Opening statement on the Natural and Built Environments bill

My opening remarks to the Environment Committee this morning on the Natural and Built Environments bill, which will replace the RMA:

Any planning system must allow trade-offs between competing outcomes.

Property rights confront owners with some but not all of these trade-offs.

The reforms should be based on understanding which trade-offs the planning system needs to solve, who is best placed to make decisions, and how.

This bill proposes the Minister for the Environment can decide everything using regulation.

This is not a credible approach. With the best will, the Minister cannot deliver a framework which makes sense of so much complexity. Decisions should be devolved to the lowest level, and with checks and balances, which regulation does not do.

The main goal of these reforms should be to improve housing affordability. The RMA has substantially contributed to the housing crisis. Quite simply, the new system must make it easier to build a house.

The key idea I want you consider is this. Cities protect the natural environment.

London, Tokyo and New York City are among the most environmentally friendly places on earth.

People living in those cities have smaller carbon and environmental footprints. They have higher prosperity and report higher wellbeing than other people.

This idea, that cities protect the environment, is important, because it means we can solve housing and protect the natural environment with a planning system that supports urban growth.

This bill proposes to apply rigorous bottom lines for the natural environment in urban areas. Paradoxically, this could harm the natural environment by stifling growth.

Planning cannot deliver urban growth if it does not protect urban amenity. Homeowners have the clout to stop any growth which threatens their standard of living. This bill must square the circle of supporting growth by protecting amenity.

So, three ideas to make sense of the complexity.

  • Cities protect the environment. This bill can support the Minister’s environmental goals if it embeds a presumption in favour of development.
  • Don’t put decisions in one place. Ask who is best placed to consider tradeoffs. And think about scope – what problems can only be solved by planning.
  • Finally, treat urban areas separately. Urban amenity is sufficiently distinct and important to justify its own treatment. Bundling urban and non-urban areas threatens to water down environmental bottom lines, and repeat the RMA’s mistake of stifling growth while failing to protect the natural environment.

This bill is not fit for purpose and should not go ahead in anything like its current form.

Thank you.

Link, from 50 minutes:

Submission on the Natural and Built Environments bill

I wrote the submission by the New Zealand Initiative on the exposure draft of the government’s Natural and Built Environments bill, or “NBA.” This is the first of three bills that will replace the Resource Management Act. We do not have undiluted praise for the bill. I will post more on it soon.

For now, here is our conclusion:

The proposed arbitrary and potentially all-encompassing powers to be conferred on executive government are draconian, unconstitutional and utterly unjustified as a response to any identified problem to do with land use. The NBA proposes to give the current and future Ministers for the Environment the power to regulate everything – every aspect of how we live, work and play. The Natural and Built Environments Bill is unconscionable in a democracy

Read the submission here.