Friday, August 9, 2013

National Party announces RMA revamp - TVNZ

updated 10:59

Published: 6:17AM Saturday August 10, 2013 Source: ONE News

Protesters outside the National Party conference. (Source: ONE News Political Editor Corin Dann)

Protesters outside the National Party conference. - Source: ONE News Political Editor Corin Dann

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Prime Minister John Key has announced a shake-up of the Resource Management Act this morning in the latest bid to tackle housing affordability.

Mr Key unveiled at the 2013 National Party conference the third stage of the Resource Management Act (RMA) reforms, which the party intends to introduce as a bill to Parliament later this year.

Key said the reforms would free up land and make it easier for home owners to renovate.

Minister of Environment Amy Adams said the "reforms are focused on taking away much of the uncertainty, time and cost from the RMA and creating a system that enables growth while ensuring important environmental standards are maintained".

The changes to the Act would half the time it takes to consent straightforward applications, such as adding a deck, from 20 working days to 10 days.

Ms Adams said the reform will also give local councils greater powers to act decisively and get on with implementing plans once they are in force, and create certainty for communities and applicants about what they can and can't do.

A recent Statistics New Zealand survey highlighted that potentially $800 million of projects hadn't proceeded over the two years studied, not because they were a bad idea or didn't make the grade, but because applicants often found it just too frustrating to work their way through the RMA.

The changes:

- Councils will be required to publish a list of fixed fees for simple consent applications and to publicly report on consent charges and costs.
- There will be a 10-day fast-track consent process for the simplest and most straightforward projects that have few environmental effects, such as alterations to residential properties.
- Councils will be able to exempt projects from the need to obtain resource consents, on a case-by-case basis where a rule is breached in a technical or marginal way but any effects on the environment and people would be negligible.
- Making subdivisions non-notified unless they are not the type anticipated by the relevant plan and underlying zoning.
- The process for determining resource consents at council level and through the appeal process will be improved.
- Amendments have been made to the proposed list of matters of national importance, to make it clear how and when the minister can intervene in plan processes, and that such intervention does not permit the minister to write plan content.
- A single plan will need to be created between councils and made available electronically so property owners can more easily understand what all the rules that affect them are. 
- Councils will be required to engage better with their communities and local iwi in their planning so that fewer drawn out legal battles are needed for communities to feel heard. 
- Councils will be made more accountable to their communities for how they are meeting local environmental, cultural, social and economic needs by requiring better reporting and benchmarking against indicators such as vacant section availability and prices, local employment information, water and air quality indicators, and so on. 
- Better consideration of natural hazards will be needed in planning, learning the lessons from the Canterbury earthquakes and picking up the recommendations of the Royal Commission.

Ms Adams said she knew of "horror stories" which highlighted the need for changes, including a $3500 consent being needed to do an $800 job to remove a chimney to help quake safe a home, and a $7000 consent for a four metre extension to a deck.

"And when we hear reports of the sometimes millions of dollars spent on these processes we need to remember that that is something each one of us pays in one way or another; either through our rates, our taxes, or in increased prices for our power, food or houses," she said.

She said she believed the changes "represented a long-overdue tune up of a 20 year-old Act".

But said she was sure there would "be howls of outrage from some of those that have made a nice industry from the very complexity we are seeking to address".

'Embarrassing' changes

Labour's Environment spokesperson Maryan Street said the reforms are simply a "smokescreen".

 "Despite the fact these changes have been roundly opposed and criticised for their cookie-cutter approach to development, Mr Key is emphasising the one thing which is not a problem - halving the time it takes to get a consent to build a deck on your house.
 
"Ninety five per cent of consents are already processed within the statutory 20 days. There has never been any substantial evidence for reform on this basis. This is simply a smokescreen to conceal the real dangers of the government's reforms of the RMA." 
 
She said the real danger was that the RMA was "being turned into an Economic Development Act and environmental protections are being sacrificed in the process".

"By saying that these reforms will open up land for affordable housing is the most deceitful part of John Key's approach.

"The government has lots of levers it should have pulled over the last five years to address our critical affordable housing shortage.

"Now when the noise around it has become too loud for the National Party to ignore any longer, they try to pretend that the RMA has been the problem."

She said Labour will repeal anything that harms the environment.

Hundreds of supporters, politicians and media are in Nelson today for the 2013 National Party conference.

And a crowd of around 200 have been protesting outside the conference.

The conference officially started with a speech by President Peter Goodfellow.

This will be the first time the conference is being held in Nelson.

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