This article was originally posted in ‘The Hobson” magazine.
Having had a good break I have been pontificated as to what verbiage to shutter your eye and twig your mind. Will it be light-hearted and fluffy, or boringly deadly serious? And the conclusion I came to, reflected on how I feel at this time – ready to take on 2020. So, let me bore you to sleep, and if I do, my job is done!
Let me begin in 1991, we were young and free, and the Resource Management Act became the way our lives were governed when we wanted to do anything to the land or water. Fast forward to 2020 and the Act has been hacked at and tinkered with, sometimes to fix an anomaly but generally because in the words of the Environment Minister David Parker, which everyone would 100% agree with.
“The RMA is responsible for managing our built and natural environment, and it has been under-performing”. And this doozy: “It costs too much and it takes too long”
Now I have written about this before (probably too many times) and most of you just nod, glazed eyed and turn right over to the TV page. But some of you, those that have had to actually get a resource consent, will know that it is easier, to fictionize Jesus (it is the season) to get a camel through the eye of a needle (was he on LSD?) than to achieve a resource consent in a timely and cost effective way.
And I will tell you why, distilled after two decades of shuffling paper. The gate keepers (read, Council officers) interpretation on what is acceptable or adverse are different to that of the everyday person. While I can say that we would not have the harbour bridge or the Auckland museum or Chelsea sugar works if there had been an RMA in the “olden days”, those are big examples which really do not affect our 800m2 of prime northern slopes real estate. What affects us is when we are told, after administration has spent two weeks loading an application into the system, and a planner who more than likely will have no real world experience and will be guided by someone who only has more years of time in the Council as experience telling you, 4 months after you lodged and 1 month after your builder walked off the job that some addition to your house will have an “adverse effect on the environment”. What utter bullshit!
We recently had the pleasure of taking a BP through a hearing and one vociferous old chap, got a community group lathered up and then appeared at the hearing as an expert of all things and told the commissioners that a BP on a main road, with him as a rear neighbour would be the end of the world. It would be worse than Hiroshima. And then lo and behold, following the inevitable approval and construction he is interviewed by the local paper about this monstrosity. And what does he say – he says they are great neighbours, he cannot hear a thing and the only negative is they should have built a door in the acoustic fence so he did not have to walk so far to get his fantastic coffee that the BP shop make for him every day.
Our minds see potential and our senses see actual. And that ladies and gentlemen is the crux of the matter. The subjective nature of the words “adverse effects” mean so little to so many and so much to so few that we live in the shambles that we do when it comes to resource consents and Council paperwork. Even to this day 5-6-7 years since the inception of the supercity do planners in the south, east and west have different opinions and thus interpretation of rules and unless you have time and money on your side, unless you acquiesce you will be tortured to the gates of hell.
So, the latest RMA review is underway. Mr R E Bartlett QC brought this to my attention as if to engage in some legally lofty discussion with me. As cunning as I am, not wanting again to showcase my lack of intellectual brain power, I sidestepped his question with the smart-arse remark “wake me up when they have finished”. And I mean that honestly. You can change all the words you like and improve the definitions but until you have an outcome based objective approach rather than a subjective effects-based system then the next review is just around the corner.