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"Dis" the DURT
16 October 2011
publication of the Auckland Plan has stimulated some vigorous
and timely debate about the impact of excessive restraints of
supply on the price of land in our urban areas. (Go to Interest.co.nz
here and scan the 290 comments.)
no mistake, regulations, that constrain the land supply are a
key ingredient in the DURT that seizes up the wheels of the
urban economy – where DURT stands for Delay, Uncertainty,
Regulation and Taxes (including fees and charges.)
many people are aware of the need to reform the RMA itself,
the real causes of most of the DURT go largely unnoticed. The
recent release of Auckland’s highly regulatory and
restrictive Plans are generating vigorous debate about
specific planning tools, such as MULs and RUBs, and fad-driven
policies such as Compact Cities and Train Sets.
they should also be drawing attention to the biggest problem
of all, which is the plethora of planning documents, and their
size and complexity. They impose massive costs on every
activity of Local Government and on those who have to find
their way through and around them.
of the main benefits of the RMA, when first introduced in 1991
was that it replaced a number of Acts and regulations with a
“One stop shop”. While the Act was thick it meant that if
an applicant dealt with this one piece of legislation and
followed a single process, they would end up with a positive
or negative decision. This was a major step forward.
the same Act carried its own seeds of destruction.
have frequently quoted Political Science Professor Aaron
Wildavsky’s shrewd observation (of 1968) that if New Zealand
had appointed a Minister for the Environment, then eventually
he would be a Minister for Everything.
while the original RMA had a focus on the adverse effects on
soil water and air, the definition of environment was so
broad, or vague, that it did not take long for the new “RMA
industry” participants to seize the opportunity to
“broaden their horizons” and line their wallets.
the early District Plans and Policy Statements may have
complied with Wildavsky’s “Original Rule of Thumb” –
that a plan that was thicker than his thumb had no
relationship to the real world – the size of plans soon
began to double or quadruple with every review.
plan writers used their imagination there was no end to the
issues and adverse effects that needed regulation to ensure we
all behaved as we should. The “threat” of anthropogenic
Global Warming added a whole new “dimension” to this
the internet enabled the Plans to be routinely published
on-line, the early restraint of weight and cost disappeared.
is list of “relevant documents” from a Proposed Planning
Document for the Biodiversity section of the Rural Chapter,
for quite a small regional centre:
Level – six Acts and documents
level – five documents
Level – six documents
Issues – one document
Legislation – eight acts
Management – three acts
Laws and Regulations – five acts
Planning documents that finally emerge will obviously be
“relevant documents” for the regional City were only for
the Biodiversity section of the Chapter dealing with the Rural
Zone. There are thirteen such Chapters. I have no idea how
many zones and other issues will have to be addressed.
the greatest boost to regulatory sprawl was the Labour
Government’s Local Government Act of 2002.
radical piece of legislation granted the Territorial Local
Authorities the general and wide ranging powers of General
Incompetence, so unleashing them from the constraints of the
existing LGA, which had limited them to specific activities
which were well within their capabilities – activities such
as planning a party on the Auckland Waterfront.
these Territorial Local Authorities have the power to plan
every aspect of their economy, including matters previously in
the hands of Central Government such as Education, Health and
every Central Planner’s dream.
Discussion Document called “Auckland Unleashed” has
generated a collection of four plans totaling about 800 pages.
But I suspect no one has printed them all out to gauge the
enormity of the contents.
the Auckland Council has produced a whole group of New
Planning documents under Part 6 of its own Local Government
Auckland Plan web page
Draft Auckland Plan - read
Draft Economic Development Strategy - read
Draft City Centre Masterplan - read
Draft Waterfront Plan - read
more>>(estimate 300 pages)
Draft Long-Term Plan and the Draft
Unitary Plan come next.
Unitary Plan is supposed to unify all the existing plans into
a simpler single document. The Wairarapa Combined District
Plan merged the Masterton, Carterton and South Wairarapa
District Plans. Sadly, the resulting Unitary Plan was thicker
than the original Plans stacked one on top of the other.
there will be Urban Design strategies and plans for all the
centres, and Waste Management Plans, and new plans for
whatever activities the Auckland Council decides are deserving
of its meddling.
one can give me any indication of the relative status of these
Auckland Plans. When the “One Plan” is produced, will it
be subservient or superior to the Auckland Plan? Or, as is
more likely, will these relationships and interactions be
established “on the hoof”?
have to hand a recent application for a resource consent that
is more voluminous, by any measure, than the first round of
Operative District Plans such as the Kaipara District and
Taupo District Plans. When a single application is as
thick as an old Plan we are in trouble. No wonder developers
routinely spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on
comparatively minor applications and Plan changes.
wonder activity in Auckland is stalled.
as the new generation of Super Plans, based on the extensive
powers of General Incompetence, spread through New Zealand do
not be surprised if activity grinds to a halt everywhere.
this regulatory sprawl kills economic activity if only because
the best brains spend far too much time digging through the
piles and piles of DURT.
can be remedied but it takes a total unwinding of our
particular we have to move from rule-based decision making to
skill-based decision making.
world is too complex, varied, and changing, for activities to
be regulated by ever expanding books of complex rules.
have to learn to trust our land and building professionals,
just as we trust our doctors and surgeons. But those
professionals will have to be prepared to guarantee their work
and be suitably insured.
we can focus on outcomes like the Mesopotamian Code of
Hammurabi, written around 1790 BC, that contains excellent
examples of simple rules for a complex world. For example, Law
a builder build a house for some one, and does not construct
it properly, and the house which he built fall in and kill its
owner, then that builder shall be put to death.
is why they had no need for building codes, structural design
codes and building inspectors.
law 233 says:
a builder build a house for some one, even though he has not
yet completed it; if then the walls seem toppling, the builder
must make the walls solid from his own means.
if those people with leaky homes had to argue their case with
reference only to these few laws, and without all the
diversions about councils, codes and building inspectors.
seems highly probable that everything would have been sorted
out ages ago, or more likely, the buildings would never have
leaked in the first place.
deep truths are embedded in these simple laws from over 4,000
*To read more from Owen on this theme, click here>>>
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