By Frank Newman on 28th July 2016
This week submissions on the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill (No 2) closed without barely a mention in the media, despite it potentially having a significant impact on the future of local government.
It’s no secret that central government does not have a lot of confidence in local government and it’s generally accepted (by everyone but local government politicians) that local government has much to improve. Central government appears to be of a view that amalgamating councils produce efficiencies but it is something they have resoundingly failed to achieve, e.g. Northland, the Hawke’s Bay, and Wellington. As a result they have changed tactics.
The Bill before Parliament would facilitate the creation of Council Controlled Organisations (CCOs) to own and manage essential infrastructure and services, like water, waste water, roading, and consent processing. Stripping these functions out of council would, in most cases, significantly reduce the scope of council’s role and quite rightly limit the activities of local representatives to matters of community engagement – like ribbon cutting and prize giving ceremonies.
Wisely, the Bill includes a provision giving the public the right to veto (by way of a public poll) any amalgamation or any proposal to transfer council infrastructure to a council controlled organisation.
One thing that was missing from the proposal was a review clause – a “Brexit”. In my view this additional safeguard would make the public more inclined to accept a reorganisation proposal knowing that they can reverse the decision should the benefits proposed by the proponents of such a change not eventuate, which has been the case in Auckland.
And talking about Auckland, the commissioners in charge of writing Auckland’s Unitary Plan have released their final report. While the volumes are still being digested, most interest groups have given the plan a cautious nod of approval.
It is evident the new plan is a major step in addressing the many significant planning issues facing Auckland. It encourages growth up and out: Up by easing restrictions on multi-level housing in many inner city areas, and out by extending the urban zone by 30%.
Within the city area the minimum section size for a stand alone dwelling has been substantially reduced, and the total area covered by a high density zoning has been substantially increased. Nearly 60% of Auckland would be zoned for higher density housing. The effect is that a lot more building work will be able to proceed without the need for a resource consent. It is estimated this will add a potential 400,000 new dwellings over the next 30 years. Some 37,000 of those homes would be into areas currently zoned rural.
The Commissioners also had some interesting recommendations on other controversial issues.
The blanket protection rules that applied to pre-1944 buildings has been deleted. They said, “there was an insufficient basis to restrict the demolition of buildings based solely on their age…”
They have deleted all references to cultural impact assessments. Unfortunately the report goes on to say the definition of environment, “includes people and communities… It follows that in preparing an assessment of effects on the environment…an applicant must address any potential effects of a proposed activity on Mana Whenua, including their relationship with their ancestral lands, water, sites, waahi tapu, and other taonga as well as kaitiakitanga and the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, wherever those matters may be relevant.”. The key words are, “wherever those matters may be relevant”. Does this mean in areas only where there are sites of significance to Maori, or will council staff be much more general and require all applications to address the matter?
The report also deletes a schedule containing the sites of significance to Maori in Auckland – some 3,600 in total. However, it went on to say, “Notwithstanding that, the Panel does consider that a two-tier approach to the protection of sites that are special to Mana Whenua, similar to the two-tier approach to historic heritage places, is appropriate and therefore recommends that the policy framework at the regional policy statement level…should remain so that once the further investigation and assessment that is presently being undertaken is completed, a revised schedule can be proposed as a plan change.” Again, this does not remove sites of significance from planning issues – it just defers the rules on this to another rule-making process.
All in all Auckland’s unitary plan deals with the restrictive planning issues that have dogged Auckland in the past by updating the rules. Fundamental reform of the RMA remains a priority for the Government to address.