Poor process or RMA problems?



Last Sunday (12th October) John Key announced that the Housing Accords legislation would be incorporated into the Resource Management Act (RMA), and that the Basin Board of Inquiry was evidence of a need to combine sections 6 and 7, and include a reference to “infrastructure” in this new section in an amended RMA. A transcript of the Q+A interview reads as follows:


Reporter: “The RMA is the other big issue that you’ve got standing out there – will that materially change?, or are you happy to pass that with just ACT’s vote?”

Key: “Well again, obviously I like to pass things with a broader majority.  That may change.  We’ve got a new minister, so Nick Smith might look at that, and in reality …”

Reporter: “So Amy Adams overeached with that one?”

Key: “No I wouldn’t say that.  There’s a legitimate view actually within that legislation.  There’s two schools of thought.  One says that you need to merge sections 6 and 7, and include in there, essentially in that merged section, reference to infrastructure and to economic development.  So it’s our major planning legislation, the RMA …”

Reporter: “And so what does Auckland look like under that legislation? .. what changes are people going to see when you do pass this?”

Key: “Well a few things.  Firstly, at the moment the special housing areas, which have been dominant in Auckland, occur under legislation that we’ve passed that has a sunset clause, so that will be embedded in the legislation is my guess.  It’s also true for industrial land.  We might consider how that might happen, but the third thing I think is overall I think you do actually have to have a balance here where you clearly need to preserve and enhance your environment but in the same time we need economic growth for jobs and opportunities.

So if you look at – Wellington’s a great example – you have the flyover turned down in Wellington because essentially when the commissioners went and looked at the RMA it had no reference in either section 6 or section 7 to infrastructure and so they said on the basis of landscapes the flyover was turned down – now that’s a valid argument in terms of enhancing landscapes – but it’s also true that you need a solution to the traffic problems in Wellington otherwise you’ll get continued congestion and limited growth.”

(Q+A: http://tvnz.co.nz/q-and-a-news/ta-tvnz-index-group-2556429)

Key’s statements regarding the Basin Board of Inquiry Decision appear ill-informed and simplistic. His assertion that:

“the flyover [was] turned down in Wellington because essentially when the commissioners went and looked at the RMA it had no reference in either section 6 or section 7 to infrastructure” is dismally wrong. His statement that the Board “said on the basis of landscapes the flyover was turned down” was similarly incorrect, as was his statement “that you need a solution to the traffic problems in Wellington otherwise you’ll get continued congestion and limited growth.”

That John Key can state these things unchallenged on public television – on what is TVNZ’s flagship current affairs programme – bodes ill for informed public debate on the upcoming RMA amendments and for any broader public understanding of what the RMA currently enables, and what the ramifications (positive or negative) of any proposed amendments might be.

The Basin Board of Inquiry declined the NZTA application to build a flyover at Wellington’s Basin Reserve for several complex reasons. The full decision identifies both positive and negative effects of the proposal. The reasons for declining the application are detailed and relied on evidence presented over the 72 days of the hearing, as well as that submitted in the months prior to the hearing. The reasons (with paragraph references) include the following:

(a) “the expert evidence pointed clearly to the conclusion that the Project would constitute an inappropriate development within this significant heritage area of the City.” [1260]

(b) the significant adverse effects related to landscape, townscape and urban design “would not, in our view, be adequately mitigated or offset by the proposed mitigation measures.” [1262]

(c) alternative options had not been adequately considered [1276]

In coming to the decision that the flyover should not be built the Board also found that:

(a) “the quantum of transportation benefits is substantially less than originally claimed by the Transport Agency.” [1317]; also [1247]

(b) while “there would be positive economic benefits … The evidence did not enable us to quantify the economic benefit that would flow from the Project.” [1255]

(c) “there are compelling landscape, amenity and heritage reasons why this Project should not be confirmed. The Basin Bridge would be around for over 100 years. It would thus have enduring, and significant permanent adverse effects on this sensitive urban landscape and the surrounding streets. It would have adverse effects on the important symbol of Government House and the other historical and cultural values of the area.” [1327]

The word “infrastructure” appears very few times in the Board’s Final Decision, and never in the sense that John Key has suggested. Instead the Decision refers to the provisons for infrastructure in two key instruments of the RMA, the Regional Policy Statement (RPS) and the District Plan (DP) which make reference to “regionally significant infrastructure” [105], and the integration of the “development of land and infrastructure planning” as a “strategic direction and vision under the RMA.” [124]. This includes sustainable management and the “efficient use of existing infrastructure (including transport network infrastructure)” [125], [148]. The Board, in considering growth, infrastructure and amenity values, asked whether “the Project would contribute to ensuring that the city is a functional, pleasant and safe place to live, visit and work.” [804]


Finally, John Key’s inference that the RMA has prevented the resolution of Wellington traffic problems is not correct. Not only did the Board find that the transport benefits were not as spectacular as NZTA has promised in its application (the initial 7.5 minute travel time savings having diminished to 90 seconds), but they also found that the NZTA proposal was not a long-term solution for any possible traffic issues. This was especially true for the State Highway route eastward toward the airport [527]. The hearing and this decision points to NZTA’s poor process and the inappropriateness of their proposal to build a flyover, rather than any fundamental deficiency with the RMA.

The Final Decision (all 514 pages of it) is a detailed and thoughtful document. It is publicly available at: http://www.epa.govt.nz/resource-management/NSP000026/NSP000026_Basin%20Bridge%20Final%20Report%20and%20Decision.pdf The summary of findings is 10 pages long (pp. 372-381).


One response to “Poor process or RMA problems?”

  1. Great post. You’re right that John Key is spectacularly wrongly informed – and so is TVNZ – but then neither of them have ever shown much inclination to really get in and find the real truth behind matters. Mr Key may well know that what he said was not based on facts, but he also knows that very few people will have read the report, in particular the journalists interviewing him. He can say what he likes with impunity – he’s the PM after all – and so most people are content to sit back and let him spin stories his way.

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