TAXPAYERS' UNION: We need to stop Labour's central planning committees
David Parker's new planning bills are even worse than Three Waters – and apply to your land/house/business
Right now, the Government is sneaking through legislation that is almost identical to Nanaia Mahuta's original plans with Three Waters, but relates to our homes, town planning, consenting, and natural environment.
If you thought Three Waters was bad, the Government's proposed replacement to the Resource Management Act is much, much worse.
While most New Zealanders looked at the Three Waters shambles with horror, Environment Minister, David Parker, was taking notes. He’s decided to replicate the worst elements of the water reforms in his proposed replacement to the Resource Management Act.
But you won't have read much about this issue in the media. Unlike Three Waters, there's no taxpayer-funded Government ad campaign or even much of a public discussion.
Make no mistake: The Government is trying to sneak this one through. The bills – 891 pages in total – were dumped just before Christmas and the Government closed submissions on Waitangi weekend. That – plus the fact Ministers have deliberately not promoted the bills – has meant that the media is only just starting to wake up to the possible implications of these reforms.
Under this proposed law, powers over planning and when a resource consent is required will be stripped from local councils and handed to 15 new co-governed ‘Regional Planning Committees’. That means the decisions about the building consent for your deck, new home, factory, your farm's water take, and how your city or town is planned will be made by people you cannot vote out. 'Regional Planning Committees' will be tasked with enforcing a litany of costly new rules from Wellington to restrict the way you use your property.
Let's be clear: The Resource Management Act is broken. Its planning rules have fuelled a housing and infrastructure crisis. But we need to get RMA reform right, and David Parker’s new Soviet-style planning regime is not the answer. Instead of cutting red tape, he's come up with a cure worse than the disease.
Local control will be lost: Instead of elected decision makers, town, city and environmental planning will handed to co-governed Regional Planning Committees before the end of this year
If you thought dealing with silly rules from your local council was bad, wait until it's a co-governed Regional Planning Committee that voters cannot sack making the rules. David Parker wants to take responsibility for planning rules away from our 67 democratically elected local councils and hand it to 15 new co-governed ‘Regional Planning Committees’.
That’s right: First your council lost its responsibility for water asset management, and now it’s losing responsibility for planning. At this rate your Mayor will be responsible for little more than the library collection and the annual Christmas parade!
Unless we act right now, the law will be passed before this year's election. And with the election result looking so close, the only way to ensure we defeat this is to blow the whistle now, so these proposals become as unpopular as Three Waters.
Think of all the conversations in your local community about zoning rules, intensification, and planning priorities. I'm no fan of my local council, but at least under the current system, voters can hold the decision makers to account. Under this new system, the decision makers will be out of town, beholden to Wellington, and insulated from accountability by layers of bureaucracy.
Each local council – even large metropolitan ones – will have just one representative on the new regional committees. That also means that local voices in, say, Waitaki will be drowned out by other committee members. Decisions over say a proposed geothermal energy plant in Taupo would be made in Hamilton by a co-governed, unaccountable, committee.
The rules even allow the Minister (currently David Parker) to make his own appointments to the Regional Planning Committees so that Wellington has people to ensure that these committees dance to the Government's tune.
And the new committees will be bound by ‘National Planning Frameworks’ issued by the Minister every nine years, dictating comprehensive environmental targets and limits, and rules governing resource allocation from Kaitaia to the Bluff. That means environmental decisions and regional 'quotas' on things like CO2 emissions will be made by Wellington.
Even more co-governance will make public input meaningless
Under the proposed regime, all persons exercising planning power must “give effect” to principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. David Parker wants to strictly enforce this rule with three new layers of co-governance:
1/ Unelected appointees from local iwi/hapū will sit on the new Regional Planning Committees with full voting rights.
(David Parker is trying to say this isn't co-governance as the proposed legislation only requires a minimum of two iwi/hapū representatives and the exact number is up to local communities. But it's not as simple as that. The committees deciding on appointee numbers for local councils and those from iwi will be bound by the principles of the Treaty. A recent Waitangi Tribunal decision makes it explicit that, "nothing less" than a 50/50 split will do in order to satisfy the so-called "partnership" principle.)
2/ A new, unelected ‘National Māori Entity’ will put pressure on the new planning committees to ensure that they abide by Treaty principles, and will have priority over public consultation on the new National Planning Frameworks.
3/ At any time, iwi or hapū can produce a Te Oranga o te Taiao (environmental wellbeing) statement, dictating how the Minister of Environment must uphold the “intrinsic relationship” between iwi/hapū and the environment in National Planning Frameworks for which there is no appeal process outlined in the bill.
David Parker is trying to say that these reforms don't involve co-governance, but, as you can see, that is blatantly untrue.
Higher costs for ratepayers due to bureaucracy and legal minefields
We need your help to make sure New Zealanders know about these Bills, and step up to protect democratic accountability before it is too late.
These reforms mean everything from building a new deck to constructing a new hospital or supermarket will be even harder.
The legislation's first reading was snuck through just before the Christmas break. The Government wants to have it passed before this year’s election and only gave the summer holiday period for formal submissions.
Of course, our team worked over summer to get their heads around the 891 pages of legislation and made a submission. But the real fight is the political one: we need to raise public awareness.
If New Zealanders were fully aware about the true implications of David Parker’s power grab, it could turn into a real political headache for the Government just like Three Waters.
18 months ago, the Taxpayers' Union decided that we had no option but to take on Nanaia Mahuta's Three Waters. Back then the vast majority of Kiwis were backing the Government, as very few understood the downsides of what the Government was doing. It was only after a mammoth campaign, hundreds of events, and thousands of banners, signs, and an advertising blitz across TV, radio and online did the National Party (and the media) catch on to the costs of Three Waters. Three Waters would not be the thorn in the Government's side, had the Taxpayers' Union not led the fight (and supporters making the campaign possible with substantial financial support).
Just like we did not let Nanaia Mahuta get away with Three Waters, we cannot let David Parker get away with these even more radical proposals. But we can't fight the fight without the means to do so.
We need to put so much political pressure on the Government that David Parker's plans become a liability for Labour’s re-election prospects and are therefore scrapped by Chris Hipkins.
You can support the Taxpayer's Union here