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Executive summary

The Government wants New Zealand’s cities, towns and rural communities to effectively support our quality of life, growth aspirations and the integrity of our environment. All of these contribute to New Zealand’s global competitiveness. To that end, the Government is looking at how our resource management regulations and processes could be improved to support our future needs.

While the reform programme is wide-ranging, the options in this discussion document focus on improving the planning system for New Zealand’s urban areas and infrastructure. The discussion document seeks to:

  • improve our knowledge and understanding of the issues facing planning, 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.

The Government’s final decisions will aim to achieve the following objectives:

  • provide greater central government direction on resource management
  • improve economic efficiency of implementation without compromising underlying environmental integrity

    Britomart Station, Auckland ­­– courtesy of NZ History Online
    Britomart Station, Auckland courtesy
    of NZ History Online

  • avoid duplication of processes under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) and other statutes
  • achieve efficient and improved participation of Māori in resource management processes.1

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 in final decisions. This objective is the subject of a separate, future discussion document.

The Government’s objectives are discussed more fully in chapter 1.

Why is the Government so focused on improving urban planning and infrastructure?

The success of New Zealand cities is important to our competitiveness, economic performance and the well-being of all New Zealanders

A country’s international competitiveness relies more and more on the competitiveness of its major cities. Cities concentrate economic activity by bringing together sectors and businesses (including corporate headquarters), along with the universities and research institutions that support innovation, growth and the specialised skill sets needed for exporting goods and services.

Our towns and cities are also necessary for our well-being – about 85 per cent of New Zealanders live, work, relax and bring up our families in urban areas. Where urban areas function well, the lifestyle attracts and retains large and skilled labour markets, and helps make New Zealand an attractive destination for highly-skilled migrants. Where they do not function well, this has real impacts for the people and businesses who live and operate there. For example, increased congestion can lower people’s quality of life.

As New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland plays a very special role in our economy – it has been estimated that Auckland’s average productivity is 45 per cent greater relative to the productivity of the rest of New Zealand.2

Infrastructure in the right place, at the right time, is needed to support our cities, rural areas and economy

Infrastructure is the glue that allows our cities to function well – it is key to how effectively urban and rural areas develop, operate and link together. The National Infrastructure Plan (2010)recognises that: “infrastructure fundamentally supports not only our productivity and economic competitiveness, but also our social and environmental well-being”.3 It is an enabler of economic and social development, and often encourages complementary investment, such as commercial or industrial activities.

Infrastructure does this by:

  • building connections physically, through transport connections, and virtually through telecommunications:
    1. it links farms and rural communities to towns and cities and, through them, to world markets
    2. it moves international visitors about and lets our business people travel domestically and abroad to develop and expand their business
    3. it links businesses to supply chains, to research and development, and to customers
    4. it allows goods and people travel to where they are needed via highways, railways, airports and ports
    5. and it links New Zealanders to jobs, to social services and recreational opportunities
  • providing the water and energy we need for quality of life and to fuel economic success
  • delivering public services, including universities, schools and hospitals, and our defence and corrections facilities.

New Zealand’s infrastructure resources include 90,783 kilometres of roads4, 4000 kilometres of rail5, 14 ports6, 41 airports with paved runways7 and 114 drinking water supplies (in 2000)8. The Government owns infrastructure assets valued at more than NZ$110 billion, and has allocated NZ$7.5 billion for new capital spending over five years9. The Crown is now spending more than NZ$6 billion each year on maintaining, replacing or investing in new physical assets. Local government also spends extensive amounts on infrastructure, with local authorities planning to spend around NZ$30 billion, mostly on infrastructure, over the next 10 years10. The private sector is also increasingly investing in infrastructure, often leveraging off the public sector investment. Most of this investment by these different providers is in urban areas, and the combined effects are greater than the sum of the individual projects.

We need to improve

Analysis of how well the economy is doing shows we have under-invested in some infrastructure in New Zealand in the past, and that our infrastructure is now holding us back from improving our overall economic performance.11

Chapter 2 sets out the potential problems identified with the current regulations and processes we use to design, plan and deliver urban and infrastructure development. These are:

Planning and urban design

State Highway 1, Auckland to Orewa - Photo NZ
State Highway 1, Auckland to Orewa - Photo NZ

  1. Inadequate recognition of the urban environment in the RMA: the RMA focuses on environmental effects and protecting the natural environment, with no explicit recognition of the urban environment.
  2. Complex planning system: urban planning draws on several different Acts, each with its own timeframes and regulations, and there is little integration between strategies, regulations, expenditure and decision-making.
  3. Lack of consistency in decision-making: the complexity of the planning system does not foster agreement between the multiple participants, or facilitate co-ordination and consistency.
  4. Ineffective implementation tools: the urban planning tools we have are either inadequate or are not being used in ways that complement the broader urban planning system.

Infrastructure approvals

  1. Lack of national clarity and consistency of objectives, direction and standards: this creates uncertainty and risk for infrastructure providers seeking to invest or operate infrastructure in different parts of the country.
  2. Mixed access to designations12: designations under the RMA provide a wider range of powers and protections for infrastructure providers than is available under a resource consent. However, access to these powers and protections is inconsistent, there is a risk that it may be abused, and it may not reflect future infrastructure needs.
  3. Complex and inflexible approval processes: infrastructure projects often involve significant investment costs, including complex and costly design. Current approval processes increase risk, uncertainty and cost for providers.
  4. Lack of robust and integrated decision-making: current decision-making processes are not always perceived to be legitimate or fair, undermining public acceptance and confidence in both the decisions and their consequences.
  5. Inefficient and inadequate land acquisition processes: the Public Works Act (PWA) provides a process for land to be acquired for public works. Potential problems have been identified with the adequacy of compensation and the efficiency of processes.

The opportunities before us

For the Government to achieve its overall economic and environmental objectives, we need to understand the scale and magnitude of these problems and consider options to tackle them.

The Government is well aware that it can do much to improve the way we plan for, invest in and manage infrastructure, and is undertaking a range of actions to address this. These include measures to improve infrastructure investment decision-making, measures to get better ‘whole-of-life’ management of Crown assets, guidance on the use of alternative procurement methodologies for infrastructure, broad regulatory improvements, and the creation of the National Infrastructure Plan as the key vehicle for developing and communicating the Government’s infrastructure vision and approach in order to, amongst other things, facilitate greater private sector infrastructure investment.

There is always more that can be done however, especially in the resource management space. Integral to this is an efficient, effective and integrated resource management framework which allows us to plan in ways that drive productivity, enable better development, get value for money from infrastructure investment, manage planning blight13 effectively, and deliver better quality of life in towns and cities; while also achieving high-quality social and environmental outcomes. We can do this without compromising environmental integrity.

To achieve this, and improve public sector productivity, central government needs to be clear about its priorities and objectives to make sure these are reflected in urban planning and infrastructure projects, and to provide clearer signals to local government and private sector investors.

It needs to provide the right tools and processes for public and private investors, and to allow for the flexible and efficient delivery of public services. It also needs to integrate urban and infrastructure planning – effective urban design blends infrastructure into cities, achieving a wide range of social and economic outcomes. This has the potential to lift New Zealand’s productivity and international competitiveness and deliver the long-term outcomes we want – more effective, liveable and productive patterns of growth and development in a high-quality physical environment. Our international competitors, including Australia, are already tackling this challenge.

A particular opportunity is spatial planning, already in place in Auckland as part of the local government reforms in that city. Spatial planning could also play an important role outside of Auckland – in other cities, towns and regions.

Lastly, we also need to plan ahead. Future infrastructure may need to be in particular places or follow particular routes, and this land may therefore need to be compulsorily acquired, or protected from incompatible development. While both of these can impact on the private property rights of existing landowners, preparing for the future is needed to provide increased certainty for those investing in and operating essential infrastructure. The impacts on affected property owners of acquisition must be recognised adequately through the compensation that they receive.

Options for improving the planning system

Chapters 3 and 4 set out a range of options to improve the planning system for urban areas and infrastructure respectively. The options reflect the recommendations made by two independent advisory groups established by the Minister for the Environment in January 2010 – the Urban Technical Advisory Group (UTAG) and the Infrastructure Technical Advisory Group (ITAG). Their full sets of recommendations are in separate reports published alongside this discussion document. This discussion document also includes options identified by officials.

The options are presented under broad themes that broadly map onto the potential problems that have been identified. Figure ES 1 sets out the links between chapter 2 and the options in chapters 3 and 4.

Figure ES 1: Links between chapter 2 and the options identified in chapters 3 and 4

The diagram shows the links between the problems in Chapter 2 and the options in Chapters 3 and 4.
The urban planning problems and options are linked as follows:

  • Problem 1 Inadequate recognition of urban environment in the RMA is linked to options 1-2 under 3.1 Recognise urban environment in the RMA framework.
  • Problem 2 Complex planning system is linked to options 3-4 under 3.2 Greater national direction and clarity, as well as options 5-12 under 3.3 Spatial planning – in Auckland and implementing it for other regions.
  • Problem 3 Lack of consistency in decisions is linked to options 3-4 under 3.2 Greater national direction and clarity, as well as options 5-12 under 3.3 Spatial planning – in Auckland and implementing it for other regions.
  • Problem 4 Ineffective implementation tools is linked to options 13-20 under 3.4 Improve tools.

The infrastructure approvals problems and options are linked as follows:

  • Problem 1 Lack of clarity and consistency of national objectives and standards is linked to options 1-3 under 4.1 Greater national direction and consistency.
  • Problem 2 Mixed access to designations is linked to options 4-9 under 4.2 Improved access to the designation system.
  • Problem 3 Complex and inflexible approval processes is linked to options 9-15 under 4.3 Improved approval processes: increased streamlining and flexibility.
  • Problem 4 Lack of robust and integrated decision-making is linked to options 16-20 under 4.4 Enhanced decision-making framework.
  • Problem 5 Inefficient and inadequate land acquisition process is linked to options 21-28 under 4.5 Efficient compensation process under Public Works Act 1981.
  • There are also options 29-31 under 4.6 Transitional issues.

The technical working paper, published alongside this discussion document, includes further detail on the problem definitions, including their likely magnitude and scale. The Government has not yet identified its preferred package of options and seeks your feedback on the options, and whether any alternatives should also be considered. You are encouraged to consider how the options presented would operate together as a coherent system.

Making a submission

Chapter 5 contains questions for you to consider in making your submission, which will help inform the Government’s decisions on which options to take forward. Chapter 5 also provides information on how to make a submission, which should be sent to the Ministry for the Environment (MfE; the Ministry). The Ministry will evaluate submissions and may, where necessary, seek further comments. After this, recommendations will be developed for Ministers, and then Cabinet, to consider.

The closing date for submissions is 5:00pm on Friday17 December 2010.



1 The Cabinet paper is available on the MFE websit (April 2009).
2 Maré D. 2008. Labour Productivity in Auckland Firms. Motu Working Paper. pp14–15.
3 Treasury. 2010. National Infrastructure Plan. New Zealand Government, page 10.
4 Ibid, page 76.
5 Ibid, page 85.
6 Ibid, page 89.
7 Ibid, page 93.
8 Ibid, page 115.
9 Ibid, page 11.
10 Ibid, page 11.
11 Ibid, page 61.
12 Appendix 2 provides a glossary of the technical terms used throughout this discussion document, such as ‘designations’.
13 A definition of planning blight is provided in Appendix 2.