Emboldened Smith charges on
Two years ago, United Future and the Maori Party were able to block the Government’s plans to make radical changes to the Resource Management Act. Not any more.
Last year’s election result allows the Government to pass laws with only the Act Party as a support.
As a result, Environment Minister Nick Smith could last week signal National’s 10- point programme for radical changes to the Resource Management Act and indicate that while the Government would prefer wider support, it would be proceeding with its plans, regardless.
In the process, the opportunity for a more moderate, more inclusive approach to revamping the act is being ignored.
Even Labour Party leader Andrew Little stated last week that some changes to the act were needed.
United Future’s Peter Dunne was more forthright: ‘‘National’s blunderbuss attempts to obliterate the RMA, egged on by ACT, which fears National is not going far enough, are obscuring the vast areas of agreement for change across the political spectrum, upon which a responsible package of change could be developed.’’
Certainly, recent history underlines the wisdom of taking a more cautious approach. The last time regulations were swept aside to reduce costs and speed up housing development, New Zealand landed itself a leaky homes crisis.
To many observers, Smith’s attempts to paint the Resource Management Act as a significant cause of the sky-high cost of housing in Auckland borders on the absurd. Any price push from the existing RMA regulations seems minuscule compared to the wider supply and demand factors dominating the Auckland housing market.
It seems equally far-fetched to blame the shortage of affordable housing on a plot by existing home owners to use the act to block development, and thereby drive up the worth of their houses.
To bolster his case, Smith tried to quantify the RMA contribution to housing costs by citing Motu Group research that suggested the RMA processes could be contributing $30,000 to the cost of a new house, and $15,000 to the cost of a section.
More extravagantly, the same research found that the RMA had cut housing capacity in Auckland by nearly a quarter, supposedly denying Auckland 40,000 homes and $30 billion in developments.
Unfortunately for the credibility of Smith’s arguments, the research drew heavily on a survey of Auckland property developers – hardly a disinterested source.
Even the Motu Group said in its report that its work should not be taken as a cost-benefit analysis of planning rules.
Among other things, Motu had not weighed the costs of planning regulations against the benefits of having well-built homes, or the desirability of ensuring housing developments are co- ordinated with the provision of adequate public transport.
By and large, the RMA ‘‘costs’’ cited by Smith were the outcome of not living in a theoretical ‘‘anything goes’’ universe.
Unfortunately, the changes have now been couched in an extreme, highly ideological fashion.
Perhaps when the select committee begins work on the draft legislation, Smith will have dialled back his rhetoric.
For now, he should perhaps cease trying to blame environmental regulations for the housing crisis in Auckland.
Moderation is possible. Unfortunately, the election result means that moderation is no longer a path the Government is compelled to take.