Em­bold­ened Smith charges on

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION -

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.

GOR­DON CAMP­BELL

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