Should RMA consider management of natural hazards?

July 5, 2012

An independent report, commissioned after the Canterbury earthquakes,  recommends changes to the Resource management Act to take account of natural hazards and urban infrastructure development.

The risk of liquefaction wasn’t taken into account in granting consent for subdivisions because the RMA doesn’t require natural hazards to be considered.

Its priorities are preserving natural character, landscape, flora and fauna, public access, cultural values and heritage.

The report proposes changes to that, about which Environment Minister Amy Adams says:

The report proposes that changes be made to the principles in sections 6 and 7 of the RMA to bring managing natural hazards and urban and infrastructure into the list of things that should be considered when Councils grant resource consents.

It also says that none of these matters should be more important than another, and proposes changes to the structure of the RMA to make this clearer.

Most lay people hadn’t heard of liquefaction and wouldn’t have been particularly concerned about it before the earthquakes. But now we’ve seen its impacts it is not hard to make a case for including the risk of natural hazards in the RMA.

“A key consideration for the Government in thinking about any changes to the resource management system is to achieve enduring outcomes while reducing the time, costs and uncertainties involved in the process.”

The RMA isn’t working as well as it should and could. All these factors must be considered in improvements to it.

Further streamlining for RMA

November 2, 2011

National has announced plans for further  and much-needed improvements to the Resource Management Act.

Environment Minister Nick Smith said the first round of reforms are working well and the focus now is on getting better performance for medium-sized notified applications by requiring that decisions be made within six months.

“It is unacceptable that many of the 1800 notified consents covering new factories, commercial buildings, subdivisions and regional infrastructure take much longer than a year to resolve.  These delays cost jobs, impose significant holding costs and cause frustration for all concerned.  It is nonsensical that projects take longer to consent than they actually take to build.”

Entrepreneurs and business people know that time is money, too many council staff involved in the processing of consents don’t appear to understand that.

The Prime Minister and Dr Smith announced National’s Resource Management policy at the site of a $15 million new four-level building by Major Property Tauranga Ltd that took nearly two years to get a resource consent.  The project is now going ahead with the first tower cranes in Tauranga in five years.

“Our concern is not the final decisions from the RMA but the time it takes for a decision to be made.  We can’t have bureaucratic processes holding up these sorts of developments when we have the building industry holding out for more work,” Dr Smith said.

“Our next phase of reforms will also address problems identified from the Christchurch earthquakes over natural hazard management.  It is unsatisfactory that new subdivisions were approved in Christchurch without any consideration of known liquefaction risks.  A new requirement will be for councils to consider natural hazard risks like earthquakes.

“We also want to simplify the plan making process as it is too slow and cumbersome.  Auckland
will not prosper if, as predicted under the current Act, it takes 15 years to complete a new Unitary Resource Management Plan for the city.  . . .”

Planned changes include simplifying the planning processes of the Resource Management, Land Transport and Local Government Acts as well as tighter timeframes for plan making.

“Our  plans for a second substantive phase of changes to the Resource Management Act  contrast with Labour who has no ideas for reform and accepts the status quo as acceptable.  New Zealand
cannot afford to ignore the real problems the RMA causes for those wanting to  invest and create jobs.”

The Resource Management is  generally good in theory but it can lead to prolonged and unnecessary delays in practice.

The implementation of these improvements would reduce the time and money wasted as applications wend their way through the consent process.

Simplifying and speeding up the planning and consent process will contribute to productivity which is one of the ingredients in improving economic growth.

Consent cost kills cubicle dairy application

March 19, 2010

The news that the companies applying for resource consents for large cubicle dairying operations in the Mackenzie basin have withdrawn their applications will be welcomed by the many people who were horrified by the idea.

A lot of the reaction was based on emotion rather than fact and included concerns over animal welfare which have nothing to do with resource consent.

I had mixed views on the application – some of it emotive – so I’m not altogether unhappy that the applications have been withdrawn, at least for now.

But what does concern me is that the reason for the applicants aren’t going ahead with their plans is the cost of going through the consent process.

It was the “extraordinary cost of the call-in process, combined with the premature consideration of effluent consents without certainty of gaining water” that led to the decision to withdraw effluent applications, Southdown Holdings director Richard Peacocke said.

This doesn’t mean the companies won’t reapply later. Environment Canterbury is considering their applications for water and if they are granted the applications for effluent discharges could be lodged again. But that will still be an expensive process.

Any development has to meet the requirements of the RMA but applying for consent shouldn’t be so costly ideas die on the drawing board for financial rather than environmental reasons.

Consent delays could cost councils

February 19, 2010

The government is following through it’s promise to streamline the RMA with a proposal for efficiency incentives on the processing of consent applications.

In announcing the plan, Environment Minister Nick Smith said:

“Last year’s report on resource consent processing identified that 31% of resource consents were processed late and another 28% involved an extension of time,” Dr Smith said. “The report also identified that this problem had got progressively worse over the last decade.

“This new policy of a financial penalty on councils for late consent processing is designed to reverse this trend and get councils focused on providing a timely service.”

The discount regulations suggested approach is that councils must provide a discount of 25% for a consent one week late, with an additional 5% per week up to a maximum of 80%. The regulations also set out procedures for determining fault, and definitions to ensure the incentives are workable.

“It has long been councils’ policy that a penalty is loaded on ratepayers for failing to pay rates on time. If it’s good enough for the goose; it’s good enough for the gander. This new policy applies the same principle where the council fails to meet statutory timeframes.

“These regulations will set the minimum discount for lateness but councils will have the option of developing their own tougher regime if they wish. For instance, some councils already offer a free consent if late (i.e. a 100% discount) and will be able to continue to do so.

“This new policy is about recognising that time is money. New Zealand’s economic recovery cannot be held back by inefficient and costly red tape.

It would be difficult to quantify the cost of prolonging the resource consent process. But most applicants complain about the time taken to process applications and comment that a private business wouldn’t survive if they worked so slowly. One of the reasons for that is that private businesses are very aware of the cost of delays.

Incentivising efficiency, or disincentivising delay, will ensure that councils and their staff also understand the dollar value of delay.

It’s a policy that could well be applied to some central government agencies and their processes too.

More information on the proposal is available at the Environment Ministry.

Whose trees are they?

September 3, 2009

Concern is mounting over changes planned in the Resource Management Act which would allow people to chop down trees on their own property without seeking permission.

Yes, you read that right. People who own trees will be able to chop them down without resource consent unless it is listed in a council’s district plan.

Councils are concerned that this will mean pockets of bush and coastal pohutukawas will be able to be cleared unless they are protected.

The Resource Management (Simplification and Streamlining) Amendment Bill, which contains more than 100 changes aimed at reducing cost and delays, allows group of trees to be listed in district plan schedules, but does not say what constitutes a group.

A spokesman for Environment Minister Nick Smith said the changes were intended to make councils focus on which trees needed protection.

It would be up to councils to prove that larger groups needed protection.

Surely that’s an improvement. Isn’t it better and less expensive, for councils to specify which trees, or groups, need to be protected than to require every individual property owner to go through the resource consent process every time they want to cut down a tree?

The change in law may even encourage people to plant more trees, in particular natives. Stephen Franks points out that the current law discourages this.

Most tree control provisions in local planning schemes effectively nationalise the tree and the land on which it grows a few years after planting, when it reaches a size that other people might enjoy.  Without compensation you lose control of the tree and the land on which it grows, for the benefit of people who like to look at it.

The result? Wise folklore that says “don’t plant trees”. Certainly don’t let anything grow to the expropriation point.

Trees are living things, they grow and sometimes they grow too big for their site.

I’m looking at a flowering cherry outside my office window. It’s almost in full bloom and looking gorgeous but its roots are cracking a nearby path, its shading other plants and we’re going to chop it down. We planted it in the wrong place. We’ll plant another one in another place where it won’t matter how big it gets, but we have a country garden which enables us to do that.

People in town don’t have that luxury and when they find the 100 acre tree they, or people who owned the property before them, planted gets too big for their quarter acre – or smaller -section they should be able to chop it down.

Trees are beautiful, they attract birds and provide shade and shelter. But a tree which grows too big for its site becomes a nuisance. They get in the way of overhead lines,  provide too much shade, get in the way of paths and driveways, and might even become dangerous.

Property owners should have the right to deal with a nuisance on their own land without the hassle of going through the consent process unless there is a very, very good reason for requiring them to do so.

They should also have the comfort of knowing that planting trees on their own property doesn’t automatically turn it in to a reserve.

Planting trees should be encouraged not disencentivised by effectively nationalising them and the land on which they grow. The ammendment to the RMA should do this.

Rating the Councils

June 11, 2009

The Ministry for the Environment’s two yearly Resource Management Act survey of local authorities showed a big difference in performance among councils.

In 2007/8: 

  • 51,960 resource consent applications were processed through to a decision.
  • 0.74 per cent (385) of resource consent applications were declined.
  • 4.7 per cent (2409) of resource consent applications were publicly notified.
  • 1.9 per cent (975) of resource consent applications were notified to affected parties only (limited notification).
  • 69 per cent of resource consent applications were processed on time.

The councils which were best at processing consents on time were:

Stratford District Council processed 97 applications and 100% were processed on time.

Buller District Council 130 – 100%

Taranaki Regional Council 401 – 100%

Matamata Piako District Council 281 – 99%

Waitaki District Council 157 – 99%

Kapiti District Council 317 – 99%

Western Bay of Plenty District Council 431 – 99%

Northland Regional Council 904 – 99%

Wellington Regional Council 703 – 99%

The worst performing were:

Environment Canterbury which processed 3,374 applications and managed only 29% on time.

Westland District Council 183 – 30%

Far North District Council 609 – 37%

Waimate District Council 70 – 41%

Carterton District Council 106 – 42%

Auckland City Council  5,434 – 45%

Whakatane District Council 287 – 45%

Gisborne District Council 525 – 50%

The Waitaki District lies within the boundaries of two regional councils – Environment Canterbury and the Otago Regional Council.

Anecdotal evidence which points to major frustrations with Canterbury and fewer problems with Otago is supported by this report. Environment Canterbury was the worst in the country at processing consents  on time and Otago which processed 734 managed to do 67% on time.

The table with results for all councils is at the link above.

The full report is here.

RMA needs change in law and practice

June 11, 2009

Solving problems with the Resource Management Act require changes in both law and practice, Environment Minister Nick Smith said.

He was commenting on the release of the two-yearly report on local authorities’ administration of the RMA.

“This report tells a sorry story of delay, frustration and unnecessary costs for more than 16,000 homeowners, businesses and farmers whose consents last year were not processed within the legal timeframes,” Dr Smith said.

“This problem has been ignored and got progressively worse over the past decade increasing from 18% to 31%, despite a nine-fold increase from 3% to 28% in consents where Councils granted themselves a 20-day extension.”

It’s not just a problem of  direct costs to applicants and ratepayers, it’s the indirect costs to the country because these delays hamper economic growth.

The Resource Management Reform Bill aims to simplify the consent process and give councils incentives to improve the time it takes to deal with applications.

“The wide variation in the performance of Councils shows that practice can be substantially improved. Eight councils who are breaching the law more often than they are complying are receiving a letter from me seeking improvements. I have also written to the 25 councils with 90% or better compliance commending them on their performance.

“I also want to commend Councils for the improvement in the proportion of consents being monitored – that is up to 79%, and for the 84% level of compliance with consent conditions which is a record high.

“The efficient processing of resource consents is critical to lifting productivity and the creation of new jobs. This report is a wake-up call that significant improvement is required.”

The basic premise and aims of the RMA are good, but changes in some of its clauses and improved performance by under-performing councils is essential to improve productivity while safeguarding the environment.

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