Will Nick Smith slash and burn the RMA? Or will it be as effective as his housing efforts?

Well, all the talk is positive on Day One…

Environment Minister Nick Smith is planning “the most significant overhaul” to the Resource Management Act (RMA) since its introduction 25 years ago.

The wide-ranging changes were outlined during a speech in Nelson [ last night ], in which Dr Smith said the enormous amount of red tape was delaying the development of new houses, jobs and doesn’t manage resources such as freshwater well.

The RMA governs the use of water, land, air and coast and protects heritage, native plants and animals.

“The Act is not working for New Zealand or New Zealanders. It is making housing too expensive. It is hampering job and export growth. It is stymying much-needed infrastructure,” he says.

“Tinkering with the RMA won’t do. The Act has some fundamental design flaws that require substantial overhaul.”

The Act has become a straight jacket on the economy.  Smith is right in as much that it is too big to fix.  It needs to be started again.  

The Government hopes to have the re-worked Bill before Parliament and through the full select committee process this year. But Dr Smith says there is a “power of work” to get through before that point including with officials, support parties and Cabinet committees to finalise and draft the Bill.

Dr Smith also released an independent report by Motu Economic and Public Policy Research commissioned by Treasury and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment into the impact of planning rules and delays into the residential property market.

The report says the RMA is adding $30,000 to the cost of an apartment, $15,000 to the cost of a home and reducing the capacity of housing development by 22 percent.
Dr Smith believes the report shows the “high administrative burden of our system of environmental regulations”.

“It indicates that over the last decade, the RMA has added $30 billion to the cost of building and reduced housing stock by 40,000 homes.”

Will there be enough support to get this new bill through?

United Future and the Maori Party both refused to support the changes to the Bill during the last parliamentary term because of their concerns the proposals would have on the environment. Withdrawing their support meant the Bill could not get enough votes.

Yesterday, United Future leader Peter Dunne urged the Government not to pass the legislation using just ACT’s vote.

He said doing so would “send the wrong signals” and changes to the legislation would be a “real test” for the Government on its environmental protection credentials.

It will be interesting to see the select committee work on this bill, and whether the other parties are genuinely interested in solving the problems of the current RMA bill, or if they are just going to try and sabotage it for the sake of being opposed to the idea that it might get a snail crushed somewhere that won’t result in a huge fine or jail term.

One thing is for sure:  the Green Taliban will have a big job on their hands during 2015 to convince the electorate that the housing/building cost dimension of the RMA reform will be the Trojan Horse that will let the National Government drill for oil and dig up gold wherever they please.

If it is up to the Luddites we will all spend tens and hundred of thousands more to build a home or farm building, just to prevent the theoretical possibility that it might hurt a skink or crush a tree.

And wait for the Maori Party to try to insert cultural clauses that will legislate the need for all RMA work to pass a Maori Statutory Board that will decide to what degree it impacts on their culture and belief system.

Not to mention the lawyers and their vested interests.

Old Nick appears to have picked up on specific sentiment and has listened to what the issues are.

But will Local Government like it? Will they cooperate or will the usual mechanisms clunk into gear and attempt to water down the reforms into something meaningless?

Only time will tell. But it’s a step in the right direction if its implemented as its outlined today. Good news, but it’s early days yet so no time to get comfortable…

Nick Smith has a mammoth of a task ahead of him.   Based on his track record, I don’t think he’s going to be able to bring this one in without either ending up in yet another scandal, or the new bill will be neutered and effectively the same or worse than we have today.

Mark my words.


– 3 News


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  • Kevin

    “The Act has become a straight jacket on the economy.”

    And I thought I was the only one who thought that. As I see it the RMA has become just a means for power-hungry bureaucrats to abuse their power and for businesses to prevent other businesses from encroaching on their territory, as well as a loaded gun for the Maori Mafia.

    As for protecting the environment – yeah, nah.

  • Cadwallader

    Peter Dunne should require a resource consent for his hair! The RMA doesn’t require amendment it requires repeal. Once repealed it ought be replaced with alternative legislation which promotes personal property rights to the head of the queue.

    • Kevin

      Any Act which tells me what and what not I can do with my own property is socialist.

      • abbaby

        Would you want someone to move in next door to you and build a 20 foot high wall, or dig a hole that makes your own area adjacent area unstable or unsafe? No, of course not. There has to be protections on what people do with their land.
        Also, the land underneath us it is not owned by us – a meter or so under our houses the soil etc belongs to the council?.

        • Disinfectant

          There was a famous civil case on this matter where a mine slumped and water affected the overlying land or something similar.
          Can’t for the life of me think who the two parties were, but it was a good example of why we don’t need specialist planning laws or specialist courts.
          Might have been an American case, some 50 years ago. Someone out there just might know.

        • Kevin

          I get that. Say you buy a house for it’s million dollar view and I later build a wall next door blocking your view. Thing is, what’s stopping you from suing me in civil court? Or say I build something and it collapses on your house. What’s stopping you from suing me for damages.

          And we have regulations affecting private property (e.g. building regulations required buildings be built to withstand earthquakes) that on balance are a good thing. But they’re still socialist.

  • ozbob68

    Interesting, perhaps an offshoot of tackling the RMA will be a reduction in the anchors Auckland Council can throw out to delay approvals? Or is it a more direct relationship than that?

  • Cadwallader

    At the same time the RMA is repealed the Local Government Act 2002 must be repealed too.

  • shykiwibloke

    Deary me. Some nice sounding, but ultimately meaningless statements from the greenest of the Nats ministers with not much of a record for action – and aparently its already too extreme for Peter Dunne to support.
    Doesnt bode well for stong property rights and self responsibility does it?

  • Quinton Hogg

    The RMA is only a part of the problem.
    The manner by which councils create then manage the operation of regional, local unitary plans, whatever, is the other part.
    see for example how the AC has managed to subvert the SHA process.
    As Whale has noted that is an issue which needs to be addressed…

    • MaryLou

      Yes, also another thing I though that would have been addressed in the SuperCity amalgamation is (lost the word) classification for different protection/building regulations. Each sub-council still has different building requirements for different types of areas. Regulations need to be simplified across the isthmus, so developers have a far clearer idea of what is required for resource consents. Likewise, it’d be clearer and easier for Council staff to evaluate applications.

    • rustyjohn58

      Quite correct, prior to the RMA councils had a smattering of planners, now it is a growth industry. Planners have created a whole industry for themselves and we are paying the cost. By creating the RMA Geoffrey Palmer goes down in New Zealand history as the person who has done more economic damage to this country than any other person alive or dead.

      • Cadwallader

        Correct. Each council officer has the power to delay, decline and discourage. The RMA is not the worst instrument the LGA 2002 provides powers which allow Councils to levy on the basis of possible effects a development may have on infra-structure. This is speculation only.

        • Lance Ralph

          property owners/developers are like a large fish (or dare I say whales) that are attended by scores of little fish that parasitise. These little fish include council planners but also on the list are arborists, landscape architects,ecologists, herpetologists, heritage specialists, iwi, etc etc. Few, if any, do anything useful instead writing idiotic and embarrassing piffle for which they charge like wounded bulls.

      • Mike Webber

        Actually labour wrote the RMA, lost the election and national enacted it.
        I have met N, Smith and argued with him twice,what a two faced weasel.
        As Peter Cresswell opined many years ago, he has a tongue so forked he could hug trees with it.

        • Cadwallader

          Many years ago the Libz policy was to “drive a stake through the heart of the RMA.” It wasn’t a lone voice as support was universal from ACT. In the intervening years the Councils have charged on (in both senses of the word) and created an industry of pointlessness and waste.

      • philbest

        Add to that: there was a time when planning was handled by economists, engineers and architects – degree courses re planning in those disciplines actually had a bit of objectivity to them. But enviro-fundamentalists made an end run around those by setting up their own allegedly specialist “schools of urban planning” which were in fact nothing more than ideological indoctrination courses aimed at creating saboteurs of all actual growth and opportunity.
        One of the grounds on which all this should be abolished, is that we are a secular country, and this valuation of the environment per se above human needs is a religious, pagan value. Expecting us all to kow-tow to some snail colony over our own need for housing, roads, etc is imposing a religious observance on us.

  • rustyjohn58

    The government release sounds all well and good but having dealt with the RMA and councils for the past 25 years it does not seem to address the biggest problem.

    Time is money so developers are loath to go through hearings and the environment court unless there is no choice. This means they must prepare an application that is non notified, ie in the eyes of council planners meets all the rules.

    This is where the problems start as council planners will hold up applications until the developer buckles and accepts the councils interpretation of rules which usually means their view of the world. The developer is caught between a rock and a hard place and will give things away to get the job underway as soon as possible, after all he has borrowed millions of dollars and is paying 7-9% interest.

    Other than going to a public hearing or environment court there is no other avenue to address concerns that councils interpretations are incorrect. Engineers will accept peer reviews but planners are ideologues and think their view of the world is the only correct one.

    In 25 years of this game I have never seen a developer get to build what he wanted.

  • LabTested

    I have a house on 663 square meters in Auckland. From 2011-2014 the ratable land value increased by 77%. This is just insanity. 2 results of this:

    I have a daughter in university & I am advising her to get out of Auckland when she graduates.

    In past years when I have been overseas for more than 6 months I have rented out the house. Now I would not even bother. The annual increase in value is more than I could get from rent. Why have the hassle of tenants

    • I.M Bach

      We got out of Auckland (North Shore) in 2008 and haven’t looked back. Every time I/we go for a visit I remember why we left. Your advice to your daughter is right on the money.

      • philbest

        Butbutbutbutbut….. don’t you know Auckland is one of the world’s most liveable cities?
        Perhaps it depends who you ask – those global surveys that pants down Brown likes to cite, tend to be based on the opinions of footloose global billionaires…..

        • I.M Bach

          I know what you mean, I have two siblings who have earned, or still earn, at least some of their income from o/s sources. They both live close to the CBD and love the place. I wouldn’t give you tuppence for it.

          • philbest

            Anyone who bought near the CBD prior to about 2002 made a far more understandable choice – and has reaped massive capital gains – compared to anyone who is mad enough to pay the asking prices now.
            There is a site about Vancouver called “Crack Shack or Mansion” and it might as well be about Auckland too.

    • Mags

      The provinces scream out for graduates.

  • andrew carrot

    I don’t know why passing the amended Act with ACT’s vote sends the wrong signals Peter Dunne. Afterall, ACT’s been standing up to the Nats on this one since 2008, with the chief opponent now becoming the chief architect of change! The question should be, “When did Smith get the balls to make such a weighty decision?”

    • mommadog

      I thought Peter Dunn gave up worrying about sending wrong signals a long time ago when he continues to support legal highs. He needs to look to his own signals first!

  • la la land

    We are currently in a situation where we are wanting to get a resource consent. THe council supports us and the planners report supported our application. Unfortunately we have a vexatious neighbour (a QC no less) who wants our application to fail. He is throwing a lot of money into this and we are en route to the environment court. Our application is such a small thing and our neighbour only uses his house for about 2-3 weeks a year. It is such a waste of time and resources and is only happening due to the waffly nature of the RMA. The council are non-plussed and so are we. This would have been a simple thing but the RMA allows for neighbours to manufacture problems that may be caused through subdivisions etc. It is ludicrous.

    • LabTested

      The Orewa – Puhoi extension of the Northern motorway got held up for years because of one persons objections. So good luck!

      • Hemimck

        Think very hard before going to the Environment Court regardless of what your planner says.
        The Court delights in giving random outcomes. The Judges are universally left wing and low value and will be intimidated by a QC.
        The EC is in fact the major reason why the RMA, which was initially intended to be enabling legislation, has been destroyed

  • taurangaruru

    Smith is a clumsy political operator, more than likely he will get tripped up before delivering this by some side tracked extra circular matter. He should have been put out to pasture long ago purely for his support of the pseudo science global warming caper

    • I.M Bach

      I have no faith in the man; he lied to NZ about the state of ACC when he put up the ACC portion of motorcycle licensing for a start. Then he upped the cost of licensing small diesel vehicles. Why on earth would you do that? It’s not as if they are more dangerous to operate than any other vehicle. No, I won’t be holding my breath in respect to anything he does. It’s time he went actually but he has no opposition to speak of. Poor Nelson.

      • philbest

        The mere fact that he uses the language of the Stalinist Left makes me want to throw up.
        “Release more land in line with population growth projections” – BLEEEEAAAAGHHHHHHHH…….
        What happened to neo-liberalism and belief in actual free markets? Like just letting developers build stuff, employment and amenities to keep dispersing, and all the rest of the demonstrably beneficial processes of modern urban evolution?
        Everything that compact city planning is based on, is myths, propaganda and lies anyway.

  • kiwiinamerica

    Key needs to champion this issue now and make it clear these reforms will be enacted. Every National Cabinet minister needs to be constantly messaging this as the answer to Auckland’s housing unaffordability. I knew the ACC would snooker the accord – the senior planners, bureaucrats, officials and all in Brown’s office are wedded to ‘smart growth’. The failure of the Accord to build new homes was a feature not a bug. Smith will need make this the greatest task he has ever undertaken and work on it as if his political life depends on it. Of all the issues that could fell Key’s hopes for a 4th term, this is it. Like the GCSB legislation, the chattering classes and elites who already are on the Auckland property ladder will scream and shout – Key must go over their heads to middle NZ and know that the median voter is deeply concerned that their children will not have what they have if they want to stay in Auckland or Christchurch. The ideological adventurism and rank incompetence of councils needs to totally and permanently reigned in. If National do this right and right now, they will reap a tidy electoral reward!

    • philbest

      National is already very culpable for their inaction: in 2008 they could have blamed Clark and Cullen for the bubble that existed then, and had already started to deflate. Don Brash was clear on this way back even when Governor of the RBNZ.
      All John Key needed to do was let the bubble carry on deflating, segueing into RMA reforms to bed the stabilised prices in permanently, and blame Clark and Cullen for everything including the pain of the price adjustments.
      But now, 3 Commissions of Inquiry later and a range of policies that look deliberately designed to pump the new bubble to every greater heights, such as changing the “investor immigrant” criteria in 2011, this is John Key’s bubble. He is only getting away with it because the Opposition are typical lefty economic dullards.

      • kiwiinamerica

        You are right to some extent – I think Smith naively thought the ACC would move to make the accord work. I feel they never intended to being wedded to in-fill development like they are. It’s hard to reignite a recession bound economy with massively negative offshore economic conditions was the case when National came to power AND allow the Auckland property market to deflate. It would stymie the recovery for the whole country so it was a delicate balancing act that the Nats thought could be achieved by some tinkering. Something more bold was always required due to mission creep of the RMA.

        • philbest

          National is a long way short of what is actually needed. They need to be pointing out that there is no city in the world that is affordable with a mandate that 60% of its growth is to be via intensification. In fact the presence of a greenfields boundary/quota anything short of decades of supply of land, is a guarantee of a median multiple of around 6 or higher – and shrinking section sizes at the same time. 1/10 of an acre ends up costing double what 1/4 acre used to. They have all the evidence in the world to be fighting pants-down Brown with, and they are bumbling around like a national cricket team that has been bribed to throw the match.

  • Whitey

    I hope Smith does manage to improve the RMA because the change is desperately needed, but I can’t say I’m holding my breath.

  • sheppy

    I suspect this will end up as window dressing just like the legislation that was supposed to rein in out of control excessively wasteful councils which seems to have acheived absolutely nothing.
    There’s only one way to sort Aucklands housing crisis is to get rid of all the Agenda 21 tiny apartment future slum creating social engineers at the council starting with Len and working down.

  • cows4me

    This is more an issue of what is right what is wrong, the RMA is wrong in so many ways it’s criminal. When the majority must continually appease a small minority, usually by way of very large bundles of cash, that hide behind so called laws of the land then the laws of the land are an injustice. New Zealand prides itself as a country where everyone can have a fair go, we kid ourselves when we live under legislation like the RMA. Kick it to the curb, it’s a dog.

  • DavidW

    The media have been approaching local body politicians for comment on this. To a man they have proven what pathetically weak weasels they are by backing the need for change. No-one has yet pointed out that it is the Council bureaucrats – the planners – who have really written the agenda for this and Councillors have proven their own insignificance by not pulling their paid staff into line and no-one has got the planners to declare their interest in telling us – the people – what our cities should look like down the track.

    Len Brown of course has had a bob each way by telling us that he is working “hand-in-glove” with the Government to implement the housing accord while at the same time is backing the Planner’s concept of much greater densification of the Isthmus than we have ever seen before and is impotently standing by while major developments like a whole suburb at Waimauku get shoved off onto the back burner.

    Don’t get me started in infrastructure ……. Bah

  • Keanne Lawrence

    No time to shoot the messenger but most will agree Nick has got a tiger by thee tail trying to tackle the RMA revision. The MSM dismiss it as a given since the Government has the numbers to push the legislation but this is far from the reality.
    There is going to be some serious up hill grind to come from the task of wadding through countless submissions with many of these being from minority groups looking for a piece of the pie.
    Good lick with that Nick.

  • Raibert

    Halving the consenting costs (quoted as $30,000) would mean a reduction of 2.5% on a $600,000 house. An “affordable” home based on the average household income ($70,000 to $80,000) would be around $400,000. Nothing in any changes or initiatives proposed by any party or politician addresses the $200,000 gap.
    It seems that based on the facts only immigrants with significant funds and those on higher than average incomes can now afford to buy a house.
    Perhaps the answer is to stop immigration, allow house prices to fall to a level that is truely internally market driven and affordable. An alternative is to increase incomes significantly or produce houses in the $400,000 price range. As this would be political suicide for a politician to suggest, none of them is going to act.
    Building more houses that are priced beyond the means of the average family is not the answer, only prolongs the agony and is creating significant social divisions in our society.
    Why are we creating a situation in which a large proportion of our citizens are unable to afford their own home?

  • Wallace Westland

    This will end in tears. Already the bullet points of change are enough to make you cringe.

    1. Add management of natural hazards
    2. Recognise urban planning
    3. Prioritise housing affordability
    4. Acknowledge importance of infrastructure
    5. Greater weight to property rights
    6. National planning templates
    7. Speed up plan-making
    8. Encouraging collaborative resolution
    9. Strengthening national tools
    10. Internet for simplicity and speed

    1. Add management of natural hazards – Eh? There’s enough in there now, I’d be highly concerned over this.
    2. Recognise urban planning – OMG The unitary plan for Auckland will ensure we are all living in slums in another decade.
    5. Greater weight to property rights – Uhoh….whose? The developer’s or the NIMBYS?
    8. Encouraging collaborative resolution – Again..with who? The whiny lady in the Coromandal that doesn’t want a motorway to open Northland to opportunity?
    Call me a cynic but I sense another invasion of lawyers and environmentalists launching themselves into the trough faster than the disappearance of a bucket of KFC at a Biafran wedding.

  • abbaby

    The RMA does go all out to protect resources – without there would be stuff-all left. People are really greedy – catch and kill tiny fish, send filthy run-off into creeks … The RMA does counter a lot of misuse of land and environmental degredation that would otherwise take place.

  • Disinfectant

    I have already spoken before a Select Committee on my submission on an earlier attempt to amend the RMA.
    Jeanette Fitzsimmons chaired the Committee. The moment I started to speak, most of the Committee members got up to get coffee. Plain bloody rude of them.
    I stopped and asked Jeanette why they weren’t listening, and she replied by saying that they had all read my submission. She was a useless chair.
    I wasted my time. Never again.

  • D.Dave

    Why has no one mentioned the Taniwha in the room? The need to consult iwi about things that are none of their business……. just because they are ‘Tanga tawhenua’. In the true spirit of the treaty they should have to consult us “whiteys” when they apply for consent.