ACT’s plan of putting ankle bracelets on youth offenders is growing in popularity with National now liking the idea. ACT’s deputy, housing and health spokesperson, Brooke van Velden had a stunning week.


ACT’s plan of putting ankle bracelets on youth offenders is growing in popularity with National now liking the idea. ACT’s deputy, housing and health spokesperson, Brooke van Velden had a stunning week. Besides defending free speech she broke stories on ballooning managers at Kainga Ora, Labour extending Healthy Homes deadline for Kainga Ora, people being in ‘emergency’ housing for three years, and Labour ignoring advice to fast track nurses through immigration.


Nobody will weep for the Resource Management Act, or RMA. It was supposed to balance three conflicting goals; let people stuff get done, manage conflicts between property owners, and protect common property such as the air and water, and preserve biodiversity. Unfortunately, the 890 page law failed everyone except those in the mushrooming industry required to interpret it.

The RMA started out well enough. The idea was to replace the old rules-based system with an effects-based one. Instead of being able to do something only if the rules said so, regardless of impact, you’d be able to do anything so long as the effects on the environment were deemed acceptable. So far, so good.

‘Acceptable’ meant activities that ‘sustainable management,’ could allow. Sustainable management was the purpose of the Act, and it had to be pursued in line with eight ‘matters of national importance,’ and nine ‘other matters.’ So far we’re up to clause seven of 433.

In the climate of the 1980s, the collision of neo-liberalism and sustainable development meant, under the RMA, you are free so long as your activities are deemed sustainable. The result is an enormous industry of planning consultants and environmental lawyers.

Half of them work for councils writing plans to interpret what activities are sustainable development and the other half work for developers arguing the toss. They usually swap halfway through their careers. Meanwhile nothing gets done but regional and district plans, which now require a wheelbarrow because they’re too heavy to carry.

The underlying problem is that you need other people’s permission to develop your own property. Too many people have too many interests in what a property owner can do. This leads to enormous uncertainty and delay.

If you wonder why stuff costs a lot in New Zealand, just visit a port, and ask about expanding their wharves to move goods more easily. It can take a decade to get permission. Now multiply that out to roads, warehouses, shopping malls, or the quarries needed to supply such projects.

Under the RMA the population has grown from 3.5 million to 5.2 million. That’s 1.7 million extra people over 30 years in a country that’s practically uninhabited. You’d think we could manage that. And yet, our roads are worn and clogged, there are not enough houses, and heavy industry is in terminal decline. All this costs us more than nearly anywhere else on earth.

Why so much about the old law, the RMA? Unfortunately, the Government appears to have learned nothing in 30 years, so the RMA tells us a lot about the Natural and Built Environments Act. The new Act is promoted as simplifying, streamlining and cost saving, but is it?

The Act will require 15 new plans, instead of the current 100 nationwide. To do this, it will create 15 new planning bureaus, but Council planning departments will still issue consents under the plans they create. At the time of the RMA, the Government had just merged about 400 councils nationwide into about 70.

The shift to outcomes has a familiar ring to it, too. Just as the RMA shifted from rules-based to effects-based, now planning, and consenting agencies must think about 16 different ‘system outcomes’ and sub-outcomes. Just as the RMA’s purpose was sustainable development, the Natural and Built Environments Act requires that everyone ‘supports the well-being of present generations without compromising the well-being of future generations,’ but it has a new purpose as well.

The purpose of the new Natural and Built Environments Act includes Te Oranga o te Taiao. According to the new Bill that means ‘interconnectedness of all parts of the environment’ and the ‘intrinsic relationship between iwi and hapū and te Taiao,’ must be preserved. These, of course, could and will mean anything. Whoever can afford the best lawyers will win.

The new Bill will also require everyone observing the Act ‘give effect to ‘the Principles of the Treaty, where the RMA requires people to ‘take account of’ the Principles.

The Natural and Built Environments Act will have a different structure of committees making the plans. The plans will be made according to ‘outcomes’ instead of ‘effects.’ They’ll have to work out what Te Oranga o te Taiao means while they give effect to the principles of the treaty.

The Natural and Built Environment Act is 806 pages, with a few years of the inevitable amendments it will outgrow its 890 page predecessor. The transition costs of adapting to the new concepts and terms in this bill will outweigh any benefits.

Nobody who wanted to get rid of the Resource Management Act, thought the Government would put so much effort into making the same mistakes all over again. It means Labour’s efforts will be for nought, the next Government will have to start again and do it properly.

We’ll go back to first principles. The enjoyment of property should be front and centre. The law exists to mediate conflicts. The only legitimate objections to using and developing property should be when that use and development demonstrably affects others’ enjoyment of their property, or environmental commons such as rivers and airsheds. ACT will have more to say on this when we release our alternative later this month.

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