It's been announced the Resource Management act is going to be scrapped and replaced with three new laws.
Dr Bryce Wilkinson from the New Zealand Initiative spoke to Jesse Mulligan about why the RMA was no longer fit for purpose.
“The RMA was legislation aimed at pulling together all of the acts relating to flood control, landslips and environmental pollution of all kinds.
So, it was an omnibus act which was designed to simplify matters, which it didn’t achieve, while protecting certain minimal environmental standards for rivers, lakes and the built environment and much else.
“And there’s certainly universal agreement that it hasn’t achieved the latter objective of those minimal protections either,” Wilkinson says.
The RMA seemed to please no one, he says.
“There’s a been dissatisfaction with it from each side of the spectrum.”
But it’s most striking failure is the housing shortage, Wilkinson says.
“A key feature of the 1991 Act is that gave pretty well unfettered ability for people to oppose a development even if they had no skin in the game themselves.
“You could be someone in the Coromandel opposing a land use development in Westport in the South Island.”
People could oppose a development without being exposed to the costs of the wider community of having too few houses, he says.
“The key failure from an economic point of view in the RMA as a piece of environmental legislation is that it did not confront people adequately with the costs of delivering to them what they wanted.”
That cost could be the foregone housing which never happened, he says.
Another flaw was the RMA was bureaucratic, rather than letting competing interests come to a decision on how land should be used, he says.
“Normally you let people sort that out for themselves once they are confronted with the cost, so if the most valued use is to build houses on it that’s what goes ahead.
“The RMA has a different view and that is the outcome should be determined, not by people confronting themselves with trade-offs of the options in the market for that land, but through political and bureaucratic processes.”
This ran contrary to the idea that costs and benefits should be internalised, he says.
Nevertheless, he has reservations about the three new laws which will replace the RMA.
The Natural and Built Environments Act which has a remit to enhance the quality of the natural and built environment for the wellbeing of current and future generations, is “very much open ended” he says and has plenty of scope for “value judgements”.
“We’ll have to be hopeful that the Natural and Built Environment Act will do something to ease up the constraints on the ability to build more houses in New Zealand because it’s an absolute disgrace what’s happened to the property market in New Zealand.”
He is also concerned the review of the act was headed up by a retired Court of Appeal Judge Tony Randerson.
“Judges are used to legalistic processes, rather than market processes where outcomes arrive spontaneously from people trading with each other.”
He fears the new acts will entrench too much power with central government.
“We really need I think a lot less prescriptive legislation and a lot less attempts by central governments to dictate outcomes not knowing the variety of people’s preferences or the cost to achieving the outcomes.”