Support is growing for a new law distinguishing between the built and natural environments, after a new urban planning report came out today.

The Productivity Commission this morning released its report on how to improve urban planning, saying the 25-year-old Resource Management Act had become a "point of weakness" in the planning system.

In place of the RMA, currently being revamped by the Government, the report called for lawmakers to make a distinction, within a single statute, between the built and natural environments - and set clear objectives and principles for each.

Connal Townsend, chief executive of the Property Council - representing big-time commercial, retail and industrial landlords - called for a new planning act.


That should distinguish between the built and natural environments, he said, a suggestion also backed by the Environmental Defence Society.

"This could provide greater clarity about our priorities for the built and natural environment and reduce the tensions between them, thus delivering better outcomes," Townsend said.

Gary Taylor, Environmental Defence Society chief executive, said there had been ad hoc amendments to the RMA over many years and the act had evolved into a "clunky hybrid that satisfies few."

He is also calling for change.

"The report finds that resource management challenges in towns and rural areas are different. We agree: the current system, following a large number of ad hoc amendments over many years, has evolved into a clunky hybrid that satisfies few," Taylor said.

The society's own report, released last year, that also found that the system was not producing good environmental outcomes, Taylor said.

"The commission has recommended a new act that would contain separate objectives and principles for the built and natural environments. Crucially, it acknowledges the need for clear environmental limits to apply everywhere," Taylor said.

"It also promotes the use of long-term spatial planning to achieve an integrated approach across various statutory instruments. That is a very good idea.


"The big question is what's next?" Taylor asked, saying reform of the resource management system would affect all New Zealanders.

Oliver Hartwich, executive director of The New Zealand Initiative. Photo/Stephen Parker
Oliver Hartwich, executive director of The New Zealand Initiative. Photo/Stephen Parker

Oliver Hartwich, executive director at The New Zealand Initiative, praised the report's recommendations, particularly establishing competitive urban land markets, cutting red tape and addressing the local infrastructure affordability problem.

"Key to solving the housing affordability crisis will be to incentivise councils to embrace growth. Too often councils see development as a cost, which is why they trickle out infrastructure," Hartwich said.

"Meanwhile, central government has been content to sit on the sidelines, clipping the ticket on economic growth. The effects of this policy are writ large in our cities, with congested highways and astronomical house prices. It is time that central government shouldered its fair share of the burden," Hartwich said.