A fellow called Roger Partridge reminds us that the Resource Management Act is 25-years old this month, a shocking realisation for those opposed – and a timely reminder for everyone appalled at rampant housing unaffordability what is most behind the iniquity: this planning law that shackles the supply of new houses.
Yet over that time few voices have been strongly and consistently opposed. To paraphrase Ayn Rand, “When for a quarter-century the productive have been forced to seek permission from the unproductive in order to produce, with nary a word raised in opposition to that iniquity, then you may know that your culture is doomed.”
Mr Partridge’s headline says what his op-ed only hints at, that this Frankenstein Act must be slayed, but his conclusion at least is sound: that more tinkering will never tame this Frankenstein.
What can be done? The answer lies in the RMA’s great conceit: that planners and politicians are better placed to decide how resources should be used than their owners. As that approach has clearly failed, we need to start afresh.
It is true that private property rights regulated by the common law will not always lead to acceptable outcomes. [Acceptable to whom, white man? – Ed.] But that does not require a regime that places all decision-making in the hands of government.
The urban planning component of the RMA has been handed to the Productivity Commission for a reappraisal.
We can only hope this will be a well-considered assessment of planning law that should have preceded the enactment of the RMA 25 years ago. [Cough, cough.]
Where property is in private hands, the review should ask “what is wrong with letting private owners make their own decisions?” For centuries the law of property, contract and tort – with their focus on harm to third parties – did just that. And great cities were built on this basis.
Indeed, our own cherished Victorian suburbs with their gracious villas were built with minimal help from town planners. Contemporary planners can learn from this.
In Mary Shelley's masterpiece, though torn by remorse, Victor Frankenstein refuses to admit to anyone the horror of his creation, even as he sees it spiralling out of control.
A quarter of a century on, let's hope Sir Geoffrey's heirs can do better.
I remain convinced this monster needs a stake through its heart – and that common law protections of environment and private property must be recognised again, starting perhaps with small consents, or perhaps with a codification of basic common law protections culminating with a re-statement of the Coming to the Nuisance Doctrine.
I remain unconvinced however that in the heirs of Geoffrey Palmer we should harbour any hope of anything whatsoever, except for much more of the same.