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Planning Reform First Major Step Forward

“We fully support the Resource Management Review Panel’s recommendation to replace the RMA with two new Acts but, if changes are not also made to local government responsibilities and rewards, then it is difficult to see how plans will be implemented or who will be accountable,” says Infrastructure NZ CEO Paul Blair.

“The Tony Randerson-led Review Panel has recommended replacing the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) with two new pieces of legislation, a Natural and Built Environments Act and a Strategic Planning Act.

“The Natural and Built Environments Act would strengthen the current system by not only seeking to protect the environment, but improve it.

“The Strategic Planning Act would give statutory weight to strategic spatial plans and, critically, force reconciliation and alignment across central and local government to ensure implementation.

“Ultimately, we’ll see something closer to 14 integrated resource management and strategic plans instead of the 100 plus we currently have.

“What is really positive about this proposal is that it will move New Zealand away from the negative and short-sighted ‘effects-based’ planning approach which has dominated the last 30 years and which has seen severe deterioration in housing affordability, infrastructure and environmental performance.

“We’ll again focus on outcomes and the value created from planning and investment, not just the costs.

“However, a question remains as to how strategic spatial plans will be implemented.

“For plans to be implemented successfully, the organisations overseeing those plans must want them to succeed. The only way to do that is to ensure local councils and other institutions receive a portion of the value they create.

“What is the revenue stream available to councils which will enable them to invest in long term growth infrastructure ahead of the businesses and homes which will eventually pay rates? What reward will councils receive from investment decisions which lead to stronger economies, communities and environments?

“When considered in parallel with the COVID response and water reform programme, the Panel’s recommendations provide the opportunity for central government to formalise its investment relationship with local government.

“If central and local government can agree the resourcing central government will commit to spatial plans and councils can agree to support those plans with local services, then we will have an accountable framework for funding and implementation.

“The problem is that signing 78 separate agreements with each local authority for 14 or so regional strategic spatial plans is not going to be efficient nor feasible.

“Responsibility for development, funding and delivery of strategic spatial plans needs to be vested in 14 or so strengthened regional authorities to leverage scale, capability and ensure accountability.

“Local democratic decision making and identity needs to be the focus of truly local councils who can effectively represent their individual communities of interest.

“Infrastructure New Zealand has set out a pathway to achieving strengthened local representation, decision making and delivery in its Building Regions report, accessible here.

“The next Government should provide financial incentives for local councils to collaborate, with a view to concentrating major planning and investment decisions at a regional level where scale and capability can be leveraged and focusing local councils on local needs, democratic decision making and identity,” said Blair.

A copy of the Resource Management Review Panel’s report can be found here.

The Review Panel process was catalysed by the Resource Reform New Zealand group, consisting of Property Council New Zealand, Environmental Defence Society, Employers and Manufacturers, Business New Zealand and Infrastructure New Zealand.

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