A massive change in RMA consenting on time

April 6th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Amy Adams announced:

The 2012/13 Resource Management Survey shows the Government’s first phase of RMA reforms aimed at improving consenting processes are paying off, however further reform of our planning frameworks is still required.

The survey of how well councils are implementing the Resource Management Act shows that 97 per cent of consents were processed on time for the 2012/2013 period, compared with 95 per cent in 2010/2011.

“This is a vast improvement from the 69 per cent of resource consents processed on time in 2007/08,” Ms Adams says.

Only 3% are no longer processed on time, compared to 31% under Labour. The non-compliance rate by local authorities has dropped by 90%.

When National left office in 1999, the compliance rate was 82%. This dropped to 69% by 2007/08 under Labour. Since then the trend has reversed thanks to the law changes made by National and generally opposed by Labour.

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Auckland sites needing a cultural assessment grow to 5,500

March 10th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Bernard Orsman writes:

The Auckland Council has confirmed that an extra 2000 or so properties are covered by a controversial rule requiring owners to seek iwi approval to work on their land.

A rule in the council’s draft Unitary Plan requires applicants carrying out work on 3661 sites of significance and value to mana whenua to obtain a “cultural impact assessment” from one or more of 19 iwi groups.

Now the council has told the Herald the rule applies to “significant ecological areas (SEA)”, of which more than 2000 were in the plan.

Maybe it would be easier for the Council to just provide a list of sites which don’t need a cultural assessment in order to remove vegetation etc. Eventually that will be the shorter list.

Politicians are divided on the iwi consent rule, which Auckland University associate law professor Ken Palmer said must be seen as invalid.

In a letter to the Herald on Friday, Professor Palmer, an expert on the Resource Management Act, said Labour amended the act in 2005 to clarify doubts over consultation, especially with iwi.

“The section unequivocally states ‘neither [an applicant nor a council] has a duty under this act to consult any person about the application’.”

Council chief planning officer Dr Roger Blakeley disputed Dr Palmer’s interpretation, saying a cultural impact assessment was not equivalent to consultation, but similar to a requirement to supply specialist reports, such as from an engineer.

Semantics. It is another step towards town planners undermining the rights of owners.

Professor Palmer did not agree with Dr Blakeley’s view, saying a specialist report might be justified on matters of land risk, noise and air pollution, etc, but any obligation to consult mana whenua on cultural concerns went beyond this “and impinges on normal rights of freehold ownership”.

Indeed.

Labour’s Maori affairs spokesman, Shane Jones, said the council should assure itself it was taking account of Maori criteria in the act because the average Kiwi would recoil when asked to engage in a long and expensive cultural impact assessment.

Mr Jones said no one doubted the need to embrace obligations to respect sacred sites, but the issue had morphed into something else.

I’m still waiting for someone in the media to pin Nanaia Mahuta down and ask her if she agrees with Shane Jones in his opposition to the cultural assessments. Or Phil Twyford. Or David Cunliffe.

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Is the Maori Party calling Shane Jones racist?

March 2nd, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Maori Party have said:

The Maori Party say a cultural impact assessment clause in Auckland’s Draft Unitary Plan is a good idea, and that people focusing on race and cost are missing the big picture.

Te Ururoa Flavell, Maori Party Co-leader says “the provision in the plan to seek a cultural impact assessment from mana whenua on certain sites tagged for development is a good thing. It’s good because Maori have knowledge, history and a unique cultural perspective that can and will add value to our resource management decisions.”

“We are, however, shocked and disappointed with some of the reactions to the proposal. It tells us that our Maori culture, our knowledge, and our history are still treated as second class here in Aotearoa.”

Shane Jones is opposed. Does this mean they are saying Shane Jones is treating Maori as second class citizens? Surely not.

I’m with Shane on this one. But am still waiting to hear if even a single other Labour MP agrees with Shane.

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Jones leading again

February 28th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Labour Maori Affairs spokesman Shane Jones has slammed a new rule requiring Auckland property owners to seek iwi approval to work on sites of cultural and heritage value to Maori, calling it dangerous and an extra compliance cost.

Mr Jones is opposed to the rule in Auckland Council’s draft Unitary Plan that requiring applicants carrying out work on 3600 sites of “value to mana whenua” to obtain a “cultural impact assessment” form one or more of 19 iwi groups.

“As someone who was involved in the core group which wrote the Resource Management Act in 1988-1989 never in our wildest dreams did we imagine it would lead to 19 new consent authorities over the Tamaki Makaurau area.

“The proponents need to balance heritage against the cost pressure of developing housing and land so that the final product is affordable,” Mr Jones said.

Well done Shane on calling it straight. Out of interest has anyone asked Labour’s other Maori MPs if they agree with Shane? Most importantly does their Leader agree with Shane?

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Adams blasts tree police

February 20th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Environment Minister Amy Adams has leapt to the defence of an elderly couple being prosecuted for felling and trimming native trees, saying the case shows why the Resource Management Act needs reform.

“Many RMA rules around the country have slipped into nonsense territory,” Adams said after The Dominion Post reported on environmentalists Peter Standen, 77, and wife Diana, 74, of Otaki, being taken to court by Kapiti Coast District Council for felling and trimming seven trees they believed were rotten and dangerous.

“This couple has spent a lot of time caring for their environment and gone to the effort of getting an arborist,” Adams said.

“We are not talking about some yob with a chainsaw with a tree he did not like. They got a specialist saying they were dangerous… it appears so eminently sensible… the outcome seems ridiculous.

“Trees, indigenous or not, get old, diseased, die, can be dangerous. We are talking about a 70-year-old couple dealing with vegetation in their own backyard. Do we need a council to get so uppity about what seems like a very sensible reaction?”

She supported the right of councils to identify and protect significant trees but “blanket prohibition on every piece of vegetation of a certain sort with no allowances, exceptions, or recognition that people have the fundamental right to deal with their own property in a certain way is getting a bit crazy”.

More than a bit. Thankfully the law has now changed so such rules will be gone by September 2015. But that law change was opposed vigorously by Labour and Greens. They think property owners should have no rights over the trees on their property – that basically Councils can effectively take control of every tree in an area.

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The Kapiti tree police

February 19th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

A pair of elderly environmentalists are being taken to court for felling and trimming native trees they believed were rotten and dangerous.

So did this couple stroll onto public land and start felling trees?

Last year they employed an arborist to clean up what they called “a mass of tangled and broken branches, dead, diseased and dangerous trees” in a stand of bush on their newly bought property in Oriwa Cres.

The work included felling and trimming three kohekohe, three tawa and a mahoe.

So it was their tree on their property.

They have been summoned to appear in Levin District Court next week, charged with contravening the District Plan by “modifying naturally occurring indigenous vegetation” more than four metres tall and with a trunk circumference of more than 95cm.

The maximum penalty, under the Resource Management Act, is two years’ imprisonment or a fine of $300,000.

The problem is that the rule exists. Councils should not be interfering with what people do with their trees on their land unless the trees are of some special distinction.

At one point, the council sent a uniformed police officer to their house with a search warrant, accompanied by an ecological specialist.

Were they searching for kidnapped trees?

Wellington City Council has no rules regarding trimming native trees on private property. It is up to the owners.

As it should be.

UPDATE: Law changes made last year (and in 2009) mean these sort of idiotic rules will soon be illegal. Councils can no longer make blanket tree protection bylaws.  There is a two year transitional period, which means their legacy rules still apply until Sep 2015, but after that property owners will not need to ask Councils for permission to trim or fell their own trees – unless a specific tree or group of trees has been identified as requiring protection..

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Is Jones speaking for Labour?

November 12th, 2013 at 7:17 am by David Farrar

Vernon Small at Stuff reports:

The seafood industry is calling for a curb on councils’ powers to control fishing in the name of marine biodiversity protection, saying they are threatening their business and growth prospects.

The issue has surfaced after the Marlborough District Council followed up a 2011 study into ecologically significant marine sites in its region with moves to require consents to dredge or bottom-trawl in some areas.

The industry fears it will set a precedent other councils will follow, giving them the power to limit fishing using the Resource Management Act (RMA).

Labour economic development spokesman Shane Jones is backing the industry and calling for the law to be clarified to stop councils using a “side wind” to achieve a ban on commercial fishing.

I don’t disagree with Jones, but is he speaking for Labour on this issue? Does Labour support a law change to remove this power from local Councils? Or is this another case of “Yeah, Nah” where one MP says one thing, and another says something different?

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More painful bureaucracy

September 25th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Nicola Stables says a move that would require holiday homeowners like herself to obtain a resource consent to rent their properties out to six or more people could result in visitors going elsewhere for their holidays.

Resource consents for holiday homes! What next.

Ms Stables said she was perplexed by the Thames Coromandel District Council draft district plan, which recommends that visitor accommodation, such as hers, that caters for more than six paying guests obtain resource consent.

I would have thought Coromandel is the last district that wants to make it harder to have people have holiday homes available for hire.

What problem is the Council trying to solve by requiring resource consent?

It seems this move is being driven by the Motel Association. How very sad they are trying to impose extra costs on holiday homes. There is a world of difference between staying in commercial accommodation and renting a holiday home.  A holiday home is just a home. It should be of no matter to anyone but the owner whether they stay in it, lease it out long-term, or rent it out short-term.

Mr Baines said private accommodation was undercutting moteliers during the high season from mid-December to the end of March.

So it is economic protectionism.

I would never ever stay in a motel in a location like Coromandel. It is not price that determines I go to holiday homes instead of motels. It is that I want to relax in a house. I stay in motels when travelling on business, or attending conferences etc.

UPDATE: I understand the situation is slightly different to that reported. The current plan already says a resource consent may be needed for properties that can take six or more people. I don’t think it is widely enforced. The Council looked to increase the limit to 12, but has now said it will stay at six. So not a change at this stage. I do have to say though that I think six is too low a number.

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UnitedFuture against RMA reforms

September 12th, 2013 at 10:38 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Two of the Government’s support parties have refused to back proposals to overhaul planning laws.

The Maori Party and UnitedFuture say a revamp of the Resource Management Act goes too far and no longer protects the environment.

The changes were announced by Environment Minister Amy Adams last month at the National Party’s annual conference. The Government wants to cut the cost of building and argues the present consenting processes take too long and are costly, slowing developments.

Adams wants to shake up part two of the RMA, which puts in place environmental safeguards.

Without the minor party support, the Government no longer has the numbers to pass the legislation.

Maori party co-leader Tariana Turia and UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne wrote to Adams to outline their concerns.

It seems a bit strange that it has taken four weeks for them to decide their stance.

The proposed law changes need either one of those two parties on board, or NZ First.  If they can’t get any of them, well that is how minority Government works – you don’t always get your way.

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Major RMA reforms announced

August 10th, 2013 at 9:01 am by David Farrar

The PM has just announced the major points of the third stage of the Government’s RMA reforms. They are very significant, and are aimed to lowering housing costs and speeding up consenting. This means I am sure Labour and Greens will oppose them.

The major points are:

  • halve from 20 to 10 workign days the time limit for consents for straightforward applications such as adding a deck or veranda
  • require fixed-fee options for certain consents, so there is certainty of cost
  • Give Councils the ability to waive resource consents for insignificant variations from planning rules such as a retaining wall being slightly over a permitted height
  • Require Councils to provide a minimum of 10 years of urban land supply to cope with projected population growth
  • Make subdivisions non-notified unless they are clearly not of the type anticipated by the relevant plan and zoning

These look really good to me, and should make a real difference to reducing both the cost and time of building or altering a house.

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Christchurch consenting

June 13th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Nicole Mathewson at The Press reports:

Christchurch city councillors will head into a crisis meeting next week after learning the council is on the brink of losing the power to grant consents.

Yesterday, Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee revealed the council was sent a letter from International Accreditation New Zealand (IANZ) on May 30, which said it had until June 28 to improve its processes or it would be stripped of its accreditation as a building consent authority.

The letter is here. You would have thought that Councillors would immediately be informed of such a serious development.

It is of huge concern that the Council can not even meet its legal requirements for consenting, which is why it has provisionally been told it will lose this power.

Again this makes me wonder about the monumental lack of judgement it shows in some politicians who have spent three years saying that the Council should have more power, and the Government less power in the rebuild. Such slogans sound good, but the consequences could be severe. If the Council is unable to even meet its core remaining responsibilities, how do we think things would have gone if they were in charge of the overall rebuild?

Councillors were unaware of the letter.

Amazing.

Brownlee told The Press last night that it was “utterly appalling” councillors had not been told about IANZ’s warning before he published the letter yesterday.

“It shows there’s a culture problem in the council or at least this part of the council. This is very serious and no-one should attempt to downplay it.

“What annoys me a bit here is I’ve been asking about this for some time … but I’m continually told everything’s well, everything’s fine.”

Problems had been identified with the council’s building consent authority during a routine assessment by IANZ in October 2009, and in November last year an audit identified 17 failings in the way the council performed its building control functions.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment had become involved with the council several times since February 2010 to offer support and advice.

“It seems as soon as they walk out, everything falls back into the old ways. At the moment we’re not in a good space,” Brownlee said.

Consenting work would fall to other councils if Christchurch did lose its accreditation, he said.

This would not necessarily be a bad thing.

Any consenting would still be done in accordance with the plans, policies and rules set down by the Christchurch City Council. It would just be the staff of another Council who would issue consents in accordance with those rules.

I actually think there is considerable merit in allowing Councils to compete with each other in offering consenting services in a region. The body that sets down the rules doesn’t need to be the body that does the consenting.

UPDATE: Good to see the Council taking it so seriously:

Mr Parker says the Government needs to cut the under-resourced council some slack. It has taken on extra staff, and currently has 120 people processing applications.

“There’s something of a huge overreaction going on here – it’s a bit like, as far as I can see, we’ve been given a parking ticket for an event that’s taking place in two weeks’ time that we weren’t going to anyway, and if we were, we’d take the bus.

Parker thinks a provisional loss of accreditation to issue consents is like a parking ticket?

You know if I lived in Christchurch, I think I might actually vote for Lianne.

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RMA changes

March 16th, 2013 at 8:52 am by David Farrar

Catherine Harris at Stuff reports:

Campbell Barbour has lost count of the millions of dollars he has lost in interest payments, legal costs and lost opportunities as he tried to get consent for his company’s “Westgate” town centre in northwest Auckland.

The general manager of New Zealand Retail Property Group is also at the centre of a high-rise apartment project in Milford, on Auckland’s North Shore, to which locals have objected.

While the fate of the Milford apartments rests with Auckland’s debate about intensified housing, Westgate has gained all its approvals and work has begun. But it took seven years, and Barbour is bewildered by that.

It was not a project anyone objected to and, like a lot of developers, he was forced to refinance when the global financial crisis hit. A speedier consent process would have made a “huge” difference.

Seven years to get consented – and with no objections! The case for change is made.

An angler wrote on the Stuff news website that the move was a “power grab coupled with a water grab”, but a self-described greenie with an entrepreneurial streak said it had taken 18 months of jumping through local-body hoops for a consent to build an eco-residential project.

“I’d say National have hit the nail on the head on this one.”

Views on this issue will vary depending on if someone has actually ever tried to get a consent.

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They are not your trees!

March 2nd, 2013 at 8:53 am by David Farrar

David Cunliffe blogs at Red Alert:

Resolve is building to save our trees

Resolve is really building in West Auckland to stop National’s chainsaw massacre in the Waitakere Ranges.

Te Atatū Labour MP Phil Twyford, Labour’s Environment spokesperson Maryan Street, Councillors, Local Board representatives and ratepayers groups are all backing the community’s determination to save our trees – which together we surely will.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again every time this misinformation is promulgated.

THEY’RE NOT YOUR FUCKING TREES.

There has been absolutely no change in laws around trees on public or Council land.

The law change is around whether a home owner can trim or fell a tree that they own on their property.

And the law still allows Councils to protect individual trees of high value. What the law change does is stop Councils from doing blanket protection orders.

The misinformation and misleading language used on this issue is deliberate. The vast majority of the public don’t want to have to pay hundreds of dollars to Councils just for permission to trim their own trees.

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RMA reform

February 28th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Isaac Davidson at NZ Herald reports:

Each district in New Zealand will have to come up with a single planning document for development with an agreed list of definitions under proposed resource management reforms to be released this morning. …

At present, New Zealand’s 78 authorities have more than 170 planning documents for 2272 different zones or management areas. Officials noted as a comparison that Scotland, with a population of 5.2 million people, had a just 37 planning documents.

A very good comparison.

The announcement by Adams is here.

Under the current system, consenting requirements are often out of proportion- especially for those activities that have reasonably minor effects.

The proposals in the discussion document would introduce a simple 10-working-day time limit for processing straight-forward, non-notified consents accompanied by a proposed national requirement for some types of application to be processed without notification.

Good.

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First they came for the trees …

February 16th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Claire Browning blogs on trees:

I want you – the 87 percent of you who live in a city or town in New Zealand – to have a think about trees. What do trees mean to you?

Shade on a baking day like today; pretty light on your lawn in the mornings? Nesting and perching space for the morning chorus and their babies? Some light entertainment? - drunk tui, chattery fantail, those solemn kereru clowns? Your kids and kittens climbing, swinging; kids playing cricket underneath? Privacy from noisy or nosy neighbours; a shield from next door’s ugly house, or the road? Shelter from blustering winds? Ringing the changes from autumn, through winter, to spring?

I agree. Trees are great. That is so many of us like to have trees on our properties. And I love public areas with lots of trees.

All of that under threat, and you’re being misled about it: the government’s latest proposal to take an axe to urban trees is described in the explanatory note to the Resource Management Reform Bill 2012 as a “technical change”, to “clarify and improve the workability of the RMA”.

In the Bill (clause 12), the RMA would be changed so that a tree protection rule in a council plan can only apply to a particular tree, or a group (cluster, line or grove) of trees on the same or adjacent properties, listed in the plan.

If it proceeds, many fewer trees will be protected, because of the bureaucratic difficulty and cost of individually assessing and adding every tree to the plan, in a schedule.

Claire, like so many others, fails to mention the salient point.

There are no plans for anyone to axe urban trees in public places.  If anything, I am sure Councils will have more trees, not fewer trees.

The law change is about the rights of property owners to trim or cut trees THAT THEY OWN on THEIR LAND.

It can cost a property owner hundreds of dollars to get bureaucratic permission to trim their own trees. It’s ridiculous and in fact will discourage people from planting trees.

The law change still allows Council to protect individual trees that have significant heritage or conservation value. But what it will stop is Council bureaucrats declaring all trees of a certain type belong to them, rather than their owners, and the owners must pay large fees to the Council for the right to trim their own trees.

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Fran on Christchurch

August 4th, 2012 at 12:01 pm by David Farrar

Fran O’Sullivan writes:

I’ve really drunk the Kool Aid when it comes to the inspirational blueprint for Christchurch’s new CBD. It is a stunner. Compact. Cutting edge. Green. Sustainable.

It was crunched out in just over 100 days; a brilliant demonstration of that old maxim “pressure makes a diamond”.

It is also a plan that all New Zealanders need to embrace.

I doubt many of us seriously appreciated that the whole of New Zealand is pretty much a seismic zone until the devastating Canterbury earthquakes hit.

Yeah I thought it was just Wellington that was going to get a big one.

But I’ll never forget the look of abject horror on the faces of the hundreds of people who poured out of the Christchurch CBD after the 6.3 magnitude quake that struck on February 22, 2011 … or the grim chat I had with Mayor Bob Parker at the Christchurch Art Gallery shortly afterwards when he told me “there has been serious death”. Nor will I forget the sincerity of former US Secretary of State Richard Armitage, also in Christchurch when the quake struck, who later that afternoon told me the United States had instantly offered assistance from its own military based in Hawaii.

Disasters do bring out the best in people, as we band together. The memory for me is the Australian police officers and others landing in Christchurch to cheery crowds.

Key has now ordered them to get the L-shaped frame of parks which will surround the new CBD in place by the end of 2013. Decisions will be made super fast. Most will bypass the Resource Management Act.

The tempo will be fast.

If anyone doubts just how fast officialdom can work when the whip is cracked just consider the AMI stadium. David McConnell’s Hawkins Construction got that up in 11 weeks.

Which has proved to be excellent.

The brute reality is that before the quakes struck Christchurch was effectively dying. The very compactness of this new city heart will ensure its vibrancy.

Something I have said also.

What if other New Zealand cities – particularly Auckland – were given the tools so they too could follow Christchurch’s example and wipe the barriers that stymie economic growth?

Hear hear. Matthew Hooton also writes in NBR:

The government has created a major political risk for itself given the sheer brilliance of its new Christchurch plan.

I try to strictly avoid writing here about anything I am working on in my day job but, like everything else that has happened in Christchurch these last 21 months, this is a once-in-a-lifetime exception.

The Christchurch plan is the result of two madcap ideas by sometimes uneasy bedfellows, Christchurch mayor Bob Parker and earthquake czar Gerry Brownlee.

  Mr Parker led his council’s “Share an Idea” campaign where the people of Christchurch got to say what they wanted in their new city.  

It wasn’t the typically stifling local government “consultation” exercise.  Lawyers, formal submissions and correct spelling and grammar were not welcome.  People just got to scribble down in their own words what they wanted.

Over 100,000 Cantabrians responded, more than a quarter of Christchurch’s population.  The campaign became the first community engagement programme outside Europe to win the international Co-Creation Association’s supreme award and it did so unanimously.

The lawyers and lobbyists who make it their business to get between the public and their elected officials were sidelined.

I wasn’t aware of the award.

The plan is radical and far more clean, green, politically-correct and urban-design-y than would be expected to be signed off by the sometimes gruff and usually conservative Mr Brownlee.  There are all sorts of parks and art and culture hubs and so forth.  Christchurch will be the most beautiful city in the world.

But the plan is far more commercially astute than might be expected from the urban designers and creative types who prepared it. 

It halves the size of the CBD, making land scarce to improve returns per square metre, creating competition among investors and developers for the best spaces.  There is going to be a gold rush.

What is interesting is that the Property Council has welcomed the plan. They represent the property owners who have the capital that is essential to making the plan a reality. They were negative on the original plan, but have been supportive of this final one, which is a good and important thing.

Decisions will be made on urban design resource consents within five working days, by a three-person committee representing the government, the city council and Ngai Tahu and they will not then need to be notified under the Resource Management Act.

Proposals will of course need to be pretty, clean and green and fit the plan but the tradeoff is that developers get a final answer in a week.

Mr Parker’s city council has then resolved to make final decisions on all other aspects of building consent applications within a fortnight. …

Do Aucklanders need to wait for Rangitoto to erupt before Len Brown will launch a community engagement programme about its spatial plan as good as Mr Parker’s “Share an Idea”?

Do Dunedites need to suffer some sort of biblical-type flood before their leaders will develop an innovative 100-day plan to deal with some of the same long-term economic challenges that were faced by Christchurch?

Do Wellingtonians need to suffer their major earthquake before they get access to 24-hour investment services, five-day resource consent decisions and two-week building consents?

Does the Waikato need to be devastated by mad cow disease before delays at the OIO and Immigration Service are sorted out?

For that matter, why on earth doesn’t the government roll out its bold, visionary Christchurch approach on a nationwide basis and just slash all the barriers to economic growth that still exist everywhere but Canterbury?

A roadmap to growth.

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Lessons from Texas

May 16th, 2011 at 8:24 am by David Farrar

Roger Kerr blogs:

I have spent much of this week in Houston, Texas. Texas is the go-ahead large state in the United States today, and Houston is the oil and gas capital, America’s second largest port and home to a huge medical complex.

With it’s business-friendly environment, Texas is attracting firms and people from other states, notably over-taxed and over-regulated California, in large numbers. It has no state income tax. The state legislature only meets for 8 weeks every two years – and without air-conditioning so that politicians do not get too attracted to the place.

Heh. Amusing but not the part I suggest we emulate.

Houston is famous for having no zoning (land regulation). Yet it looks pretty much like many other US cities. Without controls you do not find an oil refinery next to prime residential real estate and the expected collection of businesses cluster around the port. But there are many neighborhood associations that set their own rules about things like how close to a boundary you can build or what colour you can paint your house.

The absence of land supply restrictions makes housing (and much else in Houston) incredibly cheap. You can get a very nice two-garage, four-bedroom house for as little as US $200,000. Some 500,000 ‘refugees’ from New Orleans moved to Houston after Hurricane Katrina without putting any significant pressure on house prices or the land market.

If ever the government gets around to a fundamental review of our dysfunctional Resource Management Act, there would be many lessons to be learned from Houston.

What I find most interesting is that the absence of zoning hasn’t resulted in the city being vastly different to other cities – just cheaper.

Think how much time and money would be saved, and lawyers dispensed with, if there was no district plan for a city!

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Not public trees

May 5th, 2010 at 8:26 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Aucklanders hoping to save a favourite tree from being chopped when the law changes in 2012 could face a $20,000 bill.

A planning report for Auckland City Council estimated that as the cost of adding a single pohutukawa in Epsom to its list of protected trees.

In another case, the Tree Council (Auckland) was told it would have to pay an $11,000 deposit to try for a private plan change to protect an 80 to 100-year-old pohutukawa in Rosebank Rd, Avondale.

The story is accompanied with a photo of a tree in a park next to a beach. This gives the impression that tress in public parks and areas are under some sort of threat.

Not once in the article is it made clear that these potential costs are around trees on private land. It is the cost of trying to impose your will onto the tree owner.

Under the old law the tree owner had to pay the Council for the right to trim or fell his or her own trees on their private property. Now the cost falls on the busy bodies who want to prevent a property owner from trimming or felling a tree they own. That is how it should be.

It is a shame the Herald article not once makes it clear this change is about trees on private land only, not on public land.

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Editorials 23 April 2010

April 23rd, 2010 at 8:52 am by David Farrar

The Herald supports discounts for late consents:

The Government has now provided details of the stick intended to “incentivise prompt processing” of consents. If the process exceeds statutory timeframes, a council must apply a discount of 1 per cent per working day, up to a maximum of 50 per cent.

The initiative is highly welcome. Figures released by the Environment Minister, Nick Smith, illustrate how the problem has become progressively worse over the past decade.

During that period, late consents increased from 18 to 31 per cent, despite a ninefold increase from 3 to 28 per cent in consents where councils allowed themselves a 20-day extension. …

Before these regulations, councils had no incentive to process resource consents on time. Given that, it is probably unsurprising that almost a third of applications are being dealt with outside the statutory time limits.

Discounts may not deliver total satisfaction to ratepayers but, at the very least, they are a substantial step in the right direction.

I am confident the incentives to process on time will have an impact.

The Press talks volcanic gloom:

The nightmare the international aviation industry has feared for years has come to pass with the eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull.

Iceland’s apparent isolation from the busiest air corridors in the world counted for little once upper-level winds conspired to blow the volcano’s massive plume of potentially damaging ash directly across much of the British Isles and on to parts of mainland Europe.

It seems preposterous for the whole world to be held to ransom by what, in geological terms, is a pipsqueak volcano.

The Dom Post looks at the UK election:

On May 6, they must decide if they want another five years under Labour, and Prime Minister Gordon Brown, or to throw in their lot with his rivals, the Tories’ David Cameron or the Liberal Democrats’ Nick Clegg. Until last week, opinion polls showed the Conservatives at or about 38 per cent, Labour about 31 per cent and the Lib Dems on about 20 per cent. Things changed markedly, however, last Friday.

That was when party leaders engaged in the first of three live TV debates, a first in Britain. Opinion polls since show a remarkable shift. This week, a Populus poll for The Times, for example, showed Mr Clegg’s party had risen 10 points in a week to 31 per cent, Labour down five on 28 per cent, and the Tories down four on 32 per cent.

The latest daily YouGov poll has Conservative 34%, Lab 29%, Lib Dems 28%. This would give Labour the most seats.

Even if the Lib Dems do not do major damage to the Tories on May 6, Mr Cameron’s party reportedly needs a national swing greater than any modern leader has achieved, in order to win even a single-seat majority.

It will be tough for them to get a majority, rather than just a plurality.

The ODT fights for Dunedin Hospital:

The threats to Dunedin Hospital and consequently to Dunedin itself, the Dunedin School of Medicine and the people of the South keep recurring.

Dunedin regularly has to staff the ramparts and fight for its hospital’s advanced status and that battle might soon begin again. Neurosurgery services, so often threatened in the past, are under fire with proposals that all six South Island neurosurgeons be based in Christchurch. …

As Dunedin School of Medicine dean Dr John Adams said this month, the loss of neurology has the potential to affect the whole teaching environment.

The service deals with about 350 patients a year, including scheduled surgery and, most significantly, emergency treatment. In accident situations, for example, it is a very long way from Te Anau or Invercargill to Christchurch, even by helicopter, when half an hour can be crucial to survival.

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Editorials 8 April 2010

April 8th, 2010 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald calls for transparency over MPs legal expenses:

Taxpayers have a right to know how their dollars are being spent. That includes the allowances paid to the country’s parliamentarians for accommodation or travel, as some MPs have learned to their discomfort over the past year or so. It should also include the use of public money to cover legal costs when parliamentarians are sued. …

Clearly, there are occasions when it is legitimate for MPs’ legal bills to be paid with public money. Parliamentarians should act vigorously on behalf of their constituents. …

Yet but for the publication of documents by the New Zealand Herald and an admission by Dr Smith of the use of some public funding, taxpayers would have been none the wiser about either of the requests for reimbursement or their granting or denial.

The Prime Minister, John Key, said yesterday that taxpayers were entitled to know that money from the public kitty was being used for MPs’ legal costs, and that he would be open to such information being made public. That is a refreshing outlook, and one that indicates Mr Key is fully aware of the harsh spotlight on MPs’ expenses and allowances, both here and in Britain.

As I blogged, I’d include it in the six monthly expense reports.

The Dominion Post also wants more transparency, but around a health spending scandal:

Unacceptable. There is no other word for the situation that police claim has developed with Waikanae’s Te Runanga O Te Ati Awa Ki Whakarongotai, its health-provider arm Hora Te Pai and Capital & Coast District Health Board.

Stripped to its essentials, the police allege that money that was meant to be spent improving health has been siphoned off into other areas.

Regardless of the final outcome of the police inquiries, that is no way to manage $590,000 of taxpayers’ money. It is public money, and the handling of it should be transparent, with the details of where it is or what it has been spent on readily available.

I agree. Phil Kitchin does an invaluable job in expsoing their spending scandals. But we should not have to rely on him.

As I have said previously, I’d do what some US states do and have the entire cheque register for the Government put online. People could then file OIAs about spending that looks dodgy.

The Press says the dam decision is a close call:

The benefits from building a hydro dam on the Mokihinui River, north of Westport, are obvious.

It would, by using a resource that on the West Coast is endlessly renewable, give the region enough electricity to power 45,000 homes.

The dam would not only supply most of the region’s electricity needs in an undeniably carbon-zero way, it would also end the reliance on a long and vulnerable transmission line that brings the area’s present power supply from the Waitaki. Supply would not only be more secure, it would be more efficient and West Coast electricity prices, at present some of the highest in the country, would be lower.

Which is why many locals support it.

The proposal would require a 85-metre high, 300m wide dam across the river that would create a narrow, 14 kilometre long lake covering 340 hectares. Meridian says that the impact would be minor and it has made a considerable effort to make sure they are kept to a minimum. No endangered species are threatened, it says. In addition, the resource consents Meridian has received have more than 200 conditions attached to them to further reduce the impact. Nonetheless, according to the objectors, a precious, irreplaceable part of the landscape will be irretrievably changed. …

But the country cannot afford to have decisions like this one made on emotion and sentiment. Electricity demand is growing by 2 per cent a year, equivalent to the needs of a city the size of Dunedin. The two-to-one vote on this scheme shows that the commissioners’ approval was not easily arrived at but it was made, as it must be under the Resource Management Act, after rigorously detached consideration of all the arguments. In this case the commissioners decided the development’s impact on the environment are not bad enough to block the project.

I’ve blogged on this separately also.

And the ODT looks at Easter trading:

Parliament, as it so often does, tried to design a horse with its legislative provisions controlling private enterprise during Easter, and instead produced a camel.

A particulary stupid camel, that has a limp.

There is nothing about the regulations that can in 2010 be considered just and necessary, let alone reflective of contemporary society.

The creation of geographic exemptions to trading on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, meaning some places can open their doors while others must close – backed by farcically small penalties – is simply unjustly partial. …

The Muldoon National government passed the legislation in 1980 which provided for shops to be open on Saturdays, and also broadened the range of heavily restricted goods able to be sold on Sundays.

The world did not come to a halt as a result; indeed, apart from the predictable complaints from the unions, the public in general welcomed the measure, which also signalled the decade’s major social change – the end of the five-day, 40-hour working week.

And one day when we have sensible laws around Easter, we will look back with bemusement over how long it took us to do it.

It is time for the matter to be settled and the only way that will happen is to abandon the so-called “personal vote” in Parliament and achieve suitable legislation by way of a Government Bill.

Whether John Key’s administration has the fortitude to do so, or is prepared to risk the undoubted wrath of church and union, is arguable: Mr Key agrees the present regulations are a shambles and would like them to be liberalised, and he has voted accordingly in the past.

It is time for a national solution: declaring Easter Sunday to be a public holiday would protect workers’ wage levels, and sending a Bill to a select committee would ensure public opinion – more accurately reflecting the times in which we live rather than electorate pressure on individual MPs – could be canvassed.

I’m a big supporter of change, and have myself mooted a trade off of making all of Easter public holidays in exchange for removign the trading restrictions.

But I am reluctant to have this become a party whipped issue. I think MPs should have freedom of choice on this.

Having said that, I note that Labour have almost adoped a party line on the issue, so maybe in time National will also.

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The Mokihinui Gorge dam

April 8th, 2010 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Commissioners who gave the green light to an 80m-high hydro dam in the Mokihinui Gorge north of Westport were overwhelmed by the gorge’s natural beauty, but said there were other equally beautiful gorges in the area.

John Lumsden, a civil engineer, and West Coast councillor Terry Archer outvoted fellow hearings commissioner Greg Ryder to say yes to the dam – the largest flooding of conservation land for hydro power ever proposed in New Zealand.

Explaining why they gave consent, the pair said: “If the Mokihinui River were to be considered in isolation, it would be difficult not to form the view that to build a dam and flood to gorge would be a travesty.

“When we walked through several sections … we could not help but be overwhelmed by its natural beauty.”

But they said that beauty was not unique on the West Coast, or even in the Buller District.

The renewable electricity the dam generated would give locals a more reliable power supply and take a load off fossil-fuelled power stations during dry years, they said.

This is the challenge facing NZ. If we want to have more renewable energy supply, then we need more dams. Yet, a dam has an environmental impact also.

What would people rather have – another coal powered power station, that only impacts a small area (yet releases huge amounts of greenhouse gases), or a renewable power hydro dam which impacts a larger area?

Some in the environmental movement are against all new energy projects. But that is a recipie for blackouts in a few years.

I’ve don’t know enough about Mokihinui to say whether the Commissioners made the right decision or not. But my challange to those who say it should not go ahead, is to specify an alternate location on the West Coast for a new power station.

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Councils lose money now if late

February 19th, 2010 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Colin Espiner writes:

Regional councils charging late fees for rates payments are about to get some of their own medicine.

Environment Minister Nick Smith has outlined details of “financial incentives” for councils who fail to process resource consent applications within the statutory 20 days.

Under the changes, which the Government wants in place by July, councils that are up to a week late in processing a resource consent must provide a discount of 25 per cent of their fee. A further 5 per cent discount will be added for every week the consent is delayed, up to a maximum of 80 per cent.

An excellent initiative. Councils, like most organisations, respond to incentives. The threat of reduced income should lead to greater efforts to process consents within the legal time period.

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Jeanette on Factory Farms

December 23rd, 2009 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Jeanette responds to Federated Farmers:

Federated Farmers thinks Green co-leader Dr Russel Norman and I have different opinions on herd homes and factory farms.

However, Russel and I both have visited a herd home and have the same opinion on their benefits. We both oppose the factory farming proposals in the Mackenzie Country.

Herd homes are open, light and airy and the cows are free to move around. They are not used 24/7. Even in filthy weather the cows are outside for at least the four hours it takes them to eat their daily ration of fresh grass.

Then they are off the paddock, protecting the soil from pugging in wet weather and sheltering in the herd home where they have a ration of hay or silage to eat at will. When the weather is fine and the soil reasonably dry, the cows are outside all the time. Using a herd home as part of a pastoral farm results in much less nitrous oxide emissions from the wet soil. …

The factory farms being applied for in the Mackenzie Basin are the opposite. The cows will be indoors 24 hours a day for eight months, perhaps in cubicles most of the time. All feed will be brought to them, so it will require additional energy to produce and transport.

The Mackenzie Basin is a place where for much of the year no feed can be grown locally and the weather is inhospitable for cows.

On Twitter, Federated Farmers argues that it is the “principal” (I think they mean principle) that matters, not the scale. They’re wrong: it’s both.

I am amused that Jeanette responds to a tweet on Twitter with a column in the NZ Herald!

Environmentally, scale can be everything. 180 cows might have a manageable impact on water quality, but 18,000 cows is a different ball-game. It is precisely the scale of dairying in New Zealand – the sheer numbers of cows, the intensity of stocking rates, and the resulting effluent and emissions – that is turning what used to be seen as a “clean green” wholesome industry into a major polluter.

It’s also the principle. Farming outdoor cows (that occasionally go indoors) is fundamentally different to a factory of indoor cows (that occasionally go outdoors). Animal welfare is an issue of principle, not scale – farm animals should live meaningful lives on farms, not in factories.

We agree with Fonterra and Forest & Bird that intensive dairying is completely unsuitable in the fragile Mackenzie Country. We also agree with the Prime Minister that factory farming threatens to undermine our competitive advantage from our grass-fed, World SPCA-approved, clean and green dairy farming. We agree with the Otago tourism and residents’ organisations that have called factory farming in the Mackenzie ‘insanity’. It’s a recipe for disaster. The principle is all wrong and the scale makes it worse still.

The debate continues!

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Great column on trees

September 10th, 2009 at 9:07 am by David Farrar

Graeme Platt is an ecologist and sums up the trees issue:

The fundamental provocateurs in the conflict are entirely those who possess no trees, imposing their will on people who do. Responsible property owners deeply resent being patronised with edicts on how they should manage their personal tree assets to support the nebulous concept of the common good.

Hear hear.

It’s vital to be aware that a blend of diligent toil by six generations of dedicated Auckland landowners, and the city’s unique maritime climate, have combined to create one of the most diverse collections of trees to be found anywhere on earth.

Auckland’s leafy suburbs constitute a sprawling world-class botanical garden and unique urban forest. The climate of Auckland is a convergence of tropical and temperate elements that allow a wide range of trees to grow together in a way rarely, if ever, encountered elsewhere.

Auckland’s spectacular urban forest of shady trees was created in an atmosphere of complete freedom, unhindered by the slightest hint of bureaucratic dictate and compliance. Generations of landowners and Auckland gardeners were free to grow whatever tree they wanted, wherever they wanted, and manage them as they saw fit.

An era of freedom soon to return.

Regardless of its noble intent, the introduction of laws to control the rights of landowners and the gardening public was fundamentally flawed, to such an extent that it all but killed overnight the market for large shady trees in the nursery trade. Once landowners and gardeners lost the freedom to manage their trees, people ceased planting them. It is now nearly two decades since the demand for large shade-producing trees was destroyed by regulation, with disastrous effect on the on-going development of the city’s urban tree asset.

It is a classic case of unintended consequences. By aiming to “protect” trees, they have driven homeowners away from planting trees.

The good news is the RMA reforms passed their third reading last night. Labour battled for the right of the tree stasi, but to their credit did vote for the overall package at third reading. Only Greens and Maori Party voted against.

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NZ Herald on trees

September 9th, 2009 at 9:19 am by David Farrar

A Herald editorial:

Tree protectors have done their case no favours by fudging the issue on which they object to one of the Government’s imminent changes to the Resource Management Act. They have implied that trees in parks and coastal reserves are at risk. They are not. The Resource Management Amendment Bill specifically protects trees on public reserves. The real issue is the protection of urban trees on private property.

In other words trees owned by a homeowner, that are on a homeowner’s property.

Indeed, well-established trees may be valued more highly by the neighbourhood than by the latest owner of the property. It has therefore been deemed reasonable that the property owner should need the consent of the community’s representatives before destroying a feature of its skyline.

What the Herald overlooks though is that people will not plant trees as much, if they need the “community’s consent” to trim or fell it in future.

Rules governing the urban environment should be left for local councils to decide. The Government is grossly overstepping its responsibilities. The Prime Minister says we are “not going to see some sort of chainsaw massacre – councils can protect trees through individual notifications.” If he believes that, he is dreaming. When he wakes up, he will wonder where all the foliage has gone.

Every other local body in New Zealand, except those in Auckland, manages fine without blanket protection orders.

The reality is that eventually most applications to trim or fell get granted anyway – 98% is the figure I have read. So getting rid of the blanket rule will mean they can trim or fell their own trees without the not inconsiderable cost and delays.

For the 2% that were not given consent, they can be listed individually.

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