In its blue sky review of the New Zealand planning system, the Productivity Commission has correctly found that the planning system is failing, but their recommendations for change will not succeed without governance and funding reform, says Stephen Selwood chief executive of the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development.
The Commission observes that the principal planning laws the Resource Management Act 1991, the Local Government Act 2002 and the Land Transport Management Act 2005 are now complex to the point of incoherence and that New Zealands urban planning system overall lacks clarity, focus, responsiveness and is not achieving its objectives.
Their identification of the primary purpose of urban development planning enabling development and change; providing development capacity; and ensuring people and goods can move around is especially welcome.
The Commissions frank assessment that the urban planning system is failing is clearly evidenced by house prices at unacceptably high levels and chronic congestion in our largest city. But unbalanced regional development and poor environmental outcomes across New Zealand demonstrate that the problems are much broader.
The reality is that we have not managed development, growth or cumulative effects on the environment well in New Zealand for a very long time.
Looking to the future, the Commissions recommendations for spatial planning and pricing on land and infrastructure will be essential to successfully reforming the planning system, but it is difficult to see how these changes can take place in the absence of an honest discussion around funding and responsibility.
Fragmented governance prevents effective spatial planning. How can development be allocated if individual councils responsible for funding infrastructure do not have the resources or desire to accommodate growth?
How can an individual council be forced to provide for growth and reprioritise existing investments in accordance with a wider vision?
Who benefits and who should pay when a council on one side of town provides for growth, while another on the opposite side shirks its responsibility on the basis of residential opposition or refuses to fund the required infrastructure?
Spatial planning cannot take place on a sub-regional scale. It cannot be effective unless the plan can be supported by infrastructure. And no regional spatial plan will succeed unless the biggest infrastructure and service provider central government participates in plan development and explicitly commits to funding services in agreement with the plan.
The planning, governance and funding of urban growth and regional development cannot be reformed in isolation.
The Commission has comprehensively demonstrated that planning is not functioning effectively in New Zealand. But, in addition to fixing the planning laws, a much more fundamental review of local and central government responsibilities, structures and funding will be needed to address the core problems that have been identified, Selwood says.
For further comment, please contact Stephen on 021 791 209.