Winston and Don in a tree …

April 11th, 2016 at 2:15 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Don Brash and Winston Peters formed an unlikely alliance today in protest against what they believe is “preferential treatment” for Maori in new planning laws.

The two men, once sworn enemies, united in criticism of proposals to change the way iwi are consulted in the resource consent process.

Dr Brash, the former National Party leader, was making a submission on Resource Management Act (RMA) reforms on behalf of Auckland-based lobby group Democracy Action.

He said radical reforms of the RMA would do more than any other single measure to improve New Zealanders’ standard of living.

However, the National-led Government’s proposals were “pitifully limited” and “barely scratched the surface of what was needed”.

The “cost” of progressing these “modest changes” was a significant expansion of iwi rights, he claimed. The bill would “vastly extend” Maori involvement in the planning process by requiring councils to invite Maori to enter into what are known as “iwi participation agreements”.

“This is surely a recipe for further delay, for corruption and for anger on the part of the rest of the community,” Dr Brash said.

His old party had persisted with the changes despite being offered a “vastly better alternative” by Mr Peters.

The New Zealand First leader has offered to support broader RMA reforms in exchange for removing any iwi-specific provisions. It was “incomprehensible” that Mr Peters’ offer was not taken up, Dr Brash said.

Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox was one of several committee members to challenge Dr Brash.

She asked what he thought of the Waitangi Tribunal’s recent ruling that Maori did not cede sovereignty when they signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.

“Very briefly, bollocks,” Dr Brash said, prompting a chuckle from Mr Peters.

The New Zealand First leader then sought permission for Dr Brash to have his time limit extended, saying the iwi rights debate was “the biggest issue the Government will face this term”.

The motion was denied, but the two men later continued their conversation in a pub on Lambton Quay.

Strange bedfellows in politics.

I share the concern that the proposed law changes will have unfortunate consequences. If National can get NZ First to agree to broader reforms that would be a good thing.


Photo (and caption) sent in by a reader.

More planning inflexibility

January 29th, 2016 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Palmerston North resident Gary Sturgess cannot believe how much red tape there is over a kitchen sink.

The particular sink is part of downstairs rooms at his Ruahine St home where 21-year-old granddaughter Georgia Garrett, who has Down syndrome, is learning independent living skills while under the same roof as mother Tania, aunt Jacqui and granddad Gary.

The family bought the house 2½ years ago, having chosen to live together after a difficult year when Sturgess’ wife Valerie had died.

The home had everything to enable three adults and a teenager to live together for support, while each had private space, a bathroom and somewhere to prepare a cup of tea or basic meal.

But a few months after purchase, a letter from the city council told them the two downstairs units did not have planning consent.

Sturgess was taken by surprise, and appalled by the initial estimates of the cost of putting things right.

There was the possibility of having to provide two extra car parks on site for each unit, additional outdoor living space, paying development contributions – adding up to about $12,000. Alternatively, the sinks could be disconnected. Landscaping plans went on hold.

This is just idiotic. If they want to have a house with only one car park for three people they should be able to. And why does the Council care how many sinks you have?

Sturgess said when buying the house, the family had no reason to question whether the kitchen sinks were consented. There was no sink in Georgia’s flat when they first looked, but there had been in the past, and the vendor offered to put it back in for them.

“We thought that would make it perfect for Georgia, given her desire to go flatting one day.”

They had sought a Land Information Management report before purchase, and no red flags were raised.

That is unusual. The LIM should list any consent issues.

Policy planner Matthew Mackay said submitters had challenged the rule about just one extra self-contained unit on a residential property, and there was a possibility of more flexibility being written into the District Plan after a hearing this year.

That would be good.

The neighbour from hell

January 23rd, 2016 at 8:25 am by David Farrar

Anthony Hubbard writes in Stuff:

Not all neighbours are nice. David Walmsley, for instance, built a giant “play fort” on his Roseneath property and blocked the grand harbour view of the people next door, Peter and Sylvia Aitchison.

The fence was 4m high and 11m long.

The Environment Court has now ordered Walmsley to take the fence down. Any other verdict was, frankly, unthinkable. Walmsley has shown that he is the neighbour from hell.

Judge Brian Dwyer said the Aitchisons had established their case by an overwhelming margin.

I’m glad the judge ruled the way he did.

It is very clear that Walmsley didn’t even want a play fort. For some reason he just wanted to screw over his neighbours and destroy their view.

The judge said Walmsley’s claim that he was building a fort, not a fence was “just a contrivance” to get around the rules. And he criticised Walmsley’s attitude, his “deliberate refusal to consider any remedy”.

How right the judge was.

Not only did Walmsley build this monstrosity, he was utterly unapologetic about it. He felt no need to consider its effects on the neighbours, he told the court in Wellington this week.

“So you don’t have to have regard to what affects them?” the Aitchisons’ lawyer Andrew Cameron asked. “Pretty much, yeah,” Walmsley said.

“So it was too bad for the Aitchisons?” Cameron asked. Walmsley replied: “I think, yeah, pretty much if it blocked their view. It’s not necessarily too bad, and it’s something to be expected.”

The impact on the Aitchisons was two-fold. The first was it knocked around $900,000 off the value of their property. Now I don’t know their background, but I imagine like most families they’ve worked hard all their lives to be able to afford their house. Suddenly losing $900,000 of value could represent all your work for the last 10 to 12 years – just gone like that.

But the arguably bigger impact is the loss of the view. Views are important. They are a big part of why people buy a particular house. They can be incredibly soothing. Your home goes from a place of relaxation to a place of enclosure.

So what happens next? The Wellington City Council needs to take a lesson from this case. It originally gave permission for the fence, but later reversed itself and backed the Aitchisons’ application to the court to have the fence lowered.

The council should be embarrassed that it got things so badly wrong in the first place.

It certainly needs to make sure this never happens again. Any District Plan that allows such a thing is insane.

It is very rare I agree entirely with an Anthony Hubbard column, but I do with this one.

Good radical thinking from LGNZ

December 17th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Richard Harman at Politik reports:

The country’s local bodies are proposing a radical reform of the country’s planning and environment laws.

In short they are calling for either reducing the authority of the resource Management Act or scrapping it altogether.

In a so-called “Blue Skies” document released yesterday Local Government New Zealand offers two stages of reforms.

The second stage proposed scrapping the Resource Management Act, the Land Transport Act and the Local Government Act and their replacement by two new pieces of legislation.

The Councils say the current program of RMA reforms is encouraging and moving in a positive direction. 

But the Councils believe even the current reforms may not be enough.

So they are proposing three options:

  • Blending the land use, infrastructure planning and funding components of the Local Government Act, the RMA and Land Transport Management Act into a single Planning Act and creating a separate Environment Act. 
  • Or – Retaining the three acts but installing overarching planning legislation that  sets the regional strategic direction and the high-level parameters within which the acts are to operate.
  • Or – Changing financial signals to promote sustainable decision making that integrates economic and environmental outcomes. 

Because the last option could require substantial finance, it is the least likely to be agreed to. 

But the other two options slot neatly into the current review of the three acts by the Productivity Commission. 

I like the idea of a Environment Act and Planning Act.

Well done Labour – backing RMA reform

December 2nd, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The Government’s resource management law changes have won Labour’s initial backing.

Environment Minister Nick Smith announced the proposed changes last week but backed away from National’s initial plan to amend the main principle clauses of the Resource Management Act (RMA) to give economic considerations greater weight.

The Government was forced to make concessions to the Maori Party, including a requirement to consult iwi “at the front end” of council planning through Iwi Participation Agreements, to get the numbers to send the Bill to a select committee.

But Labour’s new environment spokesman David Parker on Tuesday said Labour would also back the law through to the select committee stage.

“We have always said we would support sensible process improvements to the RMA. We are pleased National lost the battle to undermine the core environmental protections in the Act. These process changes are modest and will do little to fix the causes of the housing crisis. But they will have some positive impacts around the margins,” he said.

The reforms don’t go far enough, but they are another small step into a better direction.

A cunning RMA plan?

August 18th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Richard Harman at Politik reports:

The Government has found a way of over-riding local authority planning regulations.

It is planning on forcing local bodies to take commercial viability into account when they are drawing up district plans and granting consents. .

The proposal replaces earlier hopes that the Resource Management Act would be able to be amended to take economic matters into account in planning.

The Government does not have the numbers to pass that legislation.

In essence the new proposal will give builders and property developers a say in whether a Council plan could actually work.

And it will not require legislation. …

Mr Smith is proposing to capitalise on a Supreme Court Decision last year that said that a National Policy Standard (NPS), a little used device provided for in the Resource Management Act, “trumped” other sections of the Act.

That meant that if a planning requirement was in an NPS then that superseded any requirement a local authority might try and impose.

“It becomes another lever that makes the equation basically more sympathetic to providing for growth.”

So he is proposing that there be an NPS on urban development.

Excellent idea, if it works. This could be very important.

Environment Minister Nick Smith told POLITIK last night that the proposal arose out of the independent panels reviewing both the Auckland Unitary and the Christchurch District Plans.

The panels found that it was commercially viable to build only about a third of the houses that the planners claimed their plans allowed.

Mr Smith said planners living in an ideal world imposed requirements on things like setbacks, yard sizes and stud heights.

“But every time you add one of those rules you impact on the overall cost of the development,” he said.

“And the bit the planners don’t get is that you can’t force someone to do a development.

“They will only do it if it is commercially viable.

“Lots of those rules that get put in end up making these plans unviable.”

It is a tension we see often – the idealistic bureaucratic view vs the commercial reality.

RMA changes needed to speed up fibre deploy

June 2nd, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Chorus, the regulated telecommunications network operator, has called on the government to enact changes to the Resource Management Act to speed fibre rollout to multi-unit properties and those with shared driveways, which currently takes six times longer than for stand-alone homes.

The median time to complete a fibre installation in a simple property, such as a stand-alone house, representing 80-to-85 percent of builds, was 18 days, chief executive Mark Ratcliffe told a briefing in Wellington today.

More problematic were more complex builds, with multi-dwelling unit installations taking a median 130 calendar days and a property down a shared right-of-way taking 110 days.

Ratcliffe said the major delays caused in the consenting process came from Chorus having to find neighbours to confirm they didn’t object to the build, or from ongoing disputes between neighbours or third parties.

“The best role the government could play is help with the consenting stuff, that’s the one thing the industry can’t sort out on its own,” he said.

“We’ve got a pool of properties where consents have been refused, and the way that those work at the moment, we don’t get back to those for another six months, otherwise there’s just more cost involved.”

I support RMA changes in this area. Neighbours shouldn’t be able to say no to a fibre installation any more than they should be able to stop power or water to a house.

Will the RMA be split in two?

April 13th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Richard Harman writes:

Environment Minister Nick Smith is floating the idea of splitting the Resource Management in two.

One Act would deal with urban planning issues and the other with non urban resource and environmental management.

Not a bad idea. What do others say?

But the proposal actually comes from a former Massey University Professor of resource and Environmental Planning, Phil McDermott.

It is being promoted by the former ACT MP, Muriel Newman, who heads the libertarian New Zealand Centre for Political Research.

Mr McDermott proposes that the Government “separate environmental stewardship from responsibility for development” rewriting the RMA so that it focuses on protecting what is important in the natural environment. 

“At the same time, the Local Government Act can be streamlined as a better means for communities to influence development,” he says.

So have the RMA focus on the environment and the Local Government Act on urban development?

Mr Smith got some unexpected support at the Forum from Fish and Game’s Bob Johnson,  Infrastructure New Zealand’s Stephen Sellwood and veteran environmentalist  Guy Salmon who all attended the session and who complained  about the difficulty the RMA had covering urban housing issues using the same fundamental criteria as it did for non-urban environmental issues.

Mr Sellwood said it was his view that the RMA was broken  and that we needed to think of much more substantive reform.

He said that it had turned the planning process into a complex litigious process.

“Planning should be a positive thing,” he said.

“Of course we need to protect the environment.

“But why are we the only nation in the world that tries to do all of this (planning and environmental protection) in one place?”

Mr Salmon took up the theme.

“The idea that we are the only country in the OECD that has tried to combine a planning act and  environmental act together — I think Geoffrey Palmer made a mistake in doing that,” he said.

“We are now finding that it isn’t working that well/.

Good food for thought.

Harman has a link at the bottom of his piece to the proposal by McDermott and others.

A lizard management plan!

March 23rd, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

This is almost too bizarre to be true, but sadly it is. Duncan Garner writes:

This is a tale of a breath-taking rip-off.

It’s about a decent hard-working guy merely trying to build a house.

He is being gouged financially as part of the planning and consent process.

It’s no wonder we have a nationwide housing shortage when these sorts of disgraces are taking place.

The details:

This house construction was supposed to have started months ago at a site that needed some native bush and vegetation cleared. An arborist was called in and prepared a report.

But the local council then elevated it and demanded a whole new plan including an “ecological assessment of any likely/potential adverse effects caused by the clearance”.

Officials also wanted a restoration plan outlining what “supplementary planting” and “weed management” would take place.

Remember this aspiring home owner actually owns the land he is building on.

The council said this must include “subcontracting a lizard specialist to assess whether a lizard management plan would also be needed”. Sorry? A what?

Officials needed to know whether lizards or native geckos exist at the property . . . and whether their lives are in danger.

The work for this new plan would be $3000 plus GST. The cost of the lizard survey was extra – and estimated to be about $1600.

A lizard management plan. Is there a better example of the culture problem that exists at so many councils.

Under local planning rules and the Resource Management Act he must consult with local iwi groups.

They must be notified of his plan to cut down some of the native bush.

All six interested iwi groups have to be contacted.

Some of these iwi groups live hundreds of kilometres away from the building site, but have historical connections to the area.

Three of these groups have so far asked for initial site visits.

These don’t come cheap either. One of the iwi is charging $240 an hour, plus travel costs (and excluding GST).

This iwi goes on to say should a proper cultural impact assessment be needed they will provide the details of the costs involved.

Another iwi group say they see the trees as “taonga in need of protection from climate change, disease and ongoing development and they generally oppose the removal or felling of native trees”.

They also want an initial site visit to assess whether a wider cultural assessment is needed – but the kaitiaki (guardian) can’t do it till April.

Again this is bush on his land.

Apparently some bloke turned up for lizard patrol one night with a torch, barely knowing what he was looking for – and found nothing.

So far they’ve found one lizard in total – 500 metres away from the building site!

I’m sorry, this is a sick joke. It’s a rort and hard-working people are being ripped off.

Yes, we need planning rules and a consent process. But the RMA has created a cottage industry of outrageous ripoffs in the name of cultural political correctness.

This particular consent has been held up for months because iwi groups are gaming the system.

Councils are clearly misinterpreting the law and too many groups have too much power over private property.

This is an abuse of the system. It may be legal but it’s not right.

Government ministers need to read this and do something about it.

Well a major RMA reform bill is before Parliament. But if Northland votes for Winston Peters on Saturday, then the reform will fail (in its current form) and the status quo will continue.

Hickey on RMA

January 26th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Bernard Hickey writes:

I recently had the joy of watchingMonty Python and the Holy Grailfor the umpteenth time.

Among the many hilarious moments are the “knights who say Ni!”. They are a tribe who stop travellers in their tracks.

They demand sacrifices to allow people to pass. They are exceptionally good at chanting Ni! and the mere sound of the word strikes fear into all who hear it.

I laughed because I have known many knights who say Ni!

They are the people who always say no.

They know how to make submissions under the Resource Management Act to stop something happening.

They are the council officials who stop you building a deck or demand an outrageous fee to build a basement.

The modern day knights who say Ni! are the Nimbys (Not In My Back Yard) and Bananas (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything) who have used the RMA and innumerable plan changes to stop things happening anywhere near them, or to force any development into such a box that it benefits the neighbours more than the occupants.

The RMA knights who say no have been a shadowy tribe until now and it’s been hard to pin much damage to the economy on them.

A great analogy.

Housing and Environment Minister Nick Smith has the Nimbys and Bananas squarely in his sights and has ammunition to argue that 25 years of knights saying no in the forest of the RMA have been damaging.

This week, he cited a study of Auckland developments to show RMA rules, delays and uncertainties added $30 billion to the cost of building and reduced new housing stock by 40,000 in the past decade.

His speech proposing a 10-point rewrite of the RMA cited numerous examples where RMA madness had stopped owners developing their properties, such as:

A medical centre had to spend $57,000 on fees and consultants to get approval for seven new bike stands costing $35 each.


Property developer Sir Bob Jones had to consult 13 iwi and pay $4500 for a resource consent to replace a ground floor window.

A primary school had to spend $100,000 to be redesignated a secondary school, even though the buildings and grounds were not changing.

The study estimated the cost of regulations in a subdivision at up to $60,000 a house and up to $110,000 an apartment.

Smith’s plans for RMA reforms are rightly focused on improving housing supply and affordability. They are also rightly focused on stripping away the magical powers and mystique of the Nimby knights who say No! and who damage the economy and a younger generation locked out of the housing market.

We know the Greens will oppose the RMA changes. But will Labour? This could be a big test for them.

RMA reform

January 23rd, 2015 at 4:52 am by David Farrar

Nick Smith announced earlier this week:

Dr Smith today also released an independent report by Motu Economic and Public Policy Research – commissioned by the Treasury and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment – into the impacts of planning rules, regulations, uncertainty and delay in residential property development.
The report concludes that the RMA is adding an extra $30,000 to the cost of an apartment, an extra $15,000 to the cost of a home, and that it is reducing the capacity of housing development by 22 per cent.
“This report is consistent with the conclusions of the Productivity Commission and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in highlighting the high administrative burden of our system of environmental regulations, but also adds new information by estimating the actual cost of its flaws. It indicates that over the last decade, the RMA has added $30 billion to the cost of building and reduced new housing stock by 40,000 homes,” Dr Smith says.

So the time has come to make significant changes I hope.

Dr Smith outlined ten major changes the Government would be including in its second phase of reforms in 2015:

  • Add natural hazards
  • Recognise urban planning
  • Prioritise housing affordability
  • Acknowledge importance of infrastructure
  • Greater weight to property rights
  • National planning templates
  • Speed up plan-making
  • Encouraging collaborative resolution
  • Strengthening national tools
  • Internet for simplicity and speed

Pleasing to see that so far there has been support from the Auckland Council and Local Government NZ for the changes.

The question will be whether they will do enough. The greater weight to property rights and prioritisation of housing affordability look the most promising.

Crampton on child poverty

October 3rd, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Eric Crampton writes at Interest:

Prime Minister John Key signalled last week that child poverty is to be one of his priorities for the coming term. Too many children in New Zealand grow up in families with very little disposable income. Poverty has traditionally been an issue captured by the political left, with demands for more redistribution to solve the problem. Inequality too has captured a fair bit of attention, despite strong evidence that income inequality has not really changed much since a rise in the late 1980s and early 1990s: the trend has been flat for two decades.

Even more surprisingly, data from the Ministry of Social Development shows that real household income growth in the lowest deciles has been very strong, both from 1994 to 2013, and from 2004 to 2013. The poorest decile in 2013 has real household income 40% higher than the poorest decile in 1994. And from 2004 through 2013, real household income growth was strongest for the lowest four deciles than for the richest six deciles.

Inconvenient data!

So why has poverty, and especially child poverty, seemed so much more pressing?

The Ministry of Social Development data, cited above, measures real household incomes before housing costs. And housing costs have been rising. MSD reports that 23% of children aged 0-17 live in the poorest quintile of households (the bottom 20%): they’re slightly over-represented, when disposable household income is counted before housing costs. But when we take incomes after housing costs, 27% of children live in the poorest quintile: high housing costs disproportionately affect poorer children. Forty-two percent of households in the poorest quintile spend more than 30% of their income on housing; only 9% of the richest quintile do.

While child poverty is lower than it was in the early 1990s (even after housing costs) and child poverty rates are now back to levels comparable to those prior to the Great Financial Crisis, they remain substantially higher than they were in the 1980s. Housing costs substantially affect disposable incomes at the bottom of the distribution.

Housing unaffordability is consequently a substantial part of New Zealand’s child poverty problem. When poor households have to spend 30%, 40%, or even 50% of their incomes on housing, there simply is not much left to pay for anything else. And so spots of bad luck, like a car breakdown or an unexpected expense, can quickly become major issues.
So the biggest victims of the artificial restrictions Councils have placed on land use, are the poor. Allowing Auckland to build both upwards and outwards would be a great step in reducing child poverty.

Tree prosecutions unwarranted

September 2nd, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Kapiti Coast District Council’s prosecution of two elderly Otaki couples for trimming native trees was “inappropriate”, and “fell short of what was needed”, according to an independent review.

“The overall criminality was minimal,” the report, commissioned by the council from Wellington QC Richard Fowler, says.

“A mere warning would probably have been the most appropriate, or at worst an infringement notice.”

The council laid charges against Peter and Diana Standen, 77 and 74, and Keith and Lorraine McLeavey, 72 and 68, last year for modifying naturally occurring native trees on their properties. It withdrew them when an Environment Court judge dismissed charges against the McLeaveys as “trivial offending”.

This was a Council at its zealous worse. Of course they should not have been prosecuted. In fact there shouldn’t even be any restrictions on what home owners can do with trees they own on their properties – unless the trees are of outstanding heritage value.

Govt doesn’t have the numbers for RMA reform

May 20th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Government coalition partners have successfully stopped an overhaul of planning laws.

The Maori Party and UnitedFuture MP Peter Dunne teamed up to oppose reforms of the Resource Management Act (RMA), saying it placed economic growth ahead of environmental protection.

National needed either party’s vote to get the legislation over the line.

This afternoon, Prime Minister John Key confirmed negotiations had stalled and he had “parked up” the reforms until after the general election in September.

“I think it is very unlikely we will introduce the RMA bill before the election,” he said.

“I think we will campaign on what we want to do and see what the makeup [of Parliament] looks like, whether we are the Government after the election. I’ve decided to park it up.”

This is very disappointing as further reform is definitely needed. But a reality of MMP, that governments do not always get the numbers.

Hopefully the election will deliver a result that will allow the RMA reforms to proceed, so that it strikes a better balance.

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.

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”.


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.

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.

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?

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.

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..

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.