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Prime Minister John Key delivered a broadside at local councils in his first speech of 2013.
The speech, at Auckland’s North Harbour Club, contained only one new announcement: $12 million higher funding for apprenticeships and a merged, nationwide apprentice scheme called New Zealand Apprenticeships.
Widely anticipated announcements of further moves to better streamline the Resource Management Act consent practices were absent. However, Mr Key warned local councils the government will make more specific moves in this area if local authorities do not lift their game.
“We need more houses built in New Zealand, at lower cost. That means we need more land available for building, more streamlined processes and less costly red tape.
“That doesn’t require the government spending a lot of money. We are already a huge player in the housing market and I’m very wary of spending more taxpayers' money.
“But there are plenty of private sector investors who want to invest in housing – if only we can remove the roadblocks that are slowing down the process and driving up costs.
“Its ridiculous, for example, that developers can wait six to 18 months for a resource consent. It’s ridiculous that we allow councils to demand almost anything as a condition for the consent. And it's ridiculous that we allow them to charge whatever fees they want.
"Until these sorts of issues are dealt with there won’t be any more affordable housing built.”
While Mr Key says the government wants to work with local councils “co-operatively” – he says it is particularly keen to see what the Auckland Council comes up with in its spacial plan and “I’m expecting it to include multiple options for both greenfield and brownfields residential property developments” – the government is prepared to become more directive.
“If councils aren’t able to change their planning processes then the government would have to get a lot more proactive, because we are very serious about resolving this issue.”
Other RMA and local government related issues concern development of the country’s natural resources – but again, there was nothing new in today’s speech, only a message to councils the government wants to see an improvement.
“The RMA is constantly cited as a source of frustration, both by investors wishing to develop on their own land, and by communities left waiting for years to know the outcome of projects.
“There is not enough national consistency across New Zealand’s 78 local authorities there are over 170 resource management planning documents.
"We also need to ensure that local plans aren't overly restrictive and that consent processes are proportionate to the scale of the activity. Public participation in whether an individual builds a deck on their property, for example, is profoundly different from a decision affecting water quality in a lake.”
The government wants to see “big improvements” from councils this year, he says.
Auckland's Deputy Mayor responds
Auckland Council deputy mayor Penny Hulse, in the audience when Mr Key delivered his speech, says the government is missing an important point.
"The community actually demands to be involved in many of the consenting processes that happen.
"The work that really needs to be done is to say, 'how do we simplify the processes that the council goes through, but not remove that community input?' "
Ms Hulse says the Auckland plan addresses most of the solutions to problems Mr Key has outlined.
She says the main issue is that previously, when plans for a development were notified, they carried legal weight.
"The government changed that, and they need to change it back," Ms Hulse says.
"We've had huge buy-in from developers, and the key thing we need now is for the government to get genuine about making a difference and allowing that unitry plan to have legal weight as soon as it's notified."