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?
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.