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Paving paradise

Written By: - Date published: 1:40 pm, January 27th, 2009 - 46 comments
Categories: economy, Environment, national/act government - Tags:

86363131_hkzbzg0y_dsc_0026r1We have received information that National’s plan to change the definition of ‘environment’ under the RMA in their 100-day legislation roll out will consist of removing the legal protection of a range of important parts of NZ’s environment, such as eco-systems, amenity values (e.g. the look and appearance of a landscape or townscape) and the human factors that affect the environment (e.g. constructing a building within a sensitive landscape, or a factory making too much noise near houses).

The RMA currently defines the environment as:
(a)Ecosystems and their constituent parts, including people and communities; and
(b)All natural and physical resources; and
(c)Amenity values; and
(d)The social, economic, aesthetic, and cultural conditions which affect the matters stated in paragraphs (a) to (c) of this definition or which are affected by those matters

National is set to reduce the definition of environment to only “natural and physical resources”.

Think about what that means. It means that when deciding whether to give resource consent to a project, authorities will no longer be allowed to consider whether ecosystems will be destroyed or damaged. That could be a death sentence for endangered species. Nor will authorities to allowed to consider the value of the existing environment in anything other than monetary terms. The beauty of our land, the right of Kiwis to enjoy our country in its natural state will not be protected – only dollars and cents will be at issue.

If a developer wants to pave over a rare wetland, destroying the ecosystem, there will be nothing in the RMA under National to stop them. If a developer wants to build housing by your favourite beach or mine in your favourite landscape, there will be no requirement in law for them to ensure they minimise the damage to the natural beauty of the place and your right to enjoy it. Townscapes will be threatened too – developers will not need to consider making their new buildings or industrial activities fit with the surrounding neighbourhood.

This change will also make a large part of RMA case law useless and most Council policies would become redundant, which will severally slow down the RMA process – something that National are saying they want to speed up!

National is already attempting to soften us up for the introduction of this legislation by claiming reforming the RMA will bring down house prices by allowing more new housing to be built. That’s rubbish. It was speculation, not under-supply, that caused house prices to rise so fast. The RMA does not impose significant monetary or time costs on housing. These changes will not speed up house construction, they will just be a license for the few unscrupulous developers to make a quick buck with the rest of us bearing the cost.

46 comments on “Paving paradise ”

  1. T-Rex 1

    The changes actually seem to me destructive and inefficient, but also pointless.

    Like you say, they will screw up existing case law and cause a whole heap of confusion, but I doubt that in the long run it will actually be any more or less difficult to block a project on any of the existing criteria.

    I mean if your project doesn’t effect natural or physical resources then, more or less by definition, it doesn’t exist. I don’t know how you could affect an ecosystem without affecting a natural or physical resource.

    I expect this to be the first steps in what will become a bitter debate over what constitutes a “resource”. I’d love to hear how National expect a debate of that nature to accelerate resource consent proceedings…

  2. T. agree with wht you’re saying.

    I’m not fimilar with case law in this area, my source is though, but I suspect ‘resource’ is defined in monetary terms at present – ie a resource is something you can use to generate an income. Of course, if there is no specific protection for amenity value etc, than the courts would probably look to extend the definition of resource, arguing that Parliament could not possibly want to create a free for all with no protection for amenity value.

  3. Sam P 3

    National’s thinking about changing the definition is obviously intended to reduce the consideration of human factors related to the environment, i.e. the social value of an undeveloped beach. The following from p.28 of their policy (www.national.org/environment) sums it up well

    “The failure begins at the top: there are no agreed national
    environmental objectives, and only a handful of clear standards.
    This lack of leadership and clarity of objectives flows down
    through the whole system*, creating a decision-making swamp.
    The Act itself adds to the confusion. It says there is a duty to
    avoid, remedy and mitigate adverse effects on the environment,
    and then defines the environment so broadly that
    irrelevant and inappropriate matters can be brought into the
    decision-making. It contains a vague and unhelpful reference to
    ‘Treaty principles’.

    The Treaty reference should be removed, and the definition
    of ‘environment’ should be revised so that it covers natural and
    physical resources and amenity only. This would mean there
    would no longer be a statutory requirement in the RMA to
    avoid, remedy and mitigate adverse effects on socio-economic
    conditions. This would curb unwanted planning activities and,
    in conjunction with increased use of standards, would reduce
    the scope for businesses to use the Act to litigate against other
    businesses for competitive reasons**.”

    *The RMA was introduced under National in 1991. The RMA is set up to have national policy and standards that are then followed through at the regional/local levels. However, in their 9 years of government the National Party did not create any national policy or standards (the DoC made one related to the coastal environment), leaving this work to be done by Labour/Greens.

    **objections on the basis of trade competition can’t be considered under the RMA as it stands, National’s intent here is to prevent Council’s stopping ‘big box’ retail development on the basis of economic effects on existing retail areas, such as local shops and the CBD, and the like

  4. Tigger 4

    Oh my god, I can so see my future – chained to a tree singing Kumbaya as the bulldozers move in…

    See, this sort of nonsense is what happens when you give DonKey and his merry band of climate change deniers the keys to the Beehive…

  5. And much of the work of the RM is dealing with neighbourhood-type issues. Amenity values like large buildings shading your property, affecting your privacy, etc.

    Are the Nats seriously saying that these “adverse effects” should be ignored? Because that’s what their amendment will do.

  6. BLiP 6

    Its brillaint! If you don’t like something or you want to get around somethig, just change its meaning.

    I’m expecting a host of similar iniatives from Goober John Key and the National Party – soon there will be no debt, crime, or poverty because they have simply eliminated the definitions from the legislation.

    And this from the Minister of Tourism who permits the spending of millions of tax payer dollars around the world promoting “clean green New Zealand”.


  7. Tigger 7

    Dean – I suspect that’s exactly what they are saying – or at least they will argue that those things are being given too much weight currently and therefore the only answer is to wipe these things from the Act and, perhaps, let the courts work out the detail (justice for the rich whose property is being shaded I guess).

    BLiP – Key is also the head of the BlueGreens panel which makes big noises on their site about our natural resources.

  8. Billy 8

    “If you don’t like something or you want to get around somethig [sic], just change its meaning.”

    That’s kinda how the law works, BLiP.

  9. T-Rex 9

    Steve – I take it that interpretation is at the discretion of the courts? The undertones of that passage quoted by Sam make me wonder to what degree National (esp Key) will take it upon themselves to “advise” the courts.

  10. Tigger – yes but is that really the diagnosed problem?

    Perhaps they want to explain to Constance Baker?


    Her situation was capable of being addressed by the RMA but, if the amendments are made, we’ll have thousands of Constance Bakers.

  11. BLiP 11

    Billy said

    ” . . . That’s kinda how the law works, BLiP . . .:”

    In that case, since he can make the entire environment disappear, how long before Goober John Key makes debt, crime and poverty evaporate into a little puff of National Party logic?

  12. cocamc 12

    Sounds similar to Labour changing the investment laws to stop Canadians buying into Auckland Airport. as someone above said “Its brillaint! If you don’t like something or you want to get around somethig, just change its meaning”

    Both parties as bad as each other

  13. Tigger 13

    Dean – they’ll probably just tell Constance that she should have worked harder and bought a more expensive apartment that couldn’t be built out!

    That said, if that’s life under the RMA can it actually get worse? I’ve never understood central city building processes, no one seems to have thought out how all these high rises will work in with each other. A visitor from the US recently said he thought Auckland looked like a slum. Sadly, I agree.

  14. Billy 14

    Both parties as bad as each other

    It’s not a question of good or bad. English is a rich and vibrant language. Words are capable of carrying shades of meaning that are intolerable if a law is to be understood well enough to be obeyed. So words require definition. This does not change their ordinary meaning, it just means that they have a specific or more limited meaning in the particular legislation.

  15. cocamc 15

    Billy – i was just being flippant.

  16. Words are capable of carrying shades of meaning that are intolerable if a law is to be understood well enough to be obeyed.

    Uggg!!!! Your socialist moral relativism filth disgusts me. Peoples minds have been poisoned with these lies for so long they have forgotten the true meaning of words like freedom and democracy. There is black and there is white and lawyers, teachers and other linguistic perverts should be shown exactly what that means before its two late for the next generation!!!!

  17. Sam P 17

    “I’ve never understood central city building processes, no one seems to have thought out how all these high rises will work in with each other.”

    Wellington is well thought-out for NZ, with a very complex urban design policy regarding building height and mass. Each city block has its own height standards, and integration with surrounding buildings is paramount.

    The old saying (that applies to Ms Constance in this instance) is that you don’t own your view. It is logical that if a building on the piece of land you live on can be X stories high, that a building can hypothetically be built on your neighbour’s land that is also X stories high, removing some of your view. These rights are restricted in residential areas to allow sunlight, etc.

    Anyone buying an apartment (or any house) should go through due diligence with a solicitor to find out how their property could be affected by future development, or if they can’t afford that go and see the Council for free. This isn’t the fault of the RMA, it’s just not all people choose to listen to/pursue sound advice.

  18. The RMA *could* use some tidying up, but I really hope they’re not foolish enough to go that far. I’m sure there are people in the National caucus who would very much like to strip out any consideration of ecosystems but the backlash would be huge. I’m cautiously optimistic that they’ll temper their urges.

  19. vto 19

    SP, the RMA does need some tweaking but if what you say is correct then it is bad. I hope you are merely doing your usual exaggeration of the situation. Will have to do some homework …

  20. Sam P

    But I think the point is that National are proposing to legislate to *remove* the very restrictions you champion?

  21. higherstandard 21

    “Uggg!!!! Your socialist moral relativism filth disgusts me. Peoples minds have been poisoned with these lies for so long they have forgotten the true meaning of words like freedom and democracy. There is black and there is white and lawyers, teachers and other linguistic perverts should be shown exactly what that means before its two late for the next generation!!!!”

    MMMM and add to that

    “The one great principle of the English law is, to make business for itself. There is no other principle distinctly, certainly, and consistently maintained through all its narrow turnings.”

    “These sequestered nooks are the public offices of the legal profession, where writs are issued, judgments signed, declarations filed, and numerous other ingenious machines put in motion for the torture and torment of His Majesty’s liege subjects, and the comfort and emolument of the practitioners of the law.”

    They don’t write em like that any more.

  22. IrishBill 22

    That would be bleak house?

  23. BeShakey 23

    Is anyone else having problems with comments? When I look at the main page posts show they have 0 comments (so I just read from there), despite the fact there clearly are comments when the post is clicked on.

    [lprent: Massive caching is back on after someone tried a denial of service attack a few days ago. It lags a bit sometimes on my side. Often the client side is caching heavily as well. Try refresh or the refresh key]

  24. Sam P 24


    I agree, and don’t think such restrictions should be removed. Was just making a detailed point about Tiggers comment.

    BeShakey: I have the same problem, and frequently use the F5 key when looking at the main page

  25. higherstandard 25


    and Pickwick Papers I think.

  26. IrishBill 26

    “pickwick papers”

    Ah, of course. It’s been a few years since I read any Dickens. I’d almost forgotten all about him. Perhaps I’ll pick some up on the way home tonight.

  27. higherstandard 27

    I suspect one could find similar musings from others going back over the millennia…. somethings don’t change all that much as time goes by.

    In truth lawyers are just the same as everyone a mix of good and bad depending on your perspective.

    Dickens after a long break is like getting reacquainted with an old friend.

  28. Tigger 28

    Actually, this change is just what we need. So when I win Lotto and buy up the houses around John Key’s home and install an all-night greyhound racing track, a nightclub, brothel, 24-hour A&E clinic and a bunch of $2 shops then I’ll only have to worry about the natural and physical resources and nothing else.

    Sadly I am bloody minded enough that if I win Lotto I will do just that.

  29. Janet 29

    I suppose it will all be rammed through parliament under urgency with no select committee scrutiny.

  30. Pete 30

    This reminds me somewhat of the Bush administration’s move to change definitions that allowed torture in Guantanamo and other (non-U.S. locations). Amazing what a little power does…

  31. mike 31

    “The RMA does not impose significant monetary or time costs on housing. These changes will not speed up house construction,”

    Bullshit! – you obviously haven’t tried to build a house lately SP.
    Compared to 12 years ago it’s a bloody nightmare.

    “(d)The social, economic, aesthetic, and cultural conditions which affect the matters stated in paragraphs (a) to (c) of this definition or which are affected by those matters”

    More bullshit! In other words “everything” thats ever been or will be. That’s why this farce of an act is for the chop.

  32. Felix 32


    Anyone who knows what they’re doing with regard to building houses finds very little trouble with the consent process. You dot the “i”s and cross the “t”s, it’s usually very simple for a reasonably functional person.

    In my experience in the building industry it tends to be morons who can’t follow any simple process who run into trouble with consents – these are the same morons who don’t understand why they get parking tickets and blame the council for their fines.

    If you are one of these morons then I understand how difficult you must have found the process but really, you’re going to have that problem with almost everything you try to do on this earth.

    It’s probably best for everyone if you don’t build any houses. You’re just not smart enough.

  33. mike 33

    Felix – you must be one smart cookie working in the building industry – did you get School C woodwork? well done you.
    The RMA is a gravy train for pinko control freaks in the public service so I can see why you guys embrace it.
    It’s nanny state crap like this that lost you lot the election

  34. Felix 34


    When I worked in the industry I was certainly smart enough to do with ease that which you apparently found so challenging.

    So compared to you, yeah I’m a smart cookie. Not that that means much.

    Don’t forget to put some money in the parking meter, mike. Wouldn’t want you getting angry at the council, would we?

  35. RedLogix 35


    Bullshit! – you obviously haven’t tried to build a house lately SP.
    Compared to 12 years ago it’s a bloody nightmare.

    Yes it is a nightmare. My absence from The Standard the last three weeks is due to the long awaited, 15 month overdue arrival of our latest investment unit on site. The total bill from the surveyor, the council, and interest to the bank because of the delay will be in the range of $23,000. That has added about 18% to the cost of the building. (Not including land and services which were paid for as part of previous stage.)

    So if anyone is qualified to have a moan about the RMA it should be me. Yet I fully support the general principles and purposes of the RMA and I do not believe it should be substantially changed.

    All the problems we struck were either due to our own making, or more importantly, the inability of Wellington City Council to deal with changes in a timely fashion. The critical delays were:

    1. Changes of staff. We went through three planners, and each one had their own views on what we were trying to achieve, and differing levels of responsiveness. Each one more or less forced us back to square one, but were unable to reach a conclusion in a timely fashion. The last was brand new to the job, and being so junior was very reluctant to make any decisions… everything got sent back for ‘peer review’, ie he had to get his boss to sign off on it.

    2. Changes of planning rules. Because everything took so long we got caught up in a major change of subdivision rules, so almost everything had to be reworked, and because we already had so much building and asset already committed to, it was a very difficult and close thing to accomodate such radical changes.

    3. Every variation, large or small, took a full month or more for a result. Even after we had a verbal confirmation of final consent in early Nov 2008, it was still the last working day in December before we got it in writing. Another month, another mortgage payment. Clearly WCC’s Building and Consents division is not coping with it’s workload, yet consent levels are way down. I would hate to imagine how long it would have taken if they were actually busy.

    None of our problems were directly caused by the RMA or Building Codes in themselves. Although these rules do generate a lot of paperwork, dealing with them is not an issue if you are prepared to put in the work to generate professional responses. Where we came unstuck was the inability of our Council to process the application in a consistent, effective and timely manner. This is where the problems are arising, and where solutions are required.

    Instead National propose a mindless gutting of the RMA which will be a repeat of the same mindless gutting of the Building Codes that National perpetrated in the early 1990’s. That turned out to be a grossly incompetent policy blunder that directly led to the ‘Leaky Building Syndrome’ … a cockup that has caused many innocent New Zealanders’ immense cost and heartache. This will turn out no different.

  36. Kate 36

    I think what is really interesting about the proposed changes to the definition is that most developers/ property lobbys do not want it changed – this is because they can argue about amenity value from an economic/ cultural and social perspective.
    This change will not make it easier to get your deck built thats for sure and there are serious ramifications for councils as Steve and others have outlined.
    I am not sure why they are making this change considering there has been no support from the development sector or from the environmentalists.
    Council processes and staff quality are whats really important in cutting down time for smaller projects not the RMA and as for big developments the RMA doesnt really need to be changed better national standards will do more to solve the problems most associated with the RMA.

  37. Lew 37

    RL: So … if the RMA were less convoluted and engendered less i-dotting, t-crossing and arse-covering on the part of underqualified WCC minions, would your building consent have been significantly quicker/cheaper?


    Because while it might not be the right way to go about it, my instinct is that the planned changes will have the effect of making development quicker and cheaper. It seems to me that the strongest grounds for opposition arent `it won’t make things better’, but `it will have unintended costs’, as Dean and SP and others are arguing.


  38. mike 38

    Sorry all you who are wailing and moaning —

    Its called the pendulum effect.
    You see when you have extreme detailed regulation that the RMA has – like anyone can object and almost any basis can be used to object, and almost any interpretation, etc, then there will always be a backlash – the pendulum swings one way and then it inevitably swings back the other way. It depends on how tight the ‘spring’ is as to how many times it swings.

    What the current government are doing is exercising the natural swing of politics.

    If the regulations werent so bloody insane (in some areas) then this wouldnt be happening. Just like the EFA, its insane and there is obviously going to be a backlash (which even Goff agrees with !!) How you “Redlogic”can be happy to spend twenty odd thousand to allow the effects of the RMA to proceed indicates only that you either have far tioo muc money or are a bit feeble brained. Will you have a better house for this money ? – and the answer is a big fat NO.

    There are a lot of regulations that need gutting. The building regulations need throwing out (how come we could build houses 100 years ago that didnt leak – and many are still standing today. With the building regulations what we got was leaky buildings – thats not progress)

    And yes, there will be a swing in due course against the changes national are going to make

  39. RedLogix 39

    So if the RMA were less convoluted and engendered less i-dotting, t-crossing and arse-covering on the part of underqualified WCC minions, would your building consent have been significantly quicker/cheaper?

    Alternately you might have suggested that it would have been quicker if said WCC minions were better paid, better qualified and sufficiently experienced to be able to operate the RMA and various Consent processes more effectively. That is where the problem lies, deal with it there.

    BTW the problems we really encountered were not so much with the RMA. If you understand what it’s requirements are, and approach them conservatively, then it is not all that difficult to gain compliance. The real problems arose with the Council’s own subdivision and multi-dwelling rules… these are much more complex and onerous. Dismantling the RMA will have no effect on them.

    There are a lot of regulations that need gutting. The building regulations need throwing out (how come we could build houses 100 years ago that didnt leak – and many are still standing today.

    A totally different issue to the RMA. Actually few people would want to live in a house built to 100 year old standards; they may not have leaked much, but they were small, cold, drafty and damp… with crap layouts and lousy services. In response an excellent NZ Building Code was gradually developed over decades (up until the 1990’s), that was a prescriptive document mandating a limited range of proven methods (esp around watertightness) that most builders and inspectors were very familiar with. The downside was that it was quite difficult for inspectors to approve alternate or novel approaches. Generally you had to get an engineer to sign off on anything unusual.

    The big cock up was National caving into vested interest pressure in 1990. Instead of expanding on and improving the flexibility of the existing Building Code, completely tossed the old document out and went for a ‘descriptive’, ‘self certifying’ approach. The suppliers rapidly flooded the market with a whole range of new materials and techniques with minimal training and unproven or downright dodgy durability. Problem was that the Councils had no experience with managing the huge risk this created, nor did the host of private ‘certifying’ companies that were signing off on all this new work. The industry was under huge cost and competive pressures and with no effective external oversight, issues around breathability, watertightness and quality slipped badly. It has and still is costing this country billions.

    In 1990 National did not so much as swing the policy pendulum, as kick off it’s pivot.

    No I did not enjoy shelling out $20k plus (for no measureable added value) this last year or so, but neither am I going to whinge about it either. Everyone else has been up against the same hurdle as well. But the way forward is not another ideological leap off the rails, but to identify the most frequently RMA and Building Consent issues and improve the system so that it is able to deal with them more effectively.

    I would bet that around 80% of the delays encountered with the existing process are caused by a relative handful of common issues, that could be dealt to with some fairly non-controversial reforms.

  40. Paul Robeson 40

    We gotta fight ’em on the beaches boys!

    sorry haven’t read the thread, but is there a strategy to combat this? Try to make it very unpopular.

    Having been overseas the first thing every foreigner says to me is how beautiful our country is. It is only that way because we’ve fought for it.

    The moment we build a tonne of massive tacky apartments and destroy a location, or anything else we can’t get it back.

  41. Paul Robeson 41

    Good to see someone remembers back as far as the leaky buildings nightmare which still hasn’t been cleared up from the last time these cowboys had a go at deregulation.

  42. lprent 42

    I remember it. I’m still living with it. We’ve repaired the building, but the court case hopefully starts in two months. In a year or so the nightmare may be over.

    This is now a bit over 10 years after my apartment block was built and about 4 years after the problems were detected. I feel it every month when the mortgage and loan payments come out – they are close to double what I was paying.

    All because some national party hack in the early 1990’s thought that deregulating the regulation of the building industry would improve the market efficiency. In Auckland this was taken by the local council as a reason to simply abrogate the council responsibility for buildings.

    It was and still is a mess. The current level of regulation is about right, but we’re still cleaning up from the last time we had these dickheads in charge of building regulation (and making noises about ‘efficiency’).

    But hey, that is the nature of a conservative – if something didn’t work last time, then lets repeat it and hope that it works this time.

  43. BLiP 43

    Some egg said:

    ” . . . What the current government are (sic) doing is exercising the natural swing of politics . . . ”

    There is nothing “natural” about Minister of Tourism and Chairman of the Green/Blues Goober John Key and his big business buddies eliminating legislative protection for the environment – it is the antithesis of “nature”.

    I could understsand your premise if Goober & Co were to shut certain groups of citizens out of the process, or reduce the timeframe for consultation, or stack the deciding authority with National Party softcocks. But no. They will do that as well as sacrifice what’s left of our ecosystems to assist Goober John Key’s mates profit from destruction.

    The “spring” you refer to was no way wound that tight. Its more like, rather than a pendulum, a flood gate of greed is about to swing open.

  44. Clarke 44

    The immediate impact of an RMA change that removes “amenity value” as a criteria for resource consent applications will be that the flyover at the Basin Reserve will be railroaded through by the NZ Transport Agency. After all, being able to actually hear a cricket match won’t have any monetary value, so won’t have to be considered.

    Maybe this is the “brighter future” that John Key promised us.

  45. watchdog 46

    When National enacted the Resource Management Bill there was a caucus scrap between the then Minister of the Environment, Simon Upton, and development lobby within the caucus led by members like Warren Cooper. Upton was so concerned about keeping the purpose of the Act in section 5 intact that he did not take enough care over the definition of the environment (s.2). To this day he believes it is too wide. While Cooper and others lost the fight for section 5 they did achieve ammendments that affected the operation of the Act.

    The information provided above is reliable but time will tell what changes are made and how those changes affect the interpretation of the Act and the case law. Some of the interpretations are a bit fanciful but I know how you feel.

    It seems the intent is to remove certain aspects that frustrate those undertaking development. These frustrations are real.

    The RMA works in a continuum. Those that want to develop and those that want to protect what we have. We should not be surprised that the arena of resource management is characterised by the conflict of strong views, values and emotions. I don’t believe it is realistic to fix this situation so everyone is happy.

    The purpose of the Act is the “sustainable management of natural and physical resources” It will be a huge failing if any changes weaken the Act in this regard.

    But….water quality worsens from increased land use intensification, buildings and apartments are being built that have scant regard for the inhabitants health and wellbeing, cities sprawl out over countrysides. new towns spring up requiring higher energy and transport costs. The list goes on. Developers are not the only people unhappy about how the Act works in practice

    The problem is that government has failed to provide leadership by the provision of National Policy statements and Environmental Standards. This has caused endless protracted debates in the courts over the formation of Regional and District Plans.

    Our environment is under threat from this government and there is nothing like a recession to excuse those in charge removing rules to encourage development.

    We must be vigilant and ensure this does not happen

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