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ACT’s Solutions For Building New Zealand And Conserving Nature

“ACT’s solution for building New Zealand and conserving nature is one where New Zealanders are free to make the best possible use of their property and our shared environment to live their best lives,” says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“The Resource Management Act (RMA) has been the single largest handbrake on New Zealanders’ living standards. It makes warm, dry, affordable housing harder to build, leading to a range of social problems. It makes efficient transport infrastructure difficult to build, leading to less intensive competition, higher prices, and lower standards of living. It makes developing competitive industrial facilities more difficult than it needs to be, leading to fewer high paying jobs. For all this, successive Governments have failed even to accurately measure environmental performance, the intended benefit of the RMA.

“ACT wanted to change the RMA in 2017 but the National Party chose to cosy up the Māori Party instead of pushing through real change.

“Labour had an opportunity to overhaul the RMA this term but like its healthcare, polytechnic, and three waters reforms, it focused more on the administrative structure for Government employees than the outcome for people. Taking 100 plans down to 15 sounds great, but the content of these plans will be little changed because we are saying a change in administration rather than a change of principle.

“ACT is today releasing a policy document that will mean good law making and less red tape.”

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ACT’s plan includes:

  • A shift in principle on Resource Management. At present the underlying principle is the 1980s paradigm of ‘sustainable development.’ This has never been defined in a way that is practical to implement. It requires current generations provide for their needs without depriving future generations, but every generation impacts on every other. Instead, the principle of resource management should be to preserve the enjoyment of property, with common property accounted for by representative groups such as the local regional councils.
  • Shifting the principle of resource management to the enjoyment of property shifts the presumption about how property is used. At present the presumption is that people can do what Councils permit. On a property rights basis, they can do anything that does not harm others’ enjoyment of property. It dramatically reduces the range of people who have an interest in someone else’s use of their own property.
  • Environmental protection will come under a new Environmental Protection Act (EPA). This Act will allow people to do what they like on their land unless specifically prohibited under the Act. Discharges to common property will be forbidden unless specifically allowed under the Act. Such discharges will be managed under one of two regimes; freshwater, or other discharges, noting the special importance of freshwater.
  • The freshwater regime will involve local councils deciding on acceptable environmental limits in consultation with their community. This decision making should be based on clearly demarcated, scientifically measurable parameters. Within these measures, property owners will be able to trade their permits. This approach is a far more localised and flexible way of achieving cleaner freshwater than the current command and control approach.
  • Non-freshwater pollution will be managed by two regimes, one for high risk activities, and another for leakage. A regime of clean-up bonds being required for high risk activities, so that the taxpayer is not left carrying the can for clean-up costs. Leakage, such as ground water pollution, will be managed using processes based on the tort of nuisance.
  • Urban development would be managed under a separate Urban Development Act (UDA). The UDA would set out three processes for streets or neighbourhoods to negotiate up their zoning either by consensus, bilaterally, or unilaterally. This introduces more control for property owners, while allowing cities to organically intensify.
  • Infrastructure development, while not strictly part of resource management law, is inextricably linked with it. For far too long, infrastructure development and land use planning have been poorly coordinated. ACT’s reforms would fix this mis-coordination. This paper details initiatives around revenue sharing, 30-year partnerships between local and central government, and a wider range of tools for funding and financing infrastructure.

“It’s time we put property rights before bureaucracy and ACT’s plan does just that.”

ACT's Policy document can be found here.

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