9 December 2015
"The Productivity Commissions Better Urban Planning issues paper zeroes in on some of the biggest issues that contribute to rising housing costs, congestion, infrastructure deficiencies and poor environmental outcomes, says Stephen Selwood CEO of the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development.
"The Commission is seeking feedback on changes to the principal laws which guide urban planning and development the Resource Management Act, Local Government Act and Land Transport Management Act.
"District plans, council long term and annual plans, regional transport strategies and a range of other essential public documents which determine rates and transport spending, as well as what your community looks and feels like all fall under these three Acts.
"Currently decisions about land use planning and consenting for development, roads, water and other critical infrastructure are made under the RMA. But decisions about public investment for these same activities are made under the LTMA and the LGA.
"Different Acts mean different time frames, processes and agencies. This creates opportunities for policy misalignment, the most obvious of which is inadequate infrastructure to support growth.
"Achieving better environmental outcomes, reducing complexity and compliance costs and integrating growth management will require substantive change from the status quo.
"It is therefore pleasing to see the Commission tackle hard questions around whether the environmental protection components of the RMA need to be separated from the planning components and what role the biggest service provider in the country the Government should play in planning.
"Yet even a flawless prescription from the Commission will not be enough to overhaul unstably high house prices, declining environmental performance and an infrastructure investment bow-wave if the institutions making decisions at the end of the day are under-resourced, poorly incentivised and incapable of delivering on the aspirations of their communities and the country.
"A council can plan all it likes for growth to concentrate in one area, but if the roads and water services are not in place to meet that growth, nothing is going to happen. Government can preach all day about the need for councils to release land, but as long as councils shoulder the cost of new development while the Government hoards the upside, the outcome is never going to be optimal.
"Ideally, institutions which make and enforce planning decisions should be the same as the institutions who bear the cost of those decisions.
"A regional spatial planning approach to infrastructure and development which balances social, economic, cultural and environmental outcomes and receives the buy-in of central government is the Holy Grail of integrated planning, but unless the moneys there to back plans up, delivery will continue to undershoot aspiration," Selwood says.