What are expected to be proposals to radically redraw New Zealand’s planning legislation are about to be delivered to the Government.

But the Government is already saying it will take “years” to put the proposals into legislation.

The Productivity Commission’s study into the legislation which was commissioned last year by Environment Minister Nick Smith will be with him by the end of the month.

Commission Chair, Murray Sherwin, told POLITIK yesterday that the report would move beyond the draft which was published last year.

Smith asked the Commission to design an urban planning system “from first principles” which took into account not only the Resource Management Act but also the Land Transport Act and the Local Government Act.

There has been a growing consensus within the planning and resource management community that some form of separation of urban planning from environmental protections was needed.

Sherwin told POLITIK that he believed what the Commission would deliver the Government could form the basis for a legislative process after the election.

But because of delays in Parliament’s Local Government and Environment Select Committee, the Commission’s report is going to collide with the report back of Smith’s Resource Legislation Amendment Bill.

This is a rewrite of the Resource Management Act. It is complex, and the Committee’s report is said to be likely to be  700 pages long. It is not due back in Parliament till May.

Thus Parliament will be in the odd situation of having to pass a Bill which will already have been superseded by the Productivity Commission report.


Environment Minister Nick Smith says the Productivity Commission’s report will need some time for the Government to consider its recommendations.

“That is a big complicated reform that is likely to take years,” he told POLITIK.

“The Productivity Commission is taking a very high-level view of legislation like the RMA, the Land Transport Act and the local Government Act.

“Any of those big picture reforms take many years.

“If you take the original RMA legislation; that was five or six years.

“ I’m not saying it will be as long as that but there should not be any expectation that there are simplistic solutions around how you integrate those big statues together.”

But Sherwin says the Commission has already carried out extensive consultation about the way ahead for planning legislation.

That would seem to indicate there is not much left for the Government to do.

So why continue with the Amendment Bill?

“The gains that are in the Government’s Resource Legislation Amendment Bill need to occur regardless of what happens with the Productivity Commission’s bigger picture review,” Smith  said.”

“There are detailed changes in the Amendment Bill that will be required regardless of the bigger infrastructure.”

Ironically Smith made his comments just an hour after Finance Minister Steven Joyce had told a Select Committee that building consents in Auckland were now running at a record high.

It has ben frustration with the limitations of the various pieces of planning legislation in addressing the Auckland housing shortage which has prompted the Productivity Commission review.

But Joyce thinks things can go even faster.

“My longer term view on this is that we; the government, councils, developers, planners and banks are all getting used to growing at a faster rate and New Zealand is a more successful economy,” he said.

“So maybe we used to grow at the rate like an Adelaide, and suddenly we are growing like South West Queensland, and it just means, yep, we see record levels of construction.

“We’re seeing the highest number of consents in 12 years in Auckland, but actually we may want to grow a bit further.

“So things like the RMA tools are very important to see that this is a sustainable rate of growth>”

The whole RMA reform saga has now dragged on for over two years.

In April 2015, at the National Party’s Blue-Greens annual conference, strong support came for making the kind of changes the productivity Commission is likely to recommend.

That support came from Fish and Game’s Bob Johnson,  Infrastructure New Zealand’s Stephen Sellwood and veteran environmentalist  Guy Salmon.

Mr Sellwood said it was his view that the RMA was broken  and that we needed to think of much more substantive reform.

He said that it had turned the planning process into a complex litigious process.

“Planning should be a positive thing,” he said.

“Of course we need to protect the environment.

“But why are we the only nation in the world that tries to do all of this (planning and environmental protection) in one place?”

Mr Salmon took up the theme.

“The idea that we are the only country in the OECD that has tried to combine a planning act and  environmental act together — I think Geoffrey Palmer made a mistake in doing that,” he said.

“We are now finding that it isn’t working that well.

But it appears we may have to wait some considerable time for the changes proposed two years ago to come into law.