature.

Choice tends to improve competitiveness and performance but this government isn’t keen on it.

How well is the government doing as a regulator?
The Crown’s performance as a lawmaker and regulator is flawed. There is widespread dissatisfaction among regulators with the quality of the law they have to administer. The statute book has become too prescriptive and too detailed. Parliament cannot hope to keep it up to date and fit for purpose.

It needs to be easier for lawmakers to resist the pressures to legislate poorly. Greater reliance on simpler laws of a more general nature is desirable. Prescriptive law quickly becomes out of date. Change is unlikely as matters stand.

Bad law leads to added costs and unexpected consequences.

What about our high international rankings?
Many international agencies assess countries’ outcomes for aspects of wellbeing and economic performance. New Zealand enjoys top-tier world rankings in many of these measures.

Does this mean government is doing a great job? Yes, and no.

We rank among the best for many but not all aspects. The report identifies 20–30 government-dominated areas of weakness. Some are no surprise. These include overseas investment and aspects of labour market laws. Infrastructure quality is another weakness.

Labour law changes on the table now are going to make matters worse and the redirecting of fuel taxes from roads to public transport and cycleways will too.

More surprising is the weakness in our legal system. We rank poorly in the ease of enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency and the quality of judicial processes.

There is no excuse for our 54th ranking by the World Bank for the quality of our judicial processes. Gallingly, Australia is ranked first.

The bottom line is there is compelling evidence of much government waste. It is occurring for many reasons, but a major symptom is a lack of focus on efficiency.

Were the state to do a better job, it could use the savings to raise wellbeing by:
• maintaining government outputs, while cutting tax revenues; and/or
• increasing government outputs from unchanged government spending.

Those options are outside the scope of this report. The first task is to achieve the savings.

National managed to get some improvement in some areas during the GFC – requiring the public service to do more with less.

Under Bill English’s social investment regime the government focused on treating causes, acknowledging that sometimes you have to spend more in the short term to get savings later.

It also set measurable targets and reported on progress towards them.

But all parties need to focus on getting better value for taxpayers’ dollars.

It would help if all of them acknowledged that the government isn’t always the bet option for providing services; that governments aren’t good at picking winners and that the quality of their spend is far more important than the quantity.

It would also help if more of us didn’t think of the government as the first or only source of support.


KiwiBuy Kiwi Beg KiwiFail

May 15, 2018

KiwBuild was supposed to add 100,000 houses for those struggling to get into their first home.

But KiwiBuild has turned into KiwiBuy or even KiwiBeg.

The government buying houses that were going to be built anyway will put public money at risk without adding a single extra dwelling to the nation’s housing stock.

The housing shortage is caused by an imbalance between supply and demand.

There are several reasons for that including a consent process akin to trying to run through a river of treacle in gumboots.

Not PC gives some examples of the hoops that add time and cost to the process:

. . .In recent months, for example, and like every regular applicant for building consents, I’ve spent many, many hours replying to council’s Requests for Further Information (RFIs). These days it’s often less about being a designer than it is about being a lawyer, explaining the building code clauses to the processor at the other end of an email.

The simplest RFI responses are to tell the questioner where precisely in the document set they can find the answer to their question, already addressed. But in recent months it’s been getting worse. Among other things, in order to keep things moving I’ve been required to tell council the make and model of a shower and the finish of a bathroom cabinet; the colour of bedroom carpets (accompanied by a calculation to show they’re bright enough); the normal process by which to pour a concrete footing in engineered soil, to abandon approved details because the territorial authority has decided they don’t like them, and to replace them with those they’ve now decided they do; to discuss the acoustics of polystyrene sheets (that are not being used for acoustic purposes); to resupply calculations and statements that the processor has already received, but lost; to explain why handrails are not required on steps with fewer than two treads, and how an opening window into an open lightwell allows light and air into a room; to draw up a list of a project’s “construction and demolition hazards”; to provide mechanical ventilation rates for areas we’ve shown will use natural ventilation; to draw up simple diagrams because processors are unable to read fairly standard plans; to confirm the use of smoke detectors (when they’ve already been clearly placed and labelled on drawings); and (in the absence of council finding anything else to ask about) to draw a detail of a bathroom splashback — just some examples of recent Requests from processors, all of which have wasted my time and theirs, unnecessarily dragging out the consenting process, and all at the time and expense of clients who were once very eager to build. . .

The worst example that I’ve come across was an applicant being asked to draw on a plan where the furniture would go.

If the government was really serious about a long-term solution to housing it would be addressing problems with the Resource Managment Act and building regulations.

It would also ensure council staff stop playing silly beggars with the consent process.

Until that happens KiwiBuild, KiwiBuy and KiwiBeg will be KiwiFail.

 

 

 


H&S no excuse for stupidity

June 18, 2017

When our daughter was young I would very, very occasionally say it’s a matter of safety.

She knew that meant I wouldn’t be budged and because I used it so rarely, she accepted it.

Unfortunately safety, or more often health and safety has now become an excuse for stupidity like this:

Emily Broadmore wanted her two young twins Hugo and Connie left buckled in their pram on the train from Wellington to Masteron, but was told she couldn’t because of health and safety reasons.

“When I inquired where I could put the pram… I was yelled at and told that you shouldn’t even be travelling with two babies,” she said. . .
She had been told she could put her pram in the designated wheelchair space if it was available, but train staff refused citing health and safety.

Hugo and Connie were seated and the pram was stored away.

“I turned momentarily to Connie and he just dived about a metre and a half.”

Transdev Wellington, the company who run the service apologised to Ms Broadmore, but the Multiple Birth Association say it should not have come to this. . .

Of course it shouldn’t have come to this and, because of this incident, the company has clarified with staff what they expect so it shouldn’t come to that again.

But it will, not necessarily with this company, on a train, nor with a parent of twins.

But somewhere there’s someone with more authority than common sense, compassion or care who will trot out health and safety, whether or not his or her directive, as it did in this case, actually endangers health and safety rather than promoting it.


Top 10 fixes for loopy rules

September 22, 2015

The Rules Reduction Task Force, co-chaired by Jacqui Dean MP and Michael Barnett has released its report.

In their introduction they say:

New Zealanders are fed up wasting time and money trying to work with loopy rules. We were tasked with identifying rules and regulations which are not fit-for-purpose and which impose unnecessary bureaucratic burdens on property owners and businesses.

Everyone we heard from has had tales to tell of loopy rules – requirements that are out of date, inconsistent, petty, inefficient, pointless or onerous. These are the things that really annoy people, whether they run a business or own their own home.

In the last few months we have travelled around New Zealand listening to people in their communities. We have also met with councils, sector interest groups, and government agencies.

We thank all those who have candidly shared their frustrations and given us their views on how rules could be changed to make more sense.

We did hear of rules that protect people, the environment, infrastructure and our heritage but which still enable individuals, businesses and our economy to prosper and grow. But we are struck by the number of instances where the good intentions of the rule-makers are somehow lost in the translation to the real world. Examples abound of inappropriate interpretation, over-zealous enforcement, and lack of focus on the customer. (My bold).

New Zealanders have told us they are confused and frustrated by frequent changes in the rules. They are exasperated by inconsistency, time-consuming processes and unreasonable costs. It was a surprise to us to find out that a number of the loopy rules are in fact just myths. They are misinterpretations and misunderstandings that have been repeated so often that they have taken on the status of facts. (My bold).

We heard many examples where people are not clear about what they need to do and why. Myths fill the gap when clear information is hard to find. We highlight these myths in this report along with the loopy rules that need to be changed or removed. We discovered that loopy rules are difficult to get rid of because they’re part of a wider system, because a focus on the customer is absent, or because of the interests of experts or the fears of their administrators. What’s clear is they thrive when rule makers fail to take responsibility for them. Most importantly, we identify opportunities to fix many loopy rules and bust the myths. Our top ten fixes are listed on page 7. We call on both central and local government to stop making more loopy rules.

The legislation which causes most problems are the Resource Management and Building Acts – the source of 32% and 27% of complaints respectively.

They give examples of loopy rules which include:

The rule is not practical The owners of a bus depot structure that has no walls are forced to install four exit signs, just in case people can’t find their way out if there is a fire.

The rule makes no sense The Health and Safety mining regulations define a tunnel as ‘what it is not’ rather than ‘what it is’.

Compliance with the rule defeats its very purpose An owner of a rural property had to spend $30,000 putting in a driveway and watertank to meet the fire requirements. The tank was at the back of the house. When the house caught fire, the fire chief would not drive his truck past the house to the tank in case it caught fire too.

A small change is treated the same as a big change: As part of the refurbishment of an earthquake-damaged building, a pharmacy is being added to the front of a 1950s building. The pharmacy is to be 3.5% of the building. The rest is residential. The pharmacy has triggered the need to upgrade the fire rating of the entire building at a cost of $50,000.

The rule sets a standard that can never be achieved: Converting a shop into a two-bedroom residential unit required a reduction in noise levels from 70db to 35db. We tested the required noise levels in our brand new home; the only place that complied was the wardrobe.

The rule is inflexible and imposes costs far in excess of any benefits: Under direction from Wellington, our council enforces clean air standards. For 12 days of the year our town does not meet the standard for PM10 particles. For the other 353 days of the year the air is great. The council has subsidised the replacement of hundreds of fires – often very efficient ones – and replaced them with inferior models for little or no change.

The rule requires permission to fix something the property owner doesn’t want: An owner had two protected trees on his property, listed by the council. One was dying, the other was unsafe and needed trimming. The owner is expected to get resource consent to maintain the trees on behalf of the council.

The rule means I cannot assume to benefit from value I have created from my own efforts: A farmer planted 5,000 kauri trees and asked the council if he could eventually harvest them. The council said it could not guarantee he could harvest them because they were kauri.

A rule can be interpreted in many ways: Having a level entry to showers: Some councils say yes, some say no, and then charge for an opinion or ruling.

There is no mechanism to update legislation as circumstances change: Long ago, hairdressers were once a source of infection – but no more. Even so, councils must register and inspect them yearly.

A rule has a compliance regime that does not allow for the fact nothing may change: Rigging loops have to be put in to a specified standard but then must be re-certified each year. If a year is missed, they must be abandoned and new ones inserted into the concrete, which would weaken the concrete.

The rule arises from officials’ zealousness and has no material effect: A council advised a farmer it was going to classify his land as a significant natural area under the Resource Management Act. Such a classification would limit his ability to use the land in certain ways, including turning his car lights on at night in case it disrupted the flight of Westland Petrels. The council acknowledged the birds never landed, swam, nested or mated there. It was simply on their flight path.

The report lists its top 10 fixes for loopy rules:

1. Make it easier to get building consents

 Speed up the development of risk-based consenting and investigate other ways to simplify the consenting of minor structures.

 Promote the use of building consent exemptions under Schedule 1 of the Building Act 2004.

 Complete the fix-up of the building fire upgrade regulations this year. Ensure additional requirements imposed reflect the extra costs imposed and the benefits to be gained.

 Use progressive building consents so work can begin sooner, with nonstructural details confirmed later.

 Streamline the determinations process for applicants.

2. Get serious about lifting the skills of building sector

 Develop an industry-wide strategy to lift the professional practices of builders.

 Work towards builders certifying their own work so as to deal with joint and several liability pressures on councils.

3. Make it easier to get resource consents

 Establish an end-to-end relationship management approach for all resource (and building) consenting within councils.

 Require councils to report publicly on their actual performance in meeting the statutory 20-day deadline (for building and resource consents), as well as the total time (including all delays resulting from information requests and so on).

 As part of the planned Resource Management Act 1991 reforms, eliminate the need for resource consents for minor and technical breaches.

 Introduce a faster, more flexible process for changing plans under the Resource Management Act 1991 reforms.

4. Reduce the cost of consenting fees

 Cap government building levies. 5. Sort out what “work safety” means and how to do it  Define what is meant by “all practicable steps” in the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1991 and any replacement term in the Health and Safety Reform Bill.

 WorkSafe should do more about mythbusting, correcting misunderstandings and providing consistent information.

 Develop clear and accessible guidelines and codes of practice once the Health and Safety Reform Bill becomes law, working with all other agencies involved.

6. Make it clear what the rules are

 Define what is meant by “as nearly as is reasonably practicable” in the Building Act 2004.

 Require the Ministry for the Environment to work more closely with the other agencies to provide more timely and comprehensive guidance when developing and issuing national directives.  Make government agencies accept their responsibility to correct misunderstandings about their policies and regulations, particularly in the building and resource management areas, and as noted in health and safety.

7. Establish a new customer focus the public sector  The State Sector Act 1988 and the Local Government Act 2002 should include customer service responsibilities for chief executives.

 All Local Government Chief Executives should have a customer focus component in their Key Performance Indicators. They should consider utilising the Customer Champion and Fast Fix approaches.

 To maintain a permanent focus on loopy rules, establish a website for people to report loopy rules, which are then referred to the responsible agency to put right.

8. Departments should introduce a stakeholder engagement approach to developing local government policies and regulations

 Require all government departments to adopt a stakeholder approach, such as that used by the Ministry of Transport. The Ministry signals policy changes in advance, involves stakeholders early on and is open to critical feedback.

 Require central government to develop a project-specific engagement approach when developing policies and regulations that local government must implement. This approach could be useful for example, in the development of proposed changes to amended shop trading hours (Easter Sunday trading) and the implementation of the Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Act.

 Amend the guidelines for Cabinet papers so they include “consultation with the Minister of Local Government” when a proposal will affect local government.

9. Reform the Local Government Act 1974 and the Reserves Act 1977

 Update the remaining provisions of the Local Government Act 1974 Act.  Review and update the Reserves Act 1977. And, most importantly:

10. Stop making loopy rules

 Develop a coordinated pipeline approach to regulation.  Include a cost-benefit analysis prior to development.

 Create a mechanism to actively review central and local government regulations.

 Extend Treasury’s annual review of departmental regulations, and incorporate an assessment of local government regulations.

In releasing the report, Local Government Minister Paula Bennett findings from the Rules Reduction Taskforce show real opportunities for both central and local government to make life easier for New Zealanders.

‘The loopy rules report: New Zealanders tell their stories’ is being released by the Government today following 50 public meetings and close to 2,000 submissions.

“We have listened to New Zealanders and the message is clear: there are too many frustrating rules and regulations, and too many are being applied inconsistently, and it is holding our communities back,” Mrs Bennett says. 

“The Report outlines practical opportunities for Government departments and local councils to improve the level of customer service they offer, and give that clarity people need. We will be embracing these opportunities finding practical solutions.”

The range of submissions cover 11 Ministers’ portfolios, with the majority relating to the Resource Management Act and the Building Act.

“Over the next few weeks, Ministers will be working with their departments and agencies to progress the quick fixes and what will take a bit longer to tackle. We’ll continue to update www.rulesreduction.govt.nz and make announcements as this work progresses,” Mrs Bennett says.

“The Government will also be working with local government to ensure they are providing the right advice to their residents about what rules and regulations mean and how they apply in their communities.

“The members of the Taskforce also heard loud and clear that there are several myths about rules and regulations that don’t actually exist. This includes the misconception that lolly scrambles have been banned, and that people can’t use three-step ladders.

“By breaking through this misinformation, New Zealanders will be better placed to focus on the serious rules designed to keep people safe and our economy growing.”

Several common ‘myths’ can be found on the Rules Reduction Taskforce website atwww.rulesreduction.govt.nz. New Zealanders can continue to share their experiences by sending a message through the Rules Reduction Taskforce’s social media pages.

“I’d like to thank everyone that took the time to share their experience with the Taskforce. I would also like to acknowledge the dedication of co-chairs Jacqui Dean MP and Michael Barnett, as well as the other members of the Taskforce,” says Mrs Bennett.

A lot of these problems  would not have arisen if regard for property rights and common sense were both at the basis of legislation.

If this report is acted on, loopy rules fixed in existing legislation and not added new legislation it will make a significant and positive difference to the country.

 


Rural round-up

July 1, 2015

Dr Rolleston new vice-president of the World Farmers Organisation:

Federated Farmers President, Dr William Rolleston has been elected Vice President of the World Farmers Organisation (WFO) while attending its General Assembly in Milan.

The WFO aims to bring together all the national producers and farm cooperative organisations with the objective of developing policies which favour and support farmers’ causes in developed and developing countries around the world.

“I am delighted and incredibly humbled to be elected into this role,” says Dr Rolleston. .  .

 

Sheep shipment should have been handled better – Jon Morgan:

 I recall once being told that the Prime Minister gets more calls and letters about animal welfare than any other issue.

No-one likes to see an animal suffer and it appears we’re more vigilant about this than we are about anything else, including child cruelty.

The authorities act quickly and severely when cases of animal cruelty occur. Hardly a week goes by when we’re not reading of a case before the courts. Unfortunately, each year several of these are farmers and involve multiple animals.

And so the outcry over the recent shipment of 50,000 sheep (actually 45,000) to Mexico quickly escalated to hysterical levels. . .

Gisborne bull breeders on a high after $100,000 sale  – Kate Taylor:

Angus breeders Charlie and Susie Dowding are buzzing at the sale of one of their bulls for $100,000 – a record price for an on-farm bull sale in New Zealand.

The Gisborne stud’s Rangatira 13-38 sold to the Bayly family’s Cricklewood Angus, Wairoa, which will use the rising two-year-old bull itself initially and make semen available for sale in the future.

“I don’t think I’ve stopped smiling yet,” Susie Dowding said.

“We had no idea at all he would be so sought after. We had moved him up the catalogue but obviously he should have been up further. I’m not sure how many were bidding to start with but it ended up with two studs who wanted him badly.” . .

Focus on support networks – Sally Rae:

A gathering of rural professionals is being held in Oamaru next week to highlight the support networks available to farmers.

It has been organised by the Rural Support Trust, Federated Farmers, Beef and Lamb New Zealand and DairyNZ.

The organisations all had concerns for farmers, particularly in North Otago but also other areas, over the next three to four months, as they faced the effects of drought and also the low dairy payout, Otago Rural Support Trust co ordinator Dave Mellish said. . .

ECan’s future direction – Conan Young:

After five years without a democratically elected regional council, warnings are being sounded that Canterbury’s stock of capable leaders is in danger of being hollowed out.

As Insight investigated the plan for ECan to make a partial return to democracy, it was told the region is getting used to having decisions made for it by government appointed commissioners.

Environment Canterbury’s councillors were sacked by the government amidst claims they were dysfunctional and had failed to introduce a water plan for the region, allowing it to make the most of its alpine water and reap the economic rewards of large scale irrigation.

Now there’s a proposal for a partial return to democracy with a mix of elected members and appointed commissioners.

According to the government, there’s still too much at stake to risk a return to fully elected councillors.

But the head of the Politics Department at Canterbury University, Bronwyn Hayward, takes issue with that position. . .

 

Cashflow crucial for Taranaki demonstration farms – Sue O’Dowd:

Demonstration farms near Stratford and Manaia are closely monitoring their cashflow, focusing on pasture management and deferring some expenditure as they plan for the season ahead.

The Stratford Demonstration Farm, operated by an incorporated society, and the Waimate West Demonstration Farm, owned by a trust, were both established in 1917 by local farmers who wanted a model dairy farm in their area to develop and promote better farming methods. Both farms are managed by the Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre. 

Waimate West Demonstration Farm chairman John Fischer says cashflow will be crucial if dairy farmers are to manage their finances in the wake of two seasons of low payout forecasts. . .

Auditing just futile bureaucracy –  Lynda Murchison:

So much time and energy is spent managing land and water at present, with decisions around rules only the first step.

What those rules look like and how much they will cost farmers and the community to implement also needs close scrutiny. Take a couple of examples from Canterbury.

Overseer; like it or hate it, Canterbury farmers are required to record an estimate of their nitrogen losses using Overseer. Personally I don’t have an issue with that. . .


Conservation win, process and property rights lose

March 12, 2015

The owners of the  old kauri, the age of which is moot, have come up with a plan to save it.

In an open letter they write:

This is an open letter to the people of Auckland from myself John Lenihan and my wife Jane Greensmith, as today is our 20th wedding anniversary. Over these 20 years Jane and I have practiced as Architects who live and work in Auckland.

We have only ever built 2 houses for ourselves both in Titirangi.

The first house the year we got married, and I became a partner in RCG Ltd where I still work today. The second house we built 15 years ago and is the house our kids have grown up in. Both houses were on challenging sites, but as Jane’s Dad who was an Architect too, used to say “those are architect’s sites- difficult, complicated, fun and full of potential!”

As Architects we work in a city that we believe is under stress, as there is significant population growth. This is mostly from people like us having kids and because it is a great city.

But Auckland is under huge stress- it needs homes for extra people, and it needs affordable homes, and it needs homes of all types everywhere. This means change and many people hate change, and this adds more stress.

We wanted to be part of changing all this in our own small but optimistic way, so along with helping our clients achieve this, we thought we would try and build again and be our own client. We came across 2 lovely sites on Paturoa Rd and again they were “Architects sites”.

The rules for building in this part of Auckland and a lot of other areas are in our opinion very complex, often contradictory and from an outdated planning paradigm that gets added to in ad hoc ways that just keep making things worse.

The process to follow in making and processing applications is also too complex, contradictory and ad hoc.

There is very little certainty, so it is no wonder that Auckland is not building enough. Adding to this is the rapidly rising cost of land and building materials and you have the recipe for more stress. There are no easy answers to any of this, but we believe we all have to try.

This what we teach our kids.

We believe that the situation that has occurred at Paturoa Rd Titirangi is the outcome of the stress Auckland is under and the systems and processes we are given to work under. We believe that there needs to be a financial return for undertaking building work.

Banks require it when they give you a mortgage, they don’t call it a profit they call it the banks ”margin of risk”. Building is very risky, difficult, time consuming and prohibitively expensive.

Jane & I did not make the rules but we have to work with them and follow the law.

If we don’t, we lose the right to be Architects. We believe in law and order, but as Architects we also understand conflicting needs and different opinions, but to resolve these you need good systems and processes. We don’t believe these are good enough in the present regulatory process. The Auckland Unitary Plan might be an opportunity to change this, but not by keeping those old systems and paradigms. Maybe we need to try some brand new things.

Over the past few days we have been overwhelmed with the agendas of Council, Politicians, Protesters, and so on. We were quite normally private people but now we have been dragged into being public figures. We don’t have media training and crisis management skills and there are some who want us to take all the blame.

Our family, friends and colleagues and clients have been supporting us. So we have had to learn, adapt and change, because we are Architects and that’s what Architects are trained to do.

However we don’t want to play the games of others , games of blame, conflict, and abuse, instead we have been trying to come up with solutions where no-one loses everything but we all compromise, and is something new and hopeful that looks forward and not backward.

This is our Plan – Architects call it a design solution;

1. Let the trees stay including the Kauri which we have been calling 500, and the Rimu called 300. It doesn’t matter how old they are as they now need to stay. Some other trees might have to go – this is the compromise bit, but let’s keep it to a minimum. Trees grow faster than you all think.

Our wise elderly neighbour reckons the Kauri ”500” is only 70 years old like him.

2. Let’s turn these two sites from a place of conflict and division to a place of hope, a place to come together and plan a different future.

3. Let’s be innovative and consider new processes and new rules and prototype these and make it part of the Unitary Plan Process.

4. Let’s build on these sites as we need to keep property law intact and create homes. Our NZ is about family and community and nature. Can we try and have it all with small compromises?

5. Let’s build affordable, sustainable homes and try and fit as many as we can on these sites so that it works economically, socially and environmentally.

If we throw out the current rules we could do something a lot better than where we had got to with these houses.

6. Let’s take Jane and I out of the equation and give us fair compensation for our land and efforts to date as we have not broken the law and we need to encourage others to build and not be punished. Let’s respect the laws we have and try to improve them in the future.

7. Let’s allow Treescape and Vector, Iwi and Council to own the sites on the public’s behalf and let’s forgive them too. Give them a chance to try something new and create something better from this current mess. The compromise is they have to work together as a team and communicate quickly and professionally.

That’s our Plan and this is what Architects do.

We make plans for the future.

We hope everyone can support this, because then it will be the best 20th wedding anniversary!

If this is agreed to, it will be a win for conservation.

It is a loss for processes which are patently inadequate.

Those processes need to change to ensure no property owner is treated like this again.

And unless the  owners get compensation it will also be a loss for property rights.

People who follow due process and obey the law should not be out of pocket because other people don’t like the processes and disobey the law.

And Auckland still needs more houses.

P.S.

I wonder how many of those who protested against the felling will be willing to help pay the compensation?


10 major changes to RMA proposed

January 22, 2015

The government will be including 10 major changes to the Resource Management Act in the second stage of reforms:

Overhauling the Resource Management Act (RMA) is critical to addressing housing supply and affordability, and maintaining the momentum of economic and job growth as well as better managing New Zealand’s environment, Dr Nick Smith said today in his 20th annual speech to Nelson Rotary.

“The Resource Management Act has produced over 80,000 pages of plans and rules across New Zealand’s 78 councils. This 10-metre mountain of red tape is holding back the development of new houses and jobs, and it is not performing well enough in managing key resources like freshwater,” Dr Smith says.

“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.”

It shouldn’t be necessary for every council to have their own individual plans and rules for every aspect of resource management and planning. At least some of these could be standard across the whole country.

Dr Smith today also released an independent report by Motu Economic and Public Policy Research – commissioned by the Treasury and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment – into the impacts of planning rules, regulations, uncertainty and delay in residential property development.

The report concludes that the RMA is adding an extra $30,000 to the cost of an apartment, an extra $15,000 to the cost of a home, and that it is reducing the capacity of housing development by 22 per cent.

“This report is consistent with the conclusions of the Productivity Commission and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in highlighting the high administrative burden of our system of environmental regulations, but also adds new information by estimating the actual cost of its flaws. It indicates that over the last decade, the RMA has added $30 billion to the cost of building and reduced new housing stock by 40,000 homes,” Dr Smith says.

Dr Smith also cited practical examples in his speech of where the RMA had wasted health and education funding, and where councils were using the RMA to unnecessarily interfere in people’s lives.

“Our first phase of RMA reforms has made a positive difference in getting consents processed more quickly, including for major projects like the Waterview Connection in Auckland, but we have always made plain more substantive change was required,” Dr Smith says.

Dr Smith outlined ten major changes the Government would be including in its second phase of reforms in 2015:
• Add natural hazards
• Recognise urban planning
• Prioritise housing affordability
• Acknowledge importance of infrastructure
• Greater weight to property rights
• National planning templates
• Speed up plan-making
• Encouraging collaborative resolution
• Strengthening national tools
• Internet for simplicity and speed

“Today’s speech sets the direction for reform. We have a power of work ahead to do with officials, our support parties and Cabinet committees to finalise and draft the required Bill. Our ambition is to have the Bill before Parliament and through a full select committee process this year,” Dr Smith says.

“These reforms will be pragmatic and moderate. 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.”

The proposed changes won’t discount the importance of the environment but will ensure that environmental, economic and social considerations are in balance.

The full speech is here. In it Dr smith says:

The big challenge in the environmental area is finding a path that better manages New Zealand’s water, air, oceans and native flora and fauna while
enabling our economy to grow and prosper. Key priorities this year will be passing a new Environment Reporting Act to give greater clarity to New
Zealand’s important clean, green brand. . . .

Environmental protection and enhancement and economic development aren’t mutually exclusive.

 . . . the most challenging of my jobs this year will be the reform of the Resource Management Act. The Act, in governing the use of water, land, air and the coast, and which is responsible for protecting heritage, native plants and animals is so wide-ranging that it has implications right across the economy and into almost every facet of life.

There is not a single official anywhere who understands this huge pile of RMA plans and rules. Even at a local level, only a few individuals working in council or in planning consultancy will fully understand how the rules work in their city or district. . .

If they don’t understand it how can anyone else?

  The OECD published in November a comparative study of its 34 member countries on the cost burden of environmental regulation. In most OECD reports New Zealand ranks very well as a good place to do business and create jobs. We ranked bottom when it came to the administrative burden of the Resource Management Act. I have no problem where there are costs to achieve good environmental outcomes. The OECD study actually showed that many countries had more stringent
environmental policies than New Zealand but a far lesser administrative burden.

A key difference of the New Zealand system of environmental regulation under the RMA is that we have a very fragmented system where there are
differing rules in every district and region, and secondly that we require consents for most activities when most other countries simply had national
standards that had to be met.

National standards would be far better for many activities.

Examples can be more powerful than national or international studies. I get inundated with hundreds of complaints from all corners of New Zealand and
from people from all walks of life with frustrations over their experience with the RMA.

My first example is the Stoke Medical Centre, a typical suburban GP clinic on Main Road Stoke, employing 15 full-time staff. Three years ago the practice
wanted to expand its staff and extend its permissible opening hours. This required a change to their resource consent which Council ruled under the Act
had to be notified. Six months and $57,000 of bills later the amended consent was granted with the requirement that they had to provide seven new bike
stands. And this cost excluded the time doctors and practice staff had spent on the process. The bike stands cost $35 each but the bureaucratic paper
associated with each meant they ended up costing over $8000 a stand. The tragedy of this case is that the $57,000 consent cost will ultimately come out
of the health budget and people’s GP charges in an area where there are many low income struggling families and retirees.

It is not just health dollars that are being wasted under the RMA. The resource consenting process for Nelson’s new Young Parents’ School
officially opened by the Prime Minister last year was a fiasco. The new school is smart social policy aimed at supporting teenage mums by enabling them to
continue their education, while also ensuring their pre -school children are engaged in education from an early age. The school is sited at Auckland
Point School where the roll is a lot less than the school’s capacity. The Principal and Board of Trustees fully supported the initiative being on their
school site.

The problem was that the school is designated under the RMA for “primary education” and the Young Parents School was about providing education for
secondary school age mums and early childhood education for their children. This meant under the RMA a change of designation, notification of neighbours
and a full Commissioner hearing at a direct cost of $64,000. There would have been no change out of $100,000 if you included the considerable staff
time of the Education Ministry, Kindergarten Association and school. This process also delayed the Young Parents School’s opening by more than a
year. More was spent on the RMA bureaucracy than on the facility for the specialist teachers, young mums and their babies.

The nonsense of this case is that the RMA is meant to be about protecting the environment and whether Auckland Point School has primary, pre-school or
secondary students, makes not a jot of difference. The early childhood regulations and building consent requirements are separate and ensure the facilities are safe and appropriate. More good would have been achieved for the environment had the $64,000 of cash been deposited in the school’s composting bins.

I could give hundreds of examples of the RMA wrecking Kiwi family dreams of building their own home. I choose this Nelson example because it illustrates how far council planners under the RMA are now intruding into people’s lives. A couple in their 60s bought a 630 square metre flat section in Sanctuary Drive in the Marsden Valley. Their architectural designer produced plans for their dream home that included an internal access garage in the front corner to minimise the portion of the section used for the driveway and located their living area so as to maximise the sun. The orientation was similar to 14 other homes in the subdivision. They were gobsmacked to have their consent application declined on the basis of a new RMA rule that had just come into
effect in late 2012. They were told they had to relocate the garage out the back and have their living area face the road. 

The RMA justification for rejecting the design was that the house failed to provide for a “positive private to public space relationship”. In plain language they wanted the living area to face the road so the residents would keep a safe eye on the street. The couple abandoned the section at a cost of many thousands of dollars. So much for a person’s home being their castle.

The RMA is being used to micro-manage building designs down to the extent of what direction people should look.

This sort of madness has been repeated in Auckland and had property magnate Bob Jones venting his spleen late last year. He owns a 17-storey CBD building and wanted to re-establish a ground-floor shop window that had been blocked off by a previous tenant. Not only did this minor work require a $4500 resource consent, but because it would have people looking out on a designated heritage site, the consent required a cultural impact statement and consultation with 13 iwi. This is all for permission to replace a window!

This isn’t only madness, it’s expensive, wasteful and the triumph of bureaucracy over common sense.

These and many other examples show why change is needed.

The Motu Economic and Public Policy Research report is here.

 


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