Nick Smith denies claims that the announcement of Maori Party midwifery of his RMA reform bill, being slipped into rebirth on the day of the US election, is a ”National government shambles being slipped through under the cover of the United States election.”
"Just because the US are having elections doesn't mean the business of the New Zealand government stops" says Smith. Yet even he would have to concede it’s awfully convenient if any uncomfortable business can coincide with an event that all but buries it.
Particularly since (if we are to count all the years in which Smith has had responsibility for the RMA, including his ministerial reign in the late nineties) he has had ample opportunity to remove it from the throats of builders, developers and land-owners, and has availed himself of none. Instead of fixing the prime culprit in the housing crisis, he has instead preferred to cry “scapegoat” (foreigners, immigrants, land-bankers) and just tinker while home prices burn.
So his claim that this announcement is just coincidence is as believable as any idea his bill will take a foot off their throat.
There is no more recognition of property rights in this bill than there is the Act itself – which is to say: none at all. And this remains both the Act’s, and this bill’s, (and this Government’s) fatal flaw.
Yes, this round of tinkering promises “nationally-consistent planning standards”; a “streamlined planning process”; “shorter consent times for minor activities”; “new requirements for council to free up land for housing”; and something called a “collaborative planning process to encourage community-led solutions” (which, if you recall, is precisely what the RMA was long-ago promised to be by the two cretins, Geoffrey Palmer and Simon Upton, who inflicted it upon us.)
But this all amounts to very little, and is accompanied by the newly-announced promise to give iwi virtual veto power over all land development in the country.
- Smith’s “nationally-consistent planning standards” mean that any Government may impose any standards they wish upon every council in the land. Smith’s supporters, if any, may assume that he himself knows what standards need imposing to set the blue touch paper to house-building (though there is precious little evidence of any of this knowledge in his performance to date), but will they feel the same way when, perchance, a Labour-Green coalition occupy the Treasury benches, and it is Gareth Hughes who lights the flame.
And unless the standards were to remove the power of councils to impose rural-urban boundaries on cities (the single-quickest solution to removing the housing) then there’s no way to see them as serious. And since the Key Government recently voted down a proposal to remove them, there’s no way to expect to see them here.
- Equally, the “streamlined planning process” and “shorter consent times” promised are just so much hot air. The RMA already mandates that non-notified consent applications be processed in 20 days, yet there is no penalty for failure, and every planner has a whole toolbag of stupid questions to extend the timeframe without affecting the bogus statistics councils use to show compliance. And that’s even if they care --- I am currently waiting on a moderately straightforward consent for a house extension on which the last question was answered way back in mid- August, yet of urgency in issuing the consent there is none. Nothing Smith can legislate in the way of timeframes would change that, only a removal of planners from the process altogether by a recognition of real property rights. (A small consents tribunal would be a start.)
- And what of the “new requirements for council to free up land for housing”? There is talk of economic thresholds being hit that would force council to “release” land to lower house prices – a bureaucratic way of forcing the hampered marker to be marginally less hampered without properly removing the shackles to do that, coupled with an assumption that simply “releasing” land will automatically make it cheaper. Which it doesn’t.
- Oh yes, the reform does also proffer the idea of “increased compensation for public takings.” But this comes complete with Smith’s musings that he might seize property to “fix” the problem caused by his own RMA. In other words, do as Smith says, land-owners, or you won’t be one for long.
Environmentalists opposing the overhaul argue it will remove “New Zealanders’ … right to have a say on environmental issues.”
They have a small point, but I’d argue that’s because both of these sides have so embraced the ethic of the RMA that they cannot even see beyond the present paradigm in which legislation tries to “strike a balance” between development and environment, and fails.
The RMA’s failure to ever address either area properly is a sign, not that it needs reform, but that it needs a stake through the centre of its heart.
Giving iwi veto power over all land-use in the country is not just too high a price to pay to make this latest tepid round of reform possible. It makes this reform in this form not worth pursuing at all.
Or Smith worth further employing.