Bespoke district plans are killing our economy and affordable housing

I’ve been saying for some time that Local Government is a festering wound on the New Zealand economy.

Rather than assist the economy and regions we have 40 odd organisations acting as theocracies and who are hell bent on continuing to run their little empires like Afghanistan warlords.

The effect this has is to bog down business and property into a controlled subversive struggle to do anything and thus it has a detrimental effect on the economy.

It’s amazing that nobody can pick what the issues are.

The government isn’t sure and has enlisted the help of the Productivity Commission to work it out.

But we here at WOBH are made of more intelligent stuff and in our opinion the problems are quite bloody obvious.

Take planning for example…   

Planning in New Zealand is as such a region by region, town by town, suburb by suburb annotation of customised bespoke planning structures. Having customised planning rules for each and every suburb results in a bespoke response to each and every rule and zone in existence by developers and property owners who have to navigate vast complexity just to work out what their local council thinks they can or cannot do. It’s nuts.

Custom bespoke plans is obviously a recipe for high cost because any property developer aspiring to achieve scale and deliver efficient and affordable outcomes in New Zealand is undermined by having to constantly customise their developments (from standard houses to buildings). No two places are subject to the same rules.

What is needed in terms of change is for uniformity of district plans to create a nationwide even playing field.

In order for that to be implemented we would have to consider a change from custom locally written district plans to using template national zoning and reduce Council’s role to merely deciding where to use the pre-written zone.

The benefit of this will be that developers can start to plan for repetitive scale projects all over the country. The cost of planning would reduce as developers regurgitate the same plans and reports and the costs of construction would reduce dramatically.

In the USA scale is key to delivering homes affordably but it’s only because the planning regulations in place at least enable it.

In New Zealand our continued use of customised bespoke district plans is killing us and the only reason it exists is because local government wants it, to ensure its own survival.


THANK YOU for being a subscriber. Because of you Whaleoil is going from strength to strength. It is a little known fact that Whaleoil subscribers are better in bed, good looking and highly intelligent. Sometimes all at once! Please Click Here Now to subscribe to an ad-free Whaleoil.

  • GoingRight

    Why do we need councils/local government anyway, can’t we just have the government sort out departments for each area required to run things like water pipes, roading, buses, etc wouldn’t it be more efficient than having so many tiers to get any job done. Housing permits could be another dept etc

    • Whitey

      That would be the sensible option, yes.

    • Elinor_Dashwood

      So instead of water, pipes, roading, buses being run in each area by people elected by and accountable to the people of that area, you’d prefer they were run by people appointed from and imposed by Wellington?

      • Sir Brucey

        How are they accountable. Forget elections. The real problem is the paid staff pulling the wool over the eyes of the elected numpties. I dont believe any of the building inspectors who signed off leaky homes were ever taken to task. They should have been personally liable. After all they were paid as professionals but acted as total amateurs.

  • Euan Ross-Taylor

    No it is far more complicated than that. How would all the city planners in their plush offices justify their immense and hugely important expertise? Then all the bureaucratic pen pushers with all their important papers that need copying and filing….
    You’d think that if land was zoned A,B or C then you would be able to know straight away that yes I can build a 3 bedroom house but not a highrise. Consent should be a rubber stamp exercise if approved architects draw up the plans and stand by them.

    • Whafe

      Let us not forget that Boston in the US of A has 3 town planners, Auckland has some 90!

      That sums this pile of excrement in what is called town planning in Auckland.

  • Disinfectant

    The first step is to get rid of Local Authority business development units.
    They are a complete and utter waste of time and money staffed by second raters.
    If you have any business or entrepreneurial savvy, all you have to do is roll into town, park yourself in a busy café, be friendly and courteous, ask questions and tell people a little about yourself and what you want to do and have. Before long you will get to know who’s doing what with who.
    That’s how the world works. And that’s how those who want to find out things in a hurry get to know what’s going on.

  • Disinfectant

    Time the Government took a leaf out of ICAO.
    The International Civil Aviation Organisation was set up to bring about standardisation in operating practices throughout the world. It also extended to rationalisation of the many radio frequencies used for both Navigation and Communication.
    It has largely achieved its objectives.

  • johnbronkhorst

    I have never gotten around to reading the book, But the title says volumes
    “The big don’t eat the small, the fast eat the slow”…Laurence Haughten.
    Businesses and councils…including govt. departments could learn a lot.
    1. Collect your info. quickly.
    2. Make your ACTION decisions quickly.
    3. Monitor the results over a short to medium term.
    4 & most importantly….if your decision/action is not doing what you expect, CHANGE IT and go back to No. 1 on this list.

  • R&BAvenger

    The RMA is another problem. take the Western bypass of the airport State Highway 1/Russley road. It’s four laned in bits. The biggest bit from Harewood Road to Avonhead Road should have been under construction this year, but I read in the Press that there are a couple of objections to the scheme.
    An Environment Court hearing is scheduled in March. At the earliest it looks like October 2015 before construction will start. A couple of lunatics are holding up sorely needed progress. The four laned sections are fantastic but the in between sections casue real problems. Absolute stupidity

    • TonyM

      Isn’t one of the objectors the airport company (e.g. the council), something about the business park entry? Waste more tax payers dollars having internal government departments have a go at each other through the courts….

      • R&BAvenger

        Not as far as I know. It seemed to be a couple of landowners, one a business owner. The rumour being it was just his way of ‘getting back’ at the Airport, who are on many accounts complete a#######s when it comes to potential business or business competitors near ‘their’ patch.

        • Disinfectant

          The RMA has been used for years to either hold up or stop competitors.
          Does anyone now remember the Supermarkets being locked in battle by this very tactic.

  • Pete

    The idea that there should be uniform district plans is nonsense. Ashburton is not Dunedin, and Devonport is not Flat Bush, and here is absolutely no justification in having the same planning rules in all those places simply to make it easier for large scale developers. That is not to say I support some of the ridiculous rules adopted by planners.

    • johnbronkhorst

      I agree on the specifics…the plans cannot be the same, that would be stupid.
      But the framework for developing the district plan should be.
      When I built my carport (had it built). The Hutt city council DEMANDED a building permit and effectively an RMA report.
      My builder said it was common in the Hutt, but in the Wairarapa a carport was not even considered to be a building.
      I ask you….4 posts and a roof with drainage….really????

      • John, be grateful you didn’t have to consult with local Iwi as well.

  • Planners are needed to decypher the District Plans other Planners have made…
    Lawyers are needed to navigate the RMA that other lawyers have made…

    There’s a trend developing here…

  • rua kenana

    Local governments have their glaring faults, on which we all very much agree. But they do tend to be locally, democratically elected and thus in some degree reflect the preferences of local communities.
    If the alternative is the soviet-style approach of running the whole show from a central base like Wellington (or Beijing or Moscow etc.) isn’t that what WhaleOil is ideologically opposed to rather than supportive of?
    Incidentally, the economy is not being killed, it’s doing rather well.
    As for affordable housing, as long as NZer’s have to continue competing on the world market for housing in their own country they’ll never get affordable housing, no matter how local plans are changed and no matter how many houses are built.

    • johnbronkhorst

      I would agree….we get the governance we voted for. In council/local body elections, the big winner is apathy, meaning we too often get the status quo…not so bad if the council does a good job (few and far between) but too often we get councils and councillors building monuments to their own stupidity and arrogance.

  • stanman

    There must be uniformity for at least some aspects of district plans.

    Here’s four examples.
    1: A chicken shed with lets say 20000 free range meat chickens
    2: An effluent pond anywhere on a property so long as it meets the building code
    3. A large scale indoor goat farm.
    4. A large scale dairy farm with a large scale herd home housing say up to 500 cows

    Which one is discretionary?
    Which one requires neighhbour consultation-all manner of mitigation eg the colour of the roof-tree planting to completely hide it-noise reports-traffic reports-management plans-hearings-and thousands of $$ to get approval

    Answer-the chicken shed

    The ludicrous situation in rural environments at present has ALL farming designated as permitted activity barring the chook guy (and intensive pigs-lets ignore this on the basis we are dealing with free to roam farming for this example).
    The stupid outdated planning rules have allowed a free hit for the “protected” ones whilst the neighbour fumbles with the RMA for a year and consults like a leper around the district to organise a chook shed.

    • Disinfectant

      Here’s a good one.
      A helicopter with spray booms on it can take off and land as many times a day as possible from one particular site. Why because it is an agricultural activity.
      However, take the spray booms off and put people in it, and you can’t do it. In order to do so you need a Resource Consent.

      • stanman

        the mind bloody boggles.yet the stupidity of the RMA is all over the place….read Bob Jones latest saga on his shop window.. the law is complete Todd-it is flawed nearly beyond repair

  • stanman
  • exactchange

    Perfect fodder for the Rules Reduction Taskforce. If you don’t tell ’em nothing will change.

  • Elinor_Dashwood

    Like all politicians, local councils respond to what those who elect them want; and what those who elect local councils tend to want, is precisely for it to be made difficult for other people to build anything near them.

  • friardo

    Zoning is a very blunt instrument for deciding what is allowed where. I presupposes that planners know best where various classes of usage are best located. They should be scrapped and simply use an extended health regulation system governing what is allowed to cross your boundary into another owners property (without their permission), whether it’s shade, noise, smell, vibration, glare, traffic density or whatever. That would at least make it an easier job to implement at a national level.