Article: Property Investment

Rouge Regulation with Frank NewmanRouge Regulation with Frank Newman

There is growing concern about the effects of new planning rules introduced by the Whangarei District Council.  Those rules came into force on the 17th of January and regulate the way “activities” are managed in rural and coastal areas. The changes are extensive but they are only coming to light now when people are putting in their building consents only to find that they are also required to apply for a resource consent.

Council staff do not see this as a problem, because they no doubt see themselves as reasonable people who will deal with consent applications fairly. They recite statistics like, “more than 90% of our consents are granted without requiring public notification” to demonstrate their point.

Unfortunately the reality for resource consent applicants is not so rosy. Having to apply for a resource consent requires more forms, more delays, more costs, and greater uncertainty. Council staff either do not see these as issues, or they turn a blind eye. Perhaps they don’t see the “cash for signature” payments that some applicants are required to make when they go cap in had to their neighbours and others that the Council consider have an “interest” in their proposal, like local iwi.  Perhaps they don’t realise that neighbourhoods are often not happy and harmonious and that requiring neighbour consent is like supplying ammunition in a war effort. None of these things may matter to planners, but they do matter to landowners.

There are also the indirect costs, which add significantly to land costs and therefore are a major contributor to the affordable housing problem.

The question that should be asked is how is it that these restrictive planning rules come about and why is it that they have been largely unnoticed?

The rules were unnoticed because nowadays the requirement to review district plans every 10 years is done on what’s called a “rolling review” basis. That means parts of the plan are revised continually, rather than all at the same time. Plan changes used to be a well heralded event, and there was strong public engagement. I recall attending packed community halls where landowners made their views well known to council planners - and more importantly to councillors. These were worthwhile events because it was about the only opportunity where desk-bound planning staff got to meet the people affected by their incessant rule making. It also engaged councillors and reminded them that their job was to represent their voters and that they needed to respect the mood of their electors, lest they get tossed out at the next election and have to return to their day-job.

Nowadays none of this happens. There are no public meetings, only adverts in the public notices section of newspapers that people no longer read, and councillors are totally disengaged from the process, as are most of the public. Those who are now engaged in the process are planners and those with a vested interest, such as activist groups (including some government departments) as well as those with an interest to protect (like large utility agencies and companies).

The public are largely excluded from the process because it’s too time consuming, too expensive, and too complex. And, quite frankly, they have more pressing things to think about like work and paying the mortgage. This is where the public should be able to rely on their local councillors to represent them. Unfortunately they are being sadly let down. My observation is that councillors have removed themselves from planning decisions at every level of the process. Even matters before the council’s planning committee that were at one time heard by a panel of three councillors have now been passed onto independent commissioners, appointed by council staff.

Councillors are now nowhere to be seen in the process, other than rubber-stamping the recommendations of the commissioners.

So who is now looking out for ratepayer interests during the planning process? The short answer is no-one. It is now the almost exclusive domain of planning staff and vested interest groups so it should be no surprise that the consequence is more and more rules. Some of these groups make no secret of the fact that they think that people are a problem, and they must be controlled to avoid the destruction of our living environment.

Some regulation is of course required to protect landowners from the activities of their neighbours, and to protect against grossly irresponsible actions. But there comes a point where too much regulation becomes harmful, not only from a human rights point of view, but also from a more practical social and economic perspective.

The problem with the Resource Management Act is that it does an extremely poor job of balancing environmental protection and enhancement against the rights of an individual and the fundamental requirement for people to generate an income. The reality is money matters. Ironically it’s the wealthy nations that are best at protecting the environment because they can afford to.

Frank Newman is the principal of Newman Property Consultancy. He is the author of numerous books on investment matters. For questions or comment about this article contact .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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