Council says Government approach wrong on resource management reform

Auckland Council has told the Government it’s taking the wrong approach to improving resource management law by extending central government decision-making into local processes.

The council submission, endorsed by its Auckland development committee on Thursday, opposes numerous points where the Government is proposing not just to have an overview but to have a say in decisions, right down to zoning.

The Resource Legislation Amendment Bill passed its first reading in Parliament in December and submissions on it close today. Most of the amendment proposed in the bill would be to the Resource Management Act, and that’s what the council submission has focused on. Other affected laws are the Reserves Act, Public Works Act, Conservation Act and Exclusive Economic Zone & Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act.

Key points the Auckland Council submission makes:

  • The Government has a number of related initiatives underway; this one should be deferred pending a full review of the planning system, starting after work on the wider reform programme has been completed, so end of 2017-beginning of 2018
  • The council would support a wider review of the planning system that looks at how best to achieve integrated outcomes – including funding – as opposed to ongoing ad
  • hoc amendments
  • Many proposed amendments would impose additional costs on local bodies, and there’s no accompanying analysis
  • Effective iwi engagement is more the result of strong relationships supported by good practice than legislative requirements
  • The Government’s approach to Maori involvement in hearings is over-complicated & less appropriate than the current council system; instead, the Government should invest in building capacity in tikanga Maori.

The council says in its submission a number of amendments expand ministerial powers to the extent of determining plan content or giving the minister other decision-making powers: “These will diminish local decision-making.”

On timing & order of reform, the council says: “There are a number of inter-related planning & urban management initiatives amongst the Government’s wider reform programme. Foremost, the Government has instructed the Productivity Commission to inquire into the system of urban planning, which could result in a fundamental review of the Resource Management Act. In addition, work is proceeding to develop a national policy statement on urban development, which will include content addressing ‘development capacity’.

“Auckland Council is concerned that amendments to the Resource Management Act at this time amount to tinkering in the face of significant issues being considered in the Government’s wider reform programme. The proposed amendments may enact new Resource Management Act provisions before the issues are fully understood & resolved in a co-ordinated manner, with implications for the coherency of the planning framework & the wider reform programme.”

The council says it would support guidance being provided under the Resource Management Act through instruments such as national policy statements & national environmental standards: “At issue, however, is the extent to which the proposed amendments extend beyond the provision of guidance and enable methods, rules & plan content, such as the zoning of particular land, to be determined by the minister.

“The council supports a ministerial oversight role that focuses ministerial attention on the operation of the overall planning system & the provision of guidance. Auckland Council opposes provisions that erode local decision-making and provide for ministerial decision-making power on plans.”

Understandably, the council supports making processes more efficient, but it says the Government has got that wrong too: “The council supports the aim of making processes under the Resource Management Act more efficient. This can be achieved by making processes more proportionate or by supporting established, good practice. Auckland Council contends, however, that the proposed amendments will increase processing & cost. The council proposes that the district plan could clarify the kinds of circumstances that would require notification of resource consents as an alternative to the bill’s proposed amendments.

“An amendment in the bill would require that submissions to resource consents & plan changes are struck out if they do not pass prescribed tests. The council proposes that this amendment is opposed.”

On the role of iwi, the council says it wants to maintain the relationship-based approach it has established with the Independent Maori Statutory Board and Auckland’s 19 iwi. It supports the appointment of hearings commissioners with expertise in tikanga Maori, but suggests its own approach of appointing, with Independent Maori Statutory Board involvement, a pool of independent planning commissioners (including those with tikanga Maori expertise) “is more appropriate than consulting with iwi on planning commissioners every time a hearing is held. Auckland Council would like to see the Government’s intention matched with investment to build capacity in tikanga Maori.”

Links: Productivity Commission, urban planning inquiry
Council committee agenda

Earlier stories:

9 March 2016: Kaipatiki board tells Government to get on with fundamental tasks
11 December 2015: Planning system is next Productivity Commission target
5 October 2015: Commission sends land for housing report to Government
10 August 2015: Council has forthright message for Government on land for housing
19 June 2015: Key points from land for housing report
19 June 2015: Commission looks behind high land prices

Attribution: Submission & presentation.

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