Tuesday, December 5, 2023

New planning Bill to build cheaper, faster, better

The Government has today announced details of a new resource management system it says will better protect the environment while cutting red tape, lowering costs and shortening the time it takes to approve new homes and key infrastructure projects.

Environment Minister, David Parker said the current system was broken.

“It takes too long, costs too much and has not adequately provided for development nor protected the environment,” Minister Parker said.

“The existing system has made housing more expensive and contributed to a shortage of homes. It needs to be faster, cheaper and better. We are doing that, delivering a system that provides greater certainty and less complexity.”

Today the Government introduced the Natural and Built Environment and the Spatial Planning Bills that will replace the Resource Management Act.

“Successive governments have failed to deliver comprehensive resource management reform. More than 20 major amendments and thousands of minor ones since the RMA was introduced have increased complexity,” said Mr Parker.

“Reform is overdue. Everyone is frustrated – environmentalists, developers, councils, farmers, home builders, and there is cross-party support for the need to repeal and replace the RMA.

“There is clear evidence resource consenting has become more costly, with council fees for notified consents more than doubling between 2015 and 2019.”

Costs for mid-sized infrastructure projects are up 70% in the same period, the Minister said.

“New Zealand developers’ consenting costs of 5.5% of total project costs are at the extreme end compared with the UK and the EU, where consenting costs are between 0.1% and 5%.”

Time to consent infrastructure projects increased by 150 per cent between 2010-2014 and 2015-2019.

“Unduly restrictive planning restraints have led to New Zealand’s urban land prices and housing being amongst the least affordable in the OECD,” Mr Parker said.

“The new resource management system will deliver economic and environmental benefits. For every $1 spent the new system is expected to deliver $2.58 to $4.90 in benefits.

“On a conservative estimate costs to users will fall by 19% a year, or $149m, equal to more than $10 billion in cost savings over 30 years.”

Minister Parker said more than 100 RMA plans will reduce to just 15 regional-level plans across the country. The time taken to prepare them will reduce from 10 years under the current system to a maximum of four years.

“Off-the-shelf standards for housing and infrastructure projects will remove the need for bespoke specifications for each project, making future Transmission Gully-type projects easier and cheaper to consent.”

“Developers, infrastructure providers and businesses will see the largest costs savings as consent volumes and costs decrease, saving hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

“Benefits will flow to the public through cost savings for housing and fewer consents. The environmental benefits – which cannot be valued in dollar terms – will be substantial.

“The new system, which will ensure the Crown fulfils our obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi and means Treaty Settlements are upheld, will enable needed development within environmental limits and protect and restore the environment for the wellbeing of current and future generations.”

Existing national direction, such as policy statements on water and air quality, carries over into a consolidated National Planning Framework, with a new part to aid infrastructure development, he said.

“The most significant change to environment protection will be a shift from an effects-based approach to one that is based on outcomes.

“Put simply, an effects-based approach often saw many small adverse effects accumulate into significant environmental degradation – most notably with water quality and loss of biodiversity and top soil. The NBA will focus on outcomes, setting limits to maintain current environmental levels and targets where degradation needs to be restored.

“The Treaty clause recommended by the Randerson panel, to give effect to the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, will be adopted, in line with the wording in the Conservation Act. Provisions in current Treaty settlements will be upheld and migrated into the new system.

“Also the current resource management system has not supported Māori housing and development opportunities and this Bill is an opportunity to turn that around.”

MR Parker said that under the current RMA, councils can adopt allocation plans for scarce resources such as water but haven’t, instead issuing consents on a first-come-first-served basis. This has not delivered the best economic outcomes and can be unfair.

“The new system will require regional planning committees to have an allocation plan applying the principles set out in the Randerson Panel report, which was completed in 2020 after extensive consultation and input from interested parties. Those principles take into account fairness, efficiency and investment, such as in irrigation systems, while creating a process to access water for those currently unable to secure it,” he said.

“These changes ensure we get the best economic return from water rather than it being allocated on a first come first served basis. This builds on the work of Rt Hon Bill English and moves towards solving water allocation issues in New Zealand.”

The key elements of the new reforms, set out in the Randerson report and contained in an exposure draft, have already been considered by a select committee. The Natural and Built Environment and the Spatial Planning Bills will now go through a full select committee process. The Government aims to pass them into law before the next election.

The third piece of the reform, the Climate Adaptation Act, will be introduced later.

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