Wednesday, February 04, 2009

RMA changes: let’s all look at some examples [updated]

There were few surprises in yesterday’s announcement on National’s proposed changes to the Resource Management Act, since most were telegraphed back before the election – and the RMA has been so bad for so long that so many are now so pathetically grateful at any change that even the relatively minor changes proposed have been welcomed, even by those like Owen McShane who know better.

Let’s face it, National has never made any commitment to respecting or protecting property rights, and they haven't changed that now – property rights will still be recognised only by their breach --except to promise they’ll make it even more difficult for property owners to protest the regulations that planners impose upon them.

But they have backtracked on some of the relatively minor changes proposed back in October.  They’ve  retreated for example from their election promise to remove the bullshit from the definition of "environment," and they’ve retreated as well from their commitment to "rewrite" much of the craven "Tiriti" bullshit in the Act.

So as far as bullshit goes, all that will still remain -- everything from the "Sustainable Management" ecobabble of section 5 (ie., rights for “future generations”, none for this one); to the “Intrinsic Values of Ecosystems” nonsense of section 7(d) (ie., rights for trees, rocks and mud puddles, none for you and I); to the "Kaitiakitanga" of section 7(a) (ie., rights for Iwis, none for Kiwis); to the bald presumption in section 9 that “no person may use [their] land in a manner that contravenes a rule in a District Plan” unless a planner, an Environment Court judge or an Environmental Protection Authority bureaucrat says (after a long and expensive process) that you can.

I've characterised yesterday's announcement "simplifying and streamlining" the RMA as merely making life simpler for planners, and more streamlined for the Government's ThinkBig 2.0 spend-up. All I expected to see was the chocolate-coated turd they promised that will promote easier theft of property rights by this government, and that’s how it still looks to me.

I’ve been arguing against the RMA since I returned to New Zealand in 1995 (here, for example, is my submission to Simon Upton’s “review” of the RMA back in 1998, and most of what I say there still stands). I’ve been arguing against it because it ignores land-owners property rights, and I see every day in my work I see how it destroys clients’ dreams. I wrote an article back in 2004 arguing that the RMA is so misguided and destructive that it doesn't need to be amended, it needs a stake through the heart (an article that was picked up, and abridged, by the Herald). 

So to illustrate what's proposed, and how little things will change from this “simplifying and streamlining,” let me look at the examples I highlighted in that article along with a few others to see how the proposed changes might have worked for these puppies.  (While it's impossible to know in advance the DETAILS, the how of what's being mooted --- which is going to make a huge difference to how things work -- let's make a few assumptions.)  Here’s the list of examples pasted in below.  I’ll start working through the examples over the course of the morning -- but how about, as a simple exercise until then,  you work through them yourself based on the details already supplied to see if my characterisation is correct.

Going beneath the headlines, here’s how I think they would have worked out under the regime proposed by Nick Smith:

  • Project Aqua cancelled. 
        - After much backroom dealing, including being granted Requiring Authority Status
         (which gives it “the right to take private land” against the wishes of property-owners),
        Project Aqua is declared a Project of National Significance by the Environmental
        Protection Agency, and granted consent after nine months (or so) by the Board of Inquiry
        to whom the decision was referred, after which it spends three years in appeal …
  • New prisons delayed.
        - After much backroom dealing, consents for new prisons granted non-notified status
        by councils dealing with the applications. Protest groups lodge $500 deposit
        with Environment Court, after which the applications spend three years in appeal …
  • Waikato upgrade of State Highway One delayed by Taniwhas. 
        - Despite much teeth-gnashing by everyone involved Waikato upgrade of State Highway
        One still delayed by Taniwhas – until John Key strikes an eleventh-hour to fund a Museum
         of the Taniwha to be run by local iwi.
  • Plans by US giant Weyerhauser for a timber-processing plant in Nelson shelved.
        - After much backroom dealing over this project in Smith’s marginal electorate, it
        is declared a Project of National Significance by the Environmental Protection Agency,
        and granted consent after nine months (or so) by the Board of Inquiry to whom the
        decision was referred, after which it spends three years in appeal …
  • A homeowner in Waitakere jailed for cutting down his own tree.
        - While it will be difficult to impose blanket tree protection rules under District Plans,
        councils can still impose protections on individual trees – something councils will now
        be able to do very swiftly.  If the tree in question here is such a tree, then our
        home-owner would still receive such a penalty, with perhaps an even bigger fine (up
        to $300,000) and a ban on using the site for several years to accompany it.
  • Marine farm applications left in limbo until at least the next decade.
       - Marine farm moratorium lifted during the last Parliament, accompanied by race-based
        quotas for marine farms, short-term-only permits for such farms, and the imposition of 400
         additional pages of regulation.  No changes under presently proposed amendments.
  • Construction of Pakiri Beach retirement “dream home” prohibited by “envy-ridden” planners and politicians
        - District plan rules imposed by “envy-ridden” planners effectively excluding the likes of Rae
        Ah Chee’s would-be dream house would be cemented in by the removal of the “costly
        consultative processes” whereby land-owners get to object to the rules imposed upon
        them.  Which means Sandra Coney and her brood  would still be locking out the so called
        “trophy houses” they so despise, and would-be dream-home owners are unable to build
        and live on beach-front land they’ve bought for that very purpose.
  • Auckland “ring-fenced” by planners, pushing up the price of land 
        - Auckland still “ring-fenced” by planners, pushing up the price of land, while objectors
        to the District Plan rules imposing the ring-fencing are effectively locked out of any say
        in the imposition of these rules.
  • Interminable delays and extortionate “development contributions” accompany subdivision applications, pushing up the price of land 
        - Extortionate “development contributions” accompany subdivision applications, pushing
         up the price of land.  Delays now just lengthy instead of interminable.
  • An entire Banks Peninsula farm declared a “Recommended Area of Protection” and made
    unworkable.
        - Owner of Banks Peninsula farm now effectively excluded altogether from protesting at
    the arbitrary imposition of such a declaration.
  • New supermarket in Takapuna still awaiting consent after fourteen (now eighteen) years.
        - Trade competitors barred from openly objecting to resource consent applications . . .
        but (say trade competitors to themselves) there’s more than one way to skin a cat.
  • Plans for a new mall and shopping complex in Wanaka abandoned.
        - Unless developers can do a deal to have the complex designated a Project of National
    significance, then this is still the most likely outcome – although Smith’s promise to “'look at
    how companies win the right to take private land” might help. Unless, of course, it’s your
    land they’re talking about.
  • A new township proposed for Woodend, Canterbury, shelved.
        - Unless developers can do a deal to have the new township designated a Project
    of National Significance, then shelving is still the most likely outcome – although
    Smith’s promise to “'look at how companies win the right to take private land” might
    help. Unless, of course, it’s your land they’re talking about.
  • Coastal properties effectively nationalised by District Plan declarations of beachfront “Hazard Zones” and “Coastal Wilderness Areas.”
        - Coastal properties still effectively nationalised by District Plan declarations of beachfront
    “Hazard Zones” and “Coastal Wilderness Areas,” while owners of coastal properties so
    designated are effectively excluded from objecting to the theft, by such means, of their
    dreams and their property rights.
  • Gridlock in Auckland while much-needed roading projects await consents.
        - Roading projects full-speed ahead – and don’t spare the analysis!
  • Eighty dollars an hour paid to local Iwi to “ward off mischievous spirits.”
        - One-hundred and eighty dollars an hour paid to local Iwi to “ward off
        mischievous spirits.” It’s inflation, you know.
  • A ban on filming mountain peaks in Tongariro National Park announced.
        - A ban to which objectors will be less able to file their objections.
  • Whitianga Waterways Project saved (just) despite the best efforts of Sandra Lee, and at a cost of one million dollars per year in gaining consents.
        - It appears the Conservation Minister will still retain a veto under Nick Smith’s
        Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act.
  • Millions of dollars extracted by Iwi around the country under the guise of “consultation.”
        - Millions of dollars extracted by Iwi around the country under the guise of “consultation.”
  • Eight years of resource consent delays (ten, finally) for Orewa to Puhoi motorway extension.
        - Full speed ahead!
  • Long delays to the development of oil and gas fields and pipelines.
        -  After much backroom dealing, including being granted Requiring Authority Status
         (which giving pipeline constructors “the right to take private land” against the wishes
        of property-owners), pipelines are declared Projects of National Significance by
        the Environmental Protection Agency, and granted consent after nine months (or so) by
        the Boards of Inquiry to whom the decision was referred, after which property owners
        are moved out while the consents spend three years in appeal …
  • Private Olivine waste-to-energy plant at Meremere rejected by council in favour of a council-owned landfill site next to Auckland’s new water supply, and the existing Meremere plant mothballed.
        - Section 7(i) is invoked, that decision-makers “have regard to … the effects of climate
         change,” Olivine leave the country for good, and Aucklanders still take their drinking
        water just slightly downstream from the North Island’s biggest landfill, owned by a
        consortium of councillors.
  • Forestry industry concerns at time and cost of consents for wood-processing plants, and for tree planting, harvesting and roading.
        - Tree planting, harvesting and roading has no slowed so much that forestry concerns now
        revolve instead around the subsidies they seek from the government under the Emissions
        Trading Scam.
     
  • Coastal residents refused permission to protect beachside homes from erosion.
        -  Coastal residents discover that  their councils’ District Plans still refuse them permission
        to protect their beachside homes from erosion, that objecting the imposition of new and
        similar rules is now more difficult, and that for the “crime” of protecting their homes
        they will now face fines of up to $600,000 and two years in jail.
  • Globe Hill goldmine project in Reefton vetoed.
        - Is it ever likely to be declared a Project of National Significance by the Environmental
        Protection Agency?  What do you think.  Veto still applies.
  • 1500 projects still left waiting at the Environment Court . . .
        - 1000 projects still left waiting at the Environment Court, and hundreds more being
        heard at the Environmental Protection Agency and all the various Boards of Inquiry. . .

So rather than just relying on me, why not work through those examples of disgraceful bureaucratic bullying yourself to see what will change, and I’ll come back later on and gradually answer them myself in an update or three.  Why not start with the small example I cite in the Herald article.  What will change here?

    Let’s say you own a small home on a small site, and you want to extend your carport
to accommodate something more sizeable than your grandmother’s Morris Minor.
    In most instances, that means you will have to sit down in your local council offices with a person fresh out of planning school and talk seriously about whether the extension is a "sustainable use of natural and physical resources" - at which point I’ll bet you will begin start scratching your head.
     Or, whether it will "safeguard the life-supporting capacity of air, water, soil and ecosystems" while "avoiding, remedying or mitigating any adverse effects of activities on the environment".
    If you are not sure, you could assess whether or not your proposed new parking stall "pays particular regard to kaitiakitanga [or] the ethic of stewardship", to "the maintenance and enhancement of amenity values", or to "the intrinsic value of ecosystems".
    At which point you either run screaming from the planner's office, or pick your jaw up from the floor and write out a cheque proportional to the amount of nonsense about to be put into a report arguing such things on your behalf. 
    [Believe me, grown adults pulling down sizeable incomes spend time in these conversations – they have to, by law!  And so do you, if you really want that carport extension.]
    So, you hire a consultant to write that report of meaningless phrases. Meanwhile, objectors hire other consultants to say that your proposal is not a sustainable use of resources, and won't safeguard ecosystems.
    Eventually you all end up in the Environment Court, and the one with the biggest pile of nonsense in front of them wins - after which the lawyers and consultants go off to lunch at Antoine's; you go off to take out a new mortgage; and the consultants' reports go off to fill up a landfill somewhere . . .

UPDATE 1: I’ve written in below each project above my best informal assessment of how they might have fared had the projects or examples come up under Smith’s proposed regime.  I haven’t bothered to assess our nominal carport – I think it’s obvious enough how that will “change” without me needing to spell it out.

Here’s a list of the winners and losers as I see it:

Winners:

  • Tree nurseries, particularly native tree nurseries (iff blanket tree protection rules can be successfully removed, then the enthusiasm for planting native trees that died in 1993 should return)
  • Consultants, who can now look forward to prestigious appointments to Boards of Inquiry, while they argue the other side of the fence in their spare time.
  • Planners, for whom objections against their misery-inducing regimes will now be far easier to ignore.
  • Steven Joyce and Bill English, the promoters of the delusional ThinkBig 2.0 spend-up.
  • Nick Smith, who has got both voters and commentators excited about “radical” changes that do nothing fundamentally to alter the handbrake on prosperity of this Act.

Losers:

  • Private property owners
  • Private property developers
  • Supporters of private property rights
  • Arborists
  • Would-be home-owners
  • First-time home-owners
  • Objectors to District Plans
  • Objectors to “licenses” being issued to pollute

UPDATE 2: For a less negative appraisal, listen to Owen McShane’s appearance on Leighton Smith’s show this morning [interview starts about 36:30 minutes in]. And for a contrast, listen to me on Jim Mora’s show yesterday afternoon [discussion starts about 17:30 minutes in].

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1 Comments:

Blogger Bill said...

The RMA was designed to put all the previous legislations into one act. THereby making the process simpler and more transparent and allowing all affected parties have their say. Without the RMA their would be unchecked development going up all over the place. New Zealand would turn into Bangkok. The proposed changes were investigated by the Ministry of Justice and found to violating basic human rights and principals of justice. The changes as the stand are ill-conceived and rushed. I hope for all our sakes National chooses to take more time and do it properly.

2/18/2009 10:11:00 pm  

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