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1. Introduction

1.1 Purpose of this discussion document

The purpose of this discussion document is to:

  • improve our knowledge and understanding of the issues facing planning and urban design and infrastructure development in New Zealand
  • ensure that the options that have been identified address the right issues
  • seek input and views on the options for reform and their likely impacts and effectiveness compared to the status quo. 14

Building on successful reforms to resource management

In December 2008, the newly elected Government initiated a significant programme of reform for resource management in New Zealand. The reform programme focused on the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA; the Act), and also touched on related legislation for fisheries, forestry, local government and public works.

The new Mangere Bridge in construction, Auckland. Photo credit : Benjamin Paul

Phase One of the reform programme focused on streamlining and simplifying the Act and resulted in the 2009 RMA amendments. This met the Government’s commitment to introduce legislation into the House of Representatives within 100 days of taking office.

Phase Two of the resource management reform programme (RMII), now under way, is about tackling more complex challenges and strengthening the role of environmental management in supporting competitiveness. It focuses on particular sectors’ issues and the need for better interaction between the RMA and other statutes. Within that mix, this discussion document focuses on urban planning and infrastructure.

Phase Two of the reforms also includes the objective of achieving efficient and improved participation of Māori in natural resource management processes. This was considered in identifying the urban planning and infrastructure options. Specific options outside of urban planning and infrastructure to achieve this objective will be progressed through a separate discussion document, and integrated into final decisions with feedback from the urban planning and infrastructure discussion document.

A review of New Zealand’s water management system and the establishment of an Environmental Protection Agency are also included in Phase Two of the reforms. Both of these are dealt with outside this discussion document.

1.2 Why urban planning and infrastructure?

In July 2009, Cabinet adopted a medium-term economic agenda aimed at lifting New Zealand’s long-term growth rate and reducing the vulnerability of the economy to further economic shocks. The agenda was centred around six policy drivers – regulatory environment for business; public sector; innovation / business support; skills / education; infrastructure; and tax.

As a contributor to this agenda, Phase Two of the Government’s resource management reform focuses on the planning for urban areas and infrastructure in New Zealand, and the approval processes for the construction and operation of infrastructure. This focus reflects that:

  • cities are important to our competitiveness, economic performance and the well-being of all New Zealanders
  • infrastructure in the right place, at the right time, is needed to support our cities, regions and economy
  • an efficient, effective and integrated planning system is needed to ensure that our cities, regions and infrastructure are fit for today and the future.

What the options are based on

In January 2010, the Minister for the Environment announced the formation of two independent Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs) to investigate ways to improve New Zealand’s regulatory regime for urban planning and infrastructure – the Urban Technical Advisory Group (UTAG) and the Infrastructure Technical Advisory Group (ITAG). The options set out in this discussion document reflect the TAGs’ key recommendations to the Minister, and also include a wider range of options where officials have identified further issues. Options are also presented to address implementation and transition issues. Where an option specifically reflects the UTAG’s or ITAG’s recommendations, this is indicated in brackets after the description of the option.

The full reports and recommendations made by the TAGs to the Minister are published alongside this discussion document, along with a technical working paper. The latter sets out current evidence of the scope and size of the problems identified and the information gaps.

1.3 How urban planning and infrastructure fit into the Government’s wider objectives for reform

RMII is part of the Government’s objectives to deliver more efficient and effective resource management regulation and processes. It builds on the streamlining reforms in Phase One, which delivered the Resource Management (Simplifying and Streamlining) Amendment Act 2009. This Act focused on improving the plan development process, improving the efficiency of decision-making, and establishing specific approval processes for proposals of national significance. These changes removed roadblocks and improved the processes to achieve decisions in a more timely way.

RMII addresses more complex challenges, focusing on particular sectors’ issues and better interaction between the RMA and other statutes. Cabinet agreed to overarching objectives for RMII which allowed good environmental outcomes to be delivered at the least cost. These objectives include:

  • providing greater central government direction on resource management
  • improving economic efficiency of implementation without compromising underlying environmental integrity
  • avoiding duplication of processes under the RMA and other statutes
  • achieving efficient and improved participation of Māori in resource management processes.

In investigating changes to urban planning, Cabinet also asked for improvements to: 15

  • links between housing affordability and land supply
  • integrated growth management and infrastructure development
  • the quality of outcomes delivered by urban design and urban planning.

When applied to social and economic infrastructure, the Cabinet’s objectives translate to:

  • efficient, timely and high-quality infrastructure that contributes to quality of life and economic productivity, and avoids, remedies or mitigates adverse effects on the environment
  • a fair, equitable and efficient decision-making process that facilitates infrastructure development and promotes investment certainty.

The options presented for consultation in this discussion document aim to meet these objectives by focusing on:

  • achieving an effective planning framework for New Zealand’s urban areas and, in particular, Auckland, building on the current reform of Auckland local government. Options are also presented that would introduce spatial planning more widely than Auckland alone
  • ensuring that high-quality infrastructure in cities, urban and rural areas can be delivered in the right places at the right time, without compromising environmental integrity.

Phase Two of the resource management reform programme also includes the objective of achieved efficient and improved participation of Māori in resource management processes. While the options included in this discussion document are not specifically aimed at this objective, the extent to which they impact on Māori participation will be considered. This objective is the subject of a separate, future discussion document.

1.4 Finding your way through discussion document

Chapter 2 sets out the potential problems with urban planning and infrastructure which the options in chapter 3 (urban planning) and chapter 4 (infrastructure) aim to address.

The questions in chapter 5 test the options and their likely impacts. Your views and feedback are welcomed to help inform the Government’s decision-making, and should be received by the Ministry by 17 December 2010. Information on how to make a submission is also provided in chapter 5.

The Appendices provide background information to explain acronyms and technical terms, the current RMA processes and how the options for reform will be assessed. Appendix 5 provides a more in-depth look at how well the options identified may meet the Government’s objectives.

  • Appendix 1: Acronyms used in this document.
  • Appendix 2: Glossary of terms used.
  • Appendix 3: How the existing plans system in urban areas works.
  • Appendix 4: How the existing approval processes for infrastructure work.

14  Appendices 3 and 4 provide a summary of the current systems for urban and infrastructure planning and infrastructure approvals.

15  [CAB Min (09) 34/6A refers].