After much political debate blaming all sorts of nefarious suspects like "people with Chinese-sounding names" and property speculators flipping houses, the true causes of New Zealand's housing "crisis" have now been largely accepted as a lack of housing supply combined with ultra-low interest rates.
The housing supply issue has in turn mostly been blamed on three letters: R, M and A. Our RMA law has been talked about for so long people often yawn when it's brought up. At least there is now a political consensus across the Parliament that it should be replaced.
On the campaign trail last year the Prime Minister fingered "overly restrictive planning rules" as one of the causes of high house prices. Her Environment Minister said the RMA made consenting projects too costly and take too long. We'll come back to those points.
The Resource Management Act was supposed to be world-leading legislation when it was developed by the Lange/Palmer Government in the late 1980s and passed by National in 1991. It was to bring planning to build things and the management of the environmental effects of building things into one single piece of legislation.
The new RMA replaced a spaghetti of nearly 60 existing laws and 20 sets of regulations and in that at least, it was a success. But it has proven itself to be unwieldy, expensive and slow, with tortuously long and involved consultative, decision-making, and appeal processes. There has also been much unintended or deliberate confusion between litigants as to whether they support or oppose things on planning grounds or because of their projected environmental effects.
Just like New Zealand's "world-leading" driving rule about making left-hand turns at intersections, the rest of the world somehow forgot to follow our innovative legal approach to resource management, preferring to keep planning law separate from environmental controls and mitigation. Yours truly was able to deal with the driving rule by early 2012, but the RMA has limped on with no one having the votes to scrap it until now.
There were some successful amendments to it, notably Nick Smith's removal of vexatious objections by commercial competitors, which stopped things like supermarket and DIY store developments being blocked by their arch-rivals. And his one-stop Board of Inquiry process allowed large projects of national significance like the Waterview tunnel in Auckland to be consented in record time in a process that came to be supported by both applicants and dissenters. Without that change we might still be getting round to building it.
You would think any new law would first get rid of the approach of lumping planning together with environmental management. A consensus of business groups and environmentalists proposed exactly that prior to the 2017 election, splitting the RMA into two, one law for planning and one to manage environmental effects.
This would stop Nimbys nominating spurious environmental concerns for not wanting a project to proceed. Once a project is consented from a planning perspective, it would be required to meet environmental requirements, not be tipped over by them.
The Government, however, is doubling down on the old approach, keeping the mish-mash of planning and environmental management in one replacement law, handily renamed the NBA or Natural and Built Environments Act, but which you could call RMA2.
Yep, just when you thought you were safe from the RMA. They even rehired the same, now retired, Appeal Court judge to design it who led the work on the first RMA 30 years ago. It's hardly surprising so little is changing.
The minister is then making the law more complicated by adding two further new laws, one mandating planning requirements for the next 30 (!) years, and a Climate Adaptation Act, all of which you will need to comply with before you build something.
You can see where all this is heading and it's not in a good direction for building houses or anything else. The new NBA law is to have a list of ministerially mandated environmental bottom lines which can't be crossed, effectively preventing the sort of everyday trade-offs where a community allows development in exchange for an improvement to the broader environment.
It will also "give effect" to the Treaty of Waitangi (previously "have regard to"). Regardless of your views on this change it will keep lawyers going for years finding out what giving effect to the Treaty means in terms of your local subdivision or transport corridor.
On top of all this, another swathe of local control over your destiny is being done away with. Each district plan, currently overseen by your local council, will be amalgamated into less than 20 regional plans run by government-appointed "planning committees" based in larger regional centres.
Under the new law if towns like Rotorua, Whanganui, Timaru or Hokitika want to alter their plan to add a new subdivision the district council won't be able to do it, they'll have to convince faceless bureaucrats somewhere else that it should be allowed. It's fair to say the growth of Pokeno or Selwyn wouldn't have made it off the drawing board under this set-up.
Even amalgamating all those plans will slow down development for years. I know from rueful experience the creation of the Auckland Unitary Plan had a chilling impact on housebuilding in our biggest city for five years while people waited to find out what the new rules would be.
There is hardly anything you can point to in these reforms which will meet the Government's stated aim of reducing the cost and time taken to consent projects or simplify the rules for building houses.
On the contrary, the whole thing has the capacity to become a runaway train. To balance it, the Government should hire some actual current practitioners to give the reforms a pass or fail mark on whether they will make it easier or harder to build things, before they pass through Parliament. Otherwise, what's the point?
As it stands, these three new RMA laws might do the impossible and make people nostalgic for the old RMA process. That would be a legacy of sorts, but not a good one. And we'd be no further ahead with housing at all.
• Steven Joyce is a former National Party MP and Minister of Finance.