Revamp planning system, end crisis

Wednesday 29 March 2017

Property speculation will decline and prices will stabilise if the Government accepts the recommendations of the Productivity Commission’s final report on the urban planning system.

By Miriam Bell

The Commission released its Better Urban Planning report today and it recommends a radical shakeup of the existing system which would make development easier and less costly – and put a halt to escalating house prices.

This is important as New Zealand’s high growth cities, particularly Auckland, have been struggling to deal with the challenges resulting from that growth, such as housing supply and infrastructure.

Commission chair Murray Sherwin said well-functioning successful cities matter a great deal to the wellbeing of New Zealanders.

“Urban planning helps to maximise the benefits of cities, by providing essential infrastructure services and community facilities and by managing conflicting interests of residents.

“Too often, the connection between planning rules and the wellbeing of communities is weak or difficult to justify, the supply of infrastructure and zoned land fails to keep pace with demand in our fast growing cities, and the natural environment is degraded.”

To this end, the Commission has made 64 recommendations to improve the planning system, which would ensure it is more responsive and that there is enough land and infrastructure to meet demand.

One of these is the headline grabbing recommendation to scrap the Resource Management Act, which is described as a “point of weakness”, and replace it with one law that supports and governs both the built and natural environments.

Other recommendations include a stronger role for spatial planning; extending the use of independent hearings panels; more tools for councils to fund infrastructure - including targeted rates; and better stewardship of the planning system.

Sherwin said an effective future system requires a more restrained approach to land-use regulation.

“Councils need to allow people greater scope to decide how to best use their land, subject to clearly articulated requirements for protecting the natural environment and Māori Treaty interests in the environment.

“What we need is a responsive system that aims to deal with the growth in demand for urban capacity, and with competing citizen interests and values. The Commission’s report suggests how to achieve this.”

The Commission’s recommendations are about easing the stresses of growth – such as escalating housing costs and inadequate infrastructure, he added.

“There is no simple fix. It’s not just a case of changing legislation. Effective urban planning is about the right mix of legislation, institutions, funding mechanisms, people with the right skills and strong relationships.”

Finance Minister Steven Joyce said the Government welcomed the report and that ministers will carefully review all of the recommendations and opportunities identified in it.

“As New Zealand becomes more economically successful and our population grows we need better and more responsive planning for growth and more investment in the infrastructure that supports that growth.”

Property Council chief executive Connal Townsend said the report provides the starting point for a national conversation about the future of New Zealand’s planning system.

But the Government must be careful not to cherry pick from the wide range of reform options suggested, he warned.

"If Government wants to implement the reforms, they need to do so as a coherent package.

"As we’ve seen with the RMA, constant tinkering by successive governments has resulted in a fragmented Act that does not achieve the desired outcomes for the environment or development.”

It is important to understand there are no quick fixes, to take the time to explore the options, and not rush change for the sake of change, Townsend said.

“We need an integrated approach to review these options. We are calling for a national dialogue to build consensus across stakeholders and the political spectrum, so that bold change is well considered and implemented."

The Commission’s full report can be read here

Read more:

Planning review crucial for housing 

Improve urban development in NZ – OECD 

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