10 Feb 2021

RMA change will take years to boost housing supply - Parker

5:12 pm on 10 February 2021

The repeal and replacement of the RMA is incredibly complex, and time will be taken to get the legislation right, the Environment Minister says.

KiwiBuild home in Wanaka.

It would be a further three to four years before the new laws to replace the RMA had any material effect on the housing market, David Parker says. Photo: RNZ / Tess Brunton

Three new laws will cover land use and environmental regulation, strategic planning for future development, and climate change adaptation.

"This is a very big thing to give birth to," said David Parker, "and it would be like triplets to deliver it all at once - one at a time."

It will take about two years to have the new laws in place, which will replace the Act described by Parker as too complicated, too slow and failing to properly protect the environment.

The main legislation - the Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA) - will go through a more intensive select committee process than usual.

A special select committee inquiry will consider a draft version of the bill from the middle of the year; that will include "the most important elements of the legislation, including the replacement of Part 2 of the RMA".

"It's a superior process for a piece of legislation that's this complex and this important; this is the foundation piece of legislation that both protects the environment and aids development within natural limits, and the way you cast the replacement for Part 2 requires extraordinary care," said the minister.

He said some matters, including people's right to appeal, had yet to be finalised.

"Some of that detail has not yet been decided, of course we have in the short term... the decisions as to where we go with consenting have yet to be taken."

Looking at overseas examples, he said if "attention is paid to strategic planning, it gives signals to where you want intensification or development at the margins of cities, you can take some of the complexity out of consenting regimes and that would be our objective".

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David Parker is comparing the three new laws cover land use and environmental regulation to giving birth to triplets. Photo: RNZ/ Dom Thomas

'Giving effect' to the Treaty principles

The Randerson review also said "despite the large number of provisions in the RMA designed to provide for Māori interests, these had not been implemented to enable mana whenua to engage meaningfully in the resource management system".

Among the failings cited were a weak Te Tiriti clause which required the principles of the Treaty to be "taken into account", that the review panel recommended be strengthened to "give effect" to the principles of the treaty.

Parker said the government was looking at that "very seriously, we're well disposed towards that".

Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa Packer said some of that detail was still under discussion but "to be fair, we're not overly confident that it's going to land but glad to see changes are happening".

The "ultimate aim is to make sure some of these changes aren't expedited at the cost of our mana whenua, of our mana moana kaupapa", she said.

Will it fix the housing crisis?

Parker says the RMA is not the only cause of the housing crisis, and often takes an unfair amount of blame.

It was not responsible for "under investment in infrastructure, it might be responsible for the delay in [infrastructure] decisions", he said.

But there was no "silver bullet", said Parker, as housing problems were a "complex mix of demand, costs, financing, capacity and supply".

"This reform will help by improving how central and local government plan for housing and urban development. This includes better coordination of future infrastructure with land use, development and urban growth."

He reeled off a number of initiatives already undertaken by the government, but said it would be a further three to four years before the new laws had any material effect on the housing market.

Govt moving 'at snail's pace' - National

The National Party says the government need to act with urgency "if it ever wants to make meaningful strides towards solving the housing shortage and getting wins for the environment".

Its spokesperson for Housing and RMA reform, Nicola Willis, says first home buyers are not going to benefit from the plan laid out by Parker as the government is "not moving fast enough to make house building easier".

"House prices have risen more than 40 percent since Labour came to office, yet Labour has shown no urgency when it comes to making it easier to build houses in this country," she said.

She was concerned about "the proposal for developments to be within biophysical limits and have positive environmental outcomes before proceeding".

MP for Coromandel Scott Simpson in Thames after flooding in the area.

Scott Simpson Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

Environment spokesperson Scott Simpson said Labour was "heading down the wrong path...for a government that talks a big game on the need for environmental gains, it is moving at a snail's pace".

"There's a real risk its plans for new legislation will make things more complicated, costly and confusing than is currently the case, without achieving the environmental gains they seek," he said.

ACT says the new laws must "uphold the rights of property owners while freeing up land for development, and making it easier to develop, a balance which is completely missing from today's announced repeal and replacement of New Zealand's consenting system".

Leader David Seymour said the new plan was a "three headed hydra - this is the Resource Management Act by three other names, with the addition of decision making power for iwi".

"It's not going to reduce the number of people who can object to how you can develop your property, on which grounds."

Cautious approval from Greenpeace

The environmental lobby group "cautiously welcomes" the new reforms, but warns they "must protect environmental bottom lines in a way that the RMA failed to".

The existing law has created a consenting process that's "traded off private profit driven development against environmental destruction, which cumulatively resulted in an environmental death spiral", Greenpeace Aotearoa's executive director Dr Russel Norman said.

"The result is the polluted rivers, spiralling greenhouse emissions and biodiversity collapse we see today...our groundwater is now poisoned from the north to the south."

Russell singles out dairying for better regulation: "Our most polluting industry... that means stopping nitrate pollution entering freshwater from milk processing, synthetic nitrogen fertiliser and too many cows."

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