5 Sep 2017

National's RMA plan still lacks ambition - Property Council

8:45 am on 5 September 2017

National's plan to bypass the Resource Management Act (RMA) suffers from a lack of detail and doesn't go far enough, the Property Council says.

14072016 Photo: Rebekah Parsons-King. Hobsonville is booming. Around 20% of the homes being built here will be affordable homes.

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

In March, the Productivity Commission urged the government to overhaul the country's planning laws, saying they were complex, cumbersome, and failed to respond to rising housing demand or adequately protect the environment.

It made a host of recommendations.

Yesterday, National announced it would introduce new urban planning laws separate to the RMA if re-elected, saying it had reached the end of what could be done with incremental change to existing legislation.

Property Council government relations director Matthew Paterson said National's proposal lacked detail and it was too hard to know whether it would work.

"We've just spent the last 25 years tweaking all parts of the [RMA] system, and it still hasn't delivered a system that protects the environment, builds the houses, or delivers the infrastructure that we need," he said.

The Property Council is part of an unlikely alliance calling itself Resource Reform NZ, which is taking the approach that National's announcement is a step in the right direction but simply does not go far enough. Its members include employers, infrastructure builders and conservationists.

One such member, Gary Taylor from the Environmental Defence Society, said National's proposal was underwhelming and it needed to look at the rest of the country, not just cities.

"If we have another piecemeal bit of legislation that just deals with urban centres, then we're not getting simplicity - which is something we should be aiming for - we're getting more complexity," he said.

Tauranga is facing inflated house prices as people flee the same problem in Auckland, and Tauranga mayor Greg Brownless said better rules that allowed faster housing development would help put a brake on that.

"Even people that own houses, the thing they tell me is they worry about their children and grandchildren ever being able to get into a house.

"The one thing I do know is they want cheaper housing, even if it affects their own house prices," he said.

The current rules were restricting development, Mr Brownless said.

"Anything that sort of helps speed up the process of providing houses and other infrastructure for people is definitely worth looking at.

"For many years, people have complained that they get tripped up by red tape by the Resource Management Act," he said.

However, Dunedin mayor and Local Government New Zealand president Dave Cull said councils wanted to improve the planning system, but how they paid for infrastructure was a far more pressing problem.

"Particularly for growth councils, when they hit their debt ceiling, they've hit it.

"There needs to be more funding mechanisms available to councils to do the things that our communities need them to do," he said.

One option the organisation had backed was returning a share of GST to the regions.

Urban planning reform would not be quick or easy, and the devil would will be in the detail, Mr Cull said.

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