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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Silly justifications for tree law

September 7th, 2009 at 6:15 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Homeowners whose trees are illegally chopped down by neighbours will no longer be able to count on council help once a proposed law change likely to become final this week is passed.

What is not made clear is that only if the tree was protected, would the Council get involved anyway. And personalyl it is inane to try and justify a law that prevents a homeowner from trimming or felling their own trees, on the grounds that by banning homeowners from being able to fell their own trees, you also ban neighbours from felling your trees.

If there really is a problem with legions of neighbours sneaking onto properties in the middle of the night and chopping down trees, then deal with that problem directly – don’t pretend that the current law which imposes significant costs on homeowners with “protected” trees is the answer.

During a recent subdivision case, the Environment Court had accepted evidence that “quite a number” of people illegally chopped trees on someone else’s land to improve their views and/or sunlight, she said.

But few prosecutions were made because it was often difficult to prove who had done it “even when it was clear who would havebenefited”.

And in fact we find out that the number of times this law has actually helped a homeowner against tree cutting neighbours is so low you can probably count on one hand.

While the number of homeowners who have had to spend both money and time on getting permission to trim or chop their own trees is well into the thousands as I understand it – maybe tens of thousands.

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They are not your trees Brian

September 4th, 2009 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Brian Rudman writes:

So tell me again, and slowly: we have a Government that in one breath is trying to find a way to cut greenhouse gas emissions, yet in the next is fast-tracking a law declaring open season on every urban tree in the land.

Now you read that and you would think Rudman is talking about great swathes of urban forests  under threat. The Government is going to let developers destroy the Wellington Town Belt etc.

Alas the true story is far less exciting. What he Government is doing is allowing home owners to trim or chop down the trees they own on their private land. And even then, it is not absolute. They are merely saying that Councils have to have a valid reason to list individual trees as warranting protection, rather than list entire classes of trees.

So what this means is a homeowner will be able to chop down one of their own trees, or trim it, should they wish to do so. The thought this have any impact on carbon emissions is pathetically hysterical. We’re not talking hectares of forests here, but generally individual trees being trimmed or replaced.

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More hysteria

June 17th, 2009 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

No Right Turn cries out:

Not content with turning Auckland into a dictatorship to prepare it for National’s Wellington-imposed gerrymander, the government is now planning a wider assault on local government democracy, with Environment Minister Nick Smith threatening to appoint administrators to run eight councils if they don’t improve their handling of resource consents.

The Minister certainly has this power (the relevant section is s25 of the RMA), but it has never been used, and for obvious reasons. Local authorities are democratically elected and accountable to the people. Replacing them, even in the area of resource consent planning and processing, with an unelected administrator removes that accountability. It silences local voices and crushes local democracy. And that is simply not acceptable in a democratic society.

I always enjoy having a diehard supporter of the Electoral Finance Act talk about silencing voices and crushing democracy. I mean really.

Nowhere in the rant does Idiot/Savant offer any criticism of the Councils for the reason they are being threatened with Administrators. It is because they are consistently breaking the law and failing to process resource consents in time. Local bodies are not above the law, and frankly it would be a good thing for them to suffer consequences for sticking it to everday residents by not processing resource conensts within the time frame set out in law. This is not crushing local democracy – this is ensuring local Councils are not above the law.

Also NRT fails to grasp that the Minister has not appointed Administrators. He is using his power to do so as a threat, so that they improve their performance and start obeying the law. This is a good thing.

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Protest in Taranaki

March 24th, 2009 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The Maori Affairs minister has pledged support for a North Taranaki hapu as it continues to occupy land and hold up an oil company’s drilling project.

Last night about 25 members of the Otaraua hapu prepared for their second night blocking access to a site being used by Greymouth Petroleum for a new pipeline to Te Kowhai gasfield off Ngatimaru Rd at Tikorangi.

The hapu took over on Sunday after claims work would desecrate Tikorangi Pa, a waahi tapu (sacred) site, which is not protected by the district plan.

So why is it not protected:

New Plymouth District Council consents manager Ralph Broad said the site was not protected under the district plan because it had been left off a list of waahi tapu sites provided by local iwi and hapu.

So why is the company at fault? Why is no one asking questions of why the hapu did not include it on the list?

Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples said he was “deeply disappointed” by the situation and said Maori interests needed to be taken more seriously.

He said the company should have consulted with the hapu despite not legally being required to do so.

“It shows ignorance by the companies that they can go ahead without thinking. I would expect to see consultation with iwi,” he said.

With all due respect I disagree with Dr Sharples. It is primarily the role of the Council to consult with iwi and hapu (which they did) and mark on the distract plans areas of special significance. Only if a resource consent relates to one of those areas would you expect consultation. I don’t agree that each and every resource consent should require consultation – this is the whole purpose of the District Plan.

Hapu plans to take the issues to the environment court and seek an interim enforcement order to halt works that had been put off until today.

And that is the appropriate thing to do – more productive than protesting outside against a company that has obeyed the law.

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Why the RMA needed reform

March 21st, 2009 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Today’s NZ Herald editorial is a timely reminder of why the RMA needed reform:

When the supermarket chain Foodstuffs made the decision to establish a Pak ‘n Save on North Shore’s Wairau Rd, the internet had just been invented, cellphones were the size of bricks, Auckland’s boroughs were being amalgamated into four cities and the Resource Management Act had arrived.

Actually it was the Web that had just been invented, not the Internet.

So began a 20 year saga in the councils, courts and tribunals of environmental appeal that ended quietly on Wednesday’s deadline for an appeal against Foodstuffs’ latest consent. Finally its rival, Progressive Enterprises, appears to have given up.

Under the new proposed law, competitors can not use the Act to try and stop competition.

Whatever its commercial success, the supermarket will stand as a stark symbol of the follies of planning law that invites objections too widely and permits too many appeals. Applicants and objectors needs only a fair hearing and a decisive ruling. This case has been a disgrace.

It has been. Yet the Greens and Labour are against the new law.

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Alarmism

March 12th, 2009 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald has a scary headline:

Law changes could see open season on trees

This sounds very bad doesn’t it. And the opening paragraph:

Councils say they will not be able to stop people cutting down native bush and coastal pohutukawa in cities under planned changes to environment laws.

And this sounds even worse, It conjures up thoughts of scores of people maurading through cities choppng down native trees they don’t like. They even has this photo of a huge pohutukawa in a park.

heraldtree

But what is the law change really about. We see this in the third paragraph:

If the change goes ahead, landowners will be free to cut down any tree on their land unless it is listed in their council’s district plan.

So we have this misleading photo, headline and opening paragraph. What the law change is about is what citizens can do to the trees they own on the land they own.

A massive difference.

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Wind farm declined due to spiritual values

February 26th, 2009 at 11:27 am by David Farrar

Sigh. The Dom Post reports:

An application to build a wind farm near Napier has been declined for the second time by the Environment Court because the site is spiritually significant to Maori.

The Hawke’s Bay-based powerline company Unison applied to add 34 turbines to 15 already approved for a site on Te Waka Range near Te Pohue, on the Napier-Taupo Road. …

Unison was poor at consultation and appeared to have approached iwi as an afterthought. “We’re not opposed to wind farms, we understand the need for renewable energy,” she said. “But not on this site. This is our sacred mountain. We are duty-bound to protect it.”

I don’t think any mountain is sacred. I can understand the decision if the turbines were planned for say a burial place.

I can accept arguments over a mountain’s conservation or scenic values. I wouldn’t back wind turbines on Mt Cook for example. But arguments about a mountain’s spirtual values have no place in court.

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Ralston on National

February 22nd, 2009 at 9:02 am by David Farrar

Bill Ralston writes in the HoS:

Six months ago Labour was constantly telling us that John Key was weak, untrustworthy and devious, while his National Party was little more than a bunch of washed-up hacks, bereft of ideas and vision. “Slippery John”. “It’s all about trust”. Those were Labour’s chants.

It was a strategy aimed at destroying Key’s credibility and it almost worked but, despite their suspicions, enough voters closed their eyes, crossed their fingers and put their ticks on the ballot paper for National.

Having now discovered those fears were groundless we seem to be giving National the longest honeymoon any government has enjoyed.

I predict that in 2011 Labour’s campaign will not be the same as their 2008 one.

This surge in goodwill is driven by three things. The first is sheer relief. Relief that, despite Labour’s Chicken Little predictions, the sky did not fall when National came to power.

The second is that Key appears to be the ideal personification of the Government he leads. Yes, he can be a bit goofy at times.

If you don’t believe me check out the shot of him dancing with two transvestites at the Big Gay Out. That is definitely goofy. But if Helen Clark was cold and aloof, Key seems warm, natural and approachable.

Key seems that way because he is.

Daily we see news stories detailing some minister taking strong action on some problem that has long affected the country.

Amazingly, most of these actions are based on National’s election promises and they are being fulfilled. Even if you don’t agree with them all, it is somehow reassuring to see them doing what they promised to do.

The Government is very focused on keeping its promises. Hence calls for National to break its word and (for example) cancel tax cuts, or abolish the ETS are pretty futile.

Thanks to Nick Smith, once his changes to the RMA go through, I will never again have to apply for a Resource Consent to trim my garden, the council will not have to spend many hours pondering my botanical behaviour and the ratepayers of Auckland will not be wasting hundreds of dollars every time someone in this city wants to do some gardening.

Soumds like a win-win.

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Herald on RMA reform

February 4th, 2009 at 10:11 am by David Farrar

The Herald Editorial proclaims:

John Key said the recession added fresh urgency to the need for changes. In reality, however, these were overdue whatever the economic climate. In the 18 years since its well-intentioned introduction, the act has struggled to be a credible vehicle for genuinely sustainable resource use. Most fundamentally, the mechanisms for issuing consents have been too easily abused. Commercial rivals have used them to handicap competitors by lodging objections, neighbours have settled scores by refusing to consent to housing extensions and suchlike, and too many developers have been at the mercy of rival claimants to tangata whenua status and been charged excessive consultation fees. The upshot in all instances has been unacceptable costs and delays.

We have effectively flushed hundreds of millions of dollars down the drain due to consenting delays.

But, in one respect, Mr Key’s hands have been tied. Notably absent is a proposal to remove references to the Treaty of Waitangi and Maori cultural and spiritual values. It was part of National’s election manifesto but has fallen foul of the new relationship with the Maori Party. Now, somewhat lamely, the Government says the dropping of the Treaty clause has been rendered unnecessary by case law and improved practices.

Welcome to MMP. The jury will be out on this issue, until we see some cases under the revised law. If projects still face significant delays because of arguments over the “life-force” of a river, I won’t be too impressed.

Already, however, the Government has ventured into areas that its green-tinged predecessor would have avoided. In the main, it has trod carefully. In quick time, it has arrived at a better balanced and more consistent Resource Management Act.

It is all about balance, and I think the changes will have a significant impact on our economic growth – especially with the looming infrastructure spending.

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A challenge

February 3rd, 2009 at 9:07 pm by David Farrar
  1. Go read Phil Goff’s press release on National’s RMA changes
  2. Then decide whether or not Labour is for or against the said RMA changes.
  3. You may repeat step 1 as many times as you like, but you may find it doesn’t help you.
  4. Then state in the comments whether or not you think they are for or against.

Maybe Phil is intending to do a John Kerry – and be both against and for it!

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Stage One of the RMA Changes

February 3rd, 2009 at 5:53 pm by David Farrar

John Key and Nick Smith have announced details of the initial changes to the RMA. The bill will go to select committee in the normal way and is expected back in the House in August. What are the major changes:

  • Remove frivolous, vexatious and anti-competitive objections by increasing the fee for an appeal to the Environment Court from $55 to $500, and allow compensation to be awarded to a business where a competitor tries to use the RMA to delay competition. In my opinion the $500 filing fee is still remarkably considering some consents cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to achieve.
  • Streamlining processes for projects of national significance to allow national boards of inquiry to be formed, and a nine month deadline for decisions.
  • Creating an Environmental Protection Agency as an independent statutory body from the Ministry for the Environment.
  • Improving district plan development and changes by having the focus on issues rather than individual submissions, and allowing regional councils and TLAs to produce a combined RMA planning document.
  • Improving resource consent processes as only 56% of notified consents are processed on time. Councils will be required to reduce their fees when they do not process a consent within the legal timeframes.
  • Streamlining decision making by allowing applicants to choose independent commissioners instead of local body politicians – so long as they meet the cost.
  • Improving workability and compliance by increasing maximum fines from $200,000 to $600,000
  • Allow enforcement action to be taken against the Crown (currently exempt)
  • Improving national instruments with more use of national policy statements

Nick Smith also provides some examples of why we need RMA reform:

  • Wairau Pak’nSave – The proposal to develop a Pak’nSave supermarket on Wairau Road on the North Shore has been embroiled in litigation since the 1990s. Consents have been granted several times only to be appealed to higher courts, and although the supermarket building has been constructed, it is unable to operate due to ongoing litigation.
  • Long Bay Structure Plan – 12-year planning process characterised by disagreement between North Shore City Council and developer ended with Environment Court issuing a decision in favour of the council-proposed Structure Plan.
  • Whangamata Marina – Initially proposed in 1995, the Whangamata Marina proposal is still awaiting a final decision after the High Court directed the then Minister of Conservation to set his decision aside and reconsider the applications.
  • Crest Energy Marine Energy Project – After almost four years Crest Energy is awaiting an Environment Court hearing.
  • Alpurt B (Albany to Puhoi Realignment) State Highway One – RMA approvals took approximately 10 years from lodgement to completion.

Now what has been the reaction to the changes? Most of it is predictable with the Greens and allies aghast, and business and industry groups supportive.

Rodney Hide has called it a good startLabour has gone for a bob each way and said it agrees reforms are needed and just intends to scrutinise the legislation rather than necessairly oppose it. This is clealry a sign of Goff’s move to the centre.

The Environmental Defence Society has a fairly balanced take on the bill, detailing the parts they like and don’t like. Much more constructive than some otehr groups.

Former Labour Party President Bob Harvey has welcomed the changes, in his role as Mayor of Waitakere. The Wind Energy Association also supports it. If you want more renewable energy, you need RMA reform.

Also the NZ Business Council for Sustainable Development is strongly backing the reforms. They are a major advocate of environmentally friendly business practices and (for example) were big supporters of the Emissions Trading Scheme.

It will be very interesting to see how Labour votes on the changes as they go through the House.

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RMA changes look positive

February 1st, 2009 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The SST reports on likely changes to the RMA. They are:

  • enable local councils to make planning changes more quickly (currently takes six years on average)
  • prevent companies using the law to stymie competition from rival firms
  • no change to the environmental purposes of the act
  • major projects could now be heard by a board of inquiry headed by an Environment Court judge or a retired judge
  • local bodies could nominate people also to serve on the board
  • limit the number of appeals that go further up the track
  • increase the power of the courts to be able to ping players that have abused the RMA process
  • maximum fine for breaches of RMA to increase from $200,000 to several million probably

In summary it is not about changing what projects get consent, just about speeding up the process which is insanely long at the moment.

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Another time bomb for the new Government

December 13th, 2008 at 9:57 am by David Farrar

Something else Labour forgot to mention before the election – Eden Park probably won’t be ready in time for the 2011 Rugby World Cup because of the time taken to get consents.

And this is Labour who claims the RMA doesn’t need reform!

The new Government may have to pass a special law over-riding the consent process for Eden Park. Let’s hope not, as that is unfair to residents – but not having Eden Park ready in time is not an option.

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Frog on RMA

December 12th, 2008 at 11:14 am by David Farrar

Frog is upset about Rodney Hide wanting to restrict appeals from deecisions of consent panels to directly affected persons.

Frog thunders:

And in a society governed by rule of law, the citizens should be able to appeal the decisions of council hearing panels to the courts. But I guess all Act’s talk about ‘rule of law’ is only when it suits them not when it might stand in the way of making a buck at the expense of the environment.

This sounds superficially appealing, until you realise Frog is not talking about being able to appeal against what Councils do with public land but appeal against what citizens do on their private property.

Does Frog then think I should be able to appeal to the Enviornment Court his or her decision to paint their house a particular colour? Even when I’m not a next door neighbour, but live 1000 kms away?

Those who are affected by a resource consent should be able to follow the legal process around that consent. But I don’t see why me in Wellington should be able to delay for months and years a resource consent in Dunedin, if it has the support of everyone in Dunedin.

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Waitaki River power station approved

December 3rd, 2008 at 8:10 am by David Farrar

Good news that commissioners have given consent to Meridian Energy for a 1100Gwh to 1400GWh power station on the Waitaki River.

If we want to transition away from non-renewable energy to renewables, then projects like these are essential.

Of course this is just the first step of the consent process. There are inevitable appeals to the Environment Court. Actual construction is still four years away from beginning!

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Why RMA reform is not anti-environment

November 23rd, 2008 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Nick Smith makes a very good case for RMA reform in the SST:

Smith replies that he doesn’t so much want to alter the environmental outcomes of disputes under the law, but the process. At present, decisions are made by dozens of local bodies, some of them tiny, and then routinely appealed to the Environment Court. The result is often expensive and unnecessary delay.

Yep, it is not about getting different decisions made, but the idiocy that it takes longer to get a resource consent for a road, than it does to build it.

He offers a couple of examples. “TrustPower has applied for a quite controversial power scheme on the Wairau River in Marlborough. The process has been awful. It went to a commissioners’ hearing and it dragged out for more than two years, but everybody knew from the word go that it would be appealed to the Environment Court. I have sympathy with the Marlborough District Council, which is the administering body for the law. They don’t have a high level of expertise with a very large hydro development. They’ve never had one before.

“And an organisation like Fish and Game has spent hundreds of thousands of their environmental money [fighting the proposal] knowing all the time that the thing was going to the Environment Court.

“Another example is a highly controversial Mokihinui hydro scheme on the West Coast proposed by Meridian. Now Buller District Council is one of our smallest councils in the country. For them to be dealing with a $200m proposal… You’ve got a council with a population of 3000 or 4000 processing a consent that’s got major implications way beyond the Buller District.” The officer concerned with processing resource consent applications, he says, was probably also the dog control officer.

If it involves national infrastructure, it inevitably is dealt with nationally. This doesn’t mean no local input, just that the actual Councils may not be best placed to deal with it.

Smith wants to set up a new body, the Environmental Protection Agency, with a trained and professional staff equipped to do the administrative work with these complex proposals, which would be considered either by the Environment Court or a board of inquiry. Time-wasting and expensive hearings by tiny local bodies would be omitted.

The EPA may actually result in a better level of environmental advocacy.

The RMA, he says, is an impediment to efficient investment in infrastructure “and that’s not helping the environment either”. Auckland has a worse air pollution problem than Los Angeles, he says, with cars stopping and starting in congested traffic. A better roading network would help the environment.

The Greens have an extreme anti-road views, but the reality is that NZ’s future includes both more roads and more public transport. Only extremists think it is a choice of one over another. And delaying much needed roads does have a toll – on the environment, on the road toll, and on the economy.

The RMA, despite some changes by the Labour-led government, presented huge difficulties for the development of environmentally friendly electricity projects such as wind and geothermal. Smith believes there is great potential for green power in New Zealand. The geothermal area of the central North Island had the advantage that it was close to the major growth areas of Auckland and the Waikato. There was some potential for hydro although “we’re certainly not going to be damming every last river”, he says. “And there is some longer-term opportunity around tidal and wave energy.”

A considerable number of renewable energy projects have been killed off due to the RMA process.

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