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Everyone we heard from has had tales to tell of loopy rules – requirements that are out of date, inconsistent, petty, inefficient, pointless or onerous.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.