Messin’ with the RMA

The hills are alive with the sound of... de­vel­op­ers opin­ing on their pro­posed blocks of flats. Should the RMA move out of their way?

Element - - Technology -

Iwas be­wil­dered to dis­cover that through­out the coun­try lo­cal coun­cils have vary­ing def­i­ni­tions of the term “ground level”. As it’s a fairly cru­cial ref­er­ence point for many rules re­lat­ing to height I would have con­sid­ered it to be a gen­er­ally agreed-upon point. There is, it seems, no com­mon ground.

It’s one of sev­eral riv­et­ing facts I gleaned from the Govern­ment’s dis­cus­sion doc­u­ment “Im­prov­ing our Re­source Man­age­ment Sys­tems,” aimed at “im­prov­ing” the Re­source Man­age­ment Act.

It also gives a cer­tain de­gree of cre­dence to Min­is­ter for the En­vi­ron­ment Amy Adams’ jaunty for­ward. She as­serts there is plenty of room for “stream­lin­ing and sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of plan­ning and con­sent pro­cesses,” opin­ing that the cur­rent sys­tem is hav­ing a detri­men­tal ef­fect on jobs, in­fra­struc­ture, and pro­duc­tiv­ity.

I’m not sure how many jobs are cur­rently taken up at­tempt­ing to en­sure that in­fra­struc­ture cor­re­sponds to “There’s gold in them there hills, but oth­ers ar­gue the hills

are the gold.” cor­rect heights above ground level, but I’d agree that peo­ple would be more pro­duc­tive if they weren’t all stand­ing around with spirit lev­els and wor­ried frowns.

One of the RMA’s prime di­rec­tives dic­tates that “out­stand­ing nat­u­ral fea­tures and land­scapes” are mat­ters of national im­por­tance and must be recog­nised and pro­vided for. Yet’ some­how, twenty-two years af­ter the act’s in­tro­duc­tion, the Greater Welling­ton Re­gional Coun­cil hasn’t been able to iden­tify which of its out­stand­ing bits will be pro­tected.

This con­jures up im­ages of hatch­backs crammed full of fluro-vested coun­cil plan­ners tod­dling around to dif­fer­ent van­tage points to stare at the land­scape be­fore say­ing “Yeah…. nah,” then clam­ber­ing back into their Bari­nas to look at it from an­other an­gle. Maybe they’re just not sure which bits will re­main out­stand­ing af­ter the in­evitable quake.

But if the govern­ment’s pro­nounce­ments are to be be­lieved, th­ese quirks are the least of our worries. The econ­omy, they de­clare, is ham­strung by the dra­co­nian RMA. The tone is set in its ex­ec­u­tive sum­mary which pep­pers its open­ing para­graphs with words like cum­ber­some, costly, time-con­sum­ing, fail­ing, un­cer­tain, dis­cour­ag­ing and liti­gious.

Lit­tle won­der our econ­omy is fal­ter­ing. If only we had known the RMA was the cause. Not to worry, the doc­u­ment out­lines 80 pages of ways to rec­tify the sit­u­a­tion, which seems to be that if the peo­ple can’t agree, then the govern­ment will do the agree­ing for them.

Par­lia­men­tary com­mis­sioner for the En­vi­ron­ment Dr Jan Wright has crit­i­cised the pro­posed changes, say­ing it seems to re­flect that “the en­vi­ron­ment is con­sid­ered the en­emy of eco­nomic progress.” Eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment is not the pur­pose of the RMA, she says, but even if it were, “a large part of our econ­omy is built on our en­vi­ron­men­tal cre­den­tials.”

How then do we strike a bal­ance be­tween economics and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion? There’s gold in them there hills, but oth­ers ar­gue the hills are the gold.

Much of the gold may ac­tu­ally be found sim­ply in ar­gu­ing about it, as the lawyers, con­sul­tants and bu­reau­crats have al­ways known.

The dis­cus­sion doc­u­ment makes the as­sump­tion that there is a myr­iad of bril­liant schemes of cor­po­rate de­vel­op­ers just itch­ing to give jobs and money away in the streets, all be­ing held up at the whim of coun­cil grandees, or worse still, or­di­nary folk.

There’s a sense they should have the right to en­act their schemes how and where they see fit, as quickly as pos­si­ble. How­ever it’s not al­ways a fail­ing of the leg­is­la­tion that sees a pro­ject sti­fled. Some­times it’s the very real failings of the pro­ject. Safe­guarded en­vi­ron­ments are worth the oc­ca­sional thwarted de­vel­oper.

I’m sure they will sort it out even­tu­ally to ev­ery­one’s dis­sat­is­fac­tion. It’s go­ing to in­volve dis­cus­sion and in­put from the ground level up. Now if only they can de­cide where that point is.

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