Make housing affordability the priority

Matt Burgess
Insights Newsletter
2 July, 2021

This week, Environment Minister David Parker released his draft Natural and Built Environments bill. It is the first of three pieces of legislation to replace the Resource Management Act.

The government’s reforms, based on last year’s Randerson report, centralise decision making.

A new national planning framework will set environmental bottom lines and targets. Planning committees, made up of council appointees, mana whenua and a Ministerial appointee, will write local plans and set local environmental limits. Councils will continue to decide consents and notifications. There will be 14 plans to replace more than 100 currently.

It is not clear how any of this will make it easier to build a house.

In the year house prices rose more than 30%, the government's top priority for the system to replace the RMA is respect for the Treaty.

Has the government thought through what this means? Article 2 of the Treaty guarantees undisturbed possession of lands, which further overreach by planners will not deliver. Since the RMA landed in 1991, house prices have risen more in this country than any other in the OECD. The government might ask who has lost the most from this rampant inflation.

The proposed reforms take some powers from councils, appropriate given their role in stifling housing markets. But the reforms will be for naught if they are not based on an understanding of why councils misbehaved in the first place.

The bill makes planning committees responsible for everything from the relationship between iwi and hapū to carbon emissions to protecting customary rights. Housing affordability is mentioned only once, 12th in a list of 16 desired outcomes.

Parker has acknowledged delays are one of the RMA’s pressing problems. Yet his bill does not give decision makers any reason to go faster. To the contrary, the wide scope it gives unelected committees practically invites them to lie in front of developers’ bulldozers for fashionable causes.

Reforms of the planning system should start with an understanding of the problems property rights cannot solve, and an awareness that planners, whoever they are, can be captured. Yet Parker’s model combines more planning with less accountability. This government cannot help itself.

Much lies ahead, but the writing is on the wall. When the Natural and Built Environment Act becomes law, the NBA will no longer be a game played by tall men in America. It will be the reason you cannot put a deck on your house.

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