What would 'Party X' do about the environment? - PART 3: Small Consents
No serious environmental policy can avoid the elephant in the room that is the Resource Management Act (RMA). For all the high-profile RMA horror stories that hit the news, as Federated Farmers president Charlie Pederson says, "it's little, not large, that suffers most RMA pain."
Today, I present for your consideration a simple solution for removing RMA pain from the little guy, and a step towards making more affordable housing.
3. Small Consents Tribunals “When the productive have to ask permission from the unproductive in order to produce,” said Ayn Rand, “then you may know that your culture is doomed.”
Just ask anyone who has waited in line for a resource consent.
But although it’s practical to remove the RMA overnight, it’s not yet politically possible. Here’s one way to get that particular ball rolling.
First, enact a codification of basic common law principles such as the Coming to the Nuisance Doctrine and rights to light and air and the like.
Second, register on all land titles (as voluntary restrictive covenants) the basic “no bullshit” provisions of District Plans (stuff like height-to-boundary rules, density requirements and the like).
Next, and this will take a little more time, insist that councils set up a ‘Small Consents Tribunals’ for projects of a value less than $300,000 to consider issues presently covered by the RMA.
This would mean that instead of sitting around the table with pimply-faced graduates of Bruce Hucker’s planning school discussing whether or not your new carport “promotes the sustainable management of natural and physical resources” – which is what happens now under the RMA – and instead of cluttering up the Environment Court with minor projects that only add to the already lengthy delays there, these Consents Tribunal should function in a similarly informal fashion as Small Claims Tribunals do now.
The Consents Tribunals would consider your small project on the basis of the codified common law principles and the voluntary restrictive covenants on your title. Simple really. You should be able to reach agreement in an afternoon.
I think setting up such tribunals should be sensible, relatively simple, and politically achievable. And at some point it should become clear to most land owners that these restrictive covenants on their titles are not vague prescriptions coercively mandated by statute, but instead are ‘voluntary’ in the sense that (as with basic common law principles) they are covenants in favour of neighbouring landowners–covenants that protect your neighbours’ legitimate rights, over which you may negotiate with them to add, subtract, amend or otherwise revise these covenants, making any reciprocal deals you may negotiate with people whose business it really is.
If for example you like my tree, and I like my view over that corner of your section, then we can negotiate at our leisure and have these interests registered on our titles as a covenant and an easement respectively. Over time we should slowly see emerging a network built up of reciprocal covenants between neighbouring properties reflecting the voluntary agreements over land that neighbours have freely negotiated. In time, it is these voluntary agreements on which the Small Consents Tribunals will be adjudicating.
Now at a stroke these Small Consents Tribunals will make affordable housing more affordable, and encourage more interest in projects at this end of the market.
At a stroke too it should free up the Environment Court and council offices for more important projects than these small ones, and depoliticise many neighbourhood disputes. Everyone kicks a goal.
As the success of these Small Consents Tribunals becomes more evident, as I'm confident they would be, and as their own sophistication in common law increases, then public pressure should build up to raise the financial value of projects accepted by the Tribunal first to $400k, then to $500k and beyond, and eventually there should be sufficient public pressure and political will built up to abolish the RMA altogether in favour of common law protections.
That’s the secret of good judo: using simple means to rid yourself of a large opponent.
[Tune in Monday for policy proposal number four: Iwi then Kiwi - a unique privatisation.]
* * * * *