I like David Seymour’s take on land use planning and urban development in New Zealand. David writes, in his State of the Nation address:
At present we have the RMA governing councils’ planning. It is highly dysfunctional at 900 pages, having started out at a much healthier 400 pages. Those 900 pages contain the words “inappropriate subdivision” 156 times. There are 15 different ‘principles’ in section two, which sets the tone for the whole Act, and it is unclear which ones to prioritise. None of them promote the supply of housing, or even recognize property rights for home- and land-owners.
One of the consequences of RMA ambiguity is that urban plans are too large to be published on paper. You cannot get a paper copy of the Auckland Unitary Plan because it is impractical to print. Another consequence is that consenting takes forever. Developers often complain that it can take longer and sometimes even cost more to get consent for a project than it does to build the thing.
The central problem is that we regulate the urban environment like it is a natural environment. New Zealand has outstanding natural environments, such as Fiordland in the south and the Coromandel in the north. The resource management laws set up to protect those environments can’t possibly be right for deciding whether a paddock with a horse in it can be turned into houses.
We need to take cities out of the RMA and introduce new supply–focused urban planning legislation in line with the recommendations of the Productivity Commission’s report Better Urban Planning. Such a regime should prioritise:
*Supplying land and infrastructure in response to demand, including automatic triggers to release land when prices reach a given level x Obligations to set out future infrastructure corridors
*Less restrictive zoning, with fewer levels of zoning and restriction
*Greater protection for existing property owners by allowing objections from those directly affected rather than third parties The bottom line for ACT is that if we hold the balance of power after the next election, the Government must remove urban Councils, those with more than 100,000 people, from the jurisdiction of the RMA and introduce new legislation for that promotes an adequate supply of housing.
David goes on to suggest more of the things we at the Initiative have been talking about for some time, like changing Councils’ financial incentives to make them more welcoming of urban growth. I don’t disagree with any of his policy proposals.
I talked about similar issues in an interview with the NBR’s Andrew Patterson for NBR Radio. The interview was on the back of the Demographia report showing Auckland to be even more unaffordable than San Francisco. Egads.
I’ll make one minor clarification. Seymour’s piece notes that I’ve highlighted the importance of housing costs in contributing to measured inequality. That’s true. But inequality in market incomes has been flat or declining for about the last 20 years rather than the past 30 years; inequality in consumption is a bit below where it was in the early 80s, so that one’s true for the last 30 years. Both of those are in the Creedy series that adjusts for changes in household composition. I do think that housing affordability has driven much of the current inequality concern though, as inequality is higher on an AHC than a BHC basis, and as rich people outbidding you for scarce housing is a totally non-crazy reason to worry about other people having more money than you.