Govt masterplan on housing price crisis includes promise to overhaul RMA

The Government has spelled out its masterplan for reversing skyrocketing house prices across the country, which will include forcing the Auckland Council and other local authorities to free up more land for new homes.

Armed with new research which showed environmental red tape added $15,000 to the cost of a new home, Environment Minister Nick Smith yesterday promised dramatic reforms to the Resource Management Act (RMA).

In Nelson last night, he said overhauling the country's key piece of legislation for environmental protection was critical to addressing housing supply and affordability, especially in Auckland. His list of 10 areas for reforms had a strong emphasis on removing any obstacles to building more affordable homes.

Dr Smith said councils would be required by law to free up land for development, in line with projections for future population growth.


Auckland Mayor Len Brown generally welcomed the proposals, saying there was considerable scope for simplifying consent processes and providing more low-cost homes.

Labour and the Greens said the proposals would not build a single affordable house or knock a single dollar off the cost of building a new property.

Labour leader Andrew Little said he was willing to work with National on the reforms, but said they could not be used as a smokescreen to undermine environmental standards.

National's RMA reforms stalled in 2013 because its coalition partners United Future and the Maori Party believed changes to the act's purposes and principles would weaken environment protections.

Dr Smith said yesterday that changes to these sections were still "essential" and he wanted them to give equal weight to economic development and environmental protection.

His speech coincided with the release of a working paper commissioned by Treasury and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) which said a number of housing projects had been abandoned because of the delays and uncertainties in the RMA. For projects which proceeded, regulations such as height limits added $30,000 in extra costs to each new apartment. Councils' section size requirements and urban design considerations added an extra $15,000 to the cost of a new home.

The authors of the report said it was based on responses by developers, 90 per cent of whom had been affected by delays or uncertainties related to regulation.

10 areas for RMA reform

1. Add management of natural hazards to the legislation's list of core functions
2. Recognise urban planning in the act's purposes and principles
3. Specifically recognise the need for more affordable homes
4. Acknowledge importance of infrastructure such as transport, communication, water or energy
5. Give greater weight to property rights
6. Create national planning templates instead of numerous plans for different regions
7. Speed up plan-making process
8. Encourage collaborative resolution instead of endless litigation
9. Strengthen national tools such as policy statements
10. Digitise all paperwork such as submissions and notifications

Two years to build

It took Alyssa and her husband Shaun more than two years to build the home that they have just moved into in Titirangi.

She said any changes to the Resource Management Act that would make the consenting process faster and easier would be positive.

The couple bought the land in July 2012.

In October 2012 they moved out of their home, and started planning the build, but it wasn't until November 2014 that they finally moved into the house.

Alyssa said their builder and architect spent a huge amount of time dealing with building and resource consents - submitting and re-submitting information, which was often duplicated, and seeking reports from specialists such as arborists at great cost.

Often Auckland Council would then send in its own specialists, charging extra fees. Alyssa said that fees for architectural plans and tradespeople like aborists, engineers and drainage workers, as well as consent fees, cost about $30,000.

"It certainly took a lot longer than we expected - we thought we'd be in in a year and instead it took two years between resource and building consents combined."

The couple were still waiting for the code of compliance to come through.

- Susan Strongman