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Owen McShane, champion of free enterprise, dies

NBR Straight Thinking columnist, venture capitalist and planning consultant Owen McShane has died, aged 70.

He recently had a major heart operation and died suddenly at his home in Kaiwaka near Kaipara Harbour, on Tuesday.

After a career that encompassed planning, urban economics and public policy, he turned to venture capitalism in the 1970s with the government-owned Development Finance Corporation and in 1984 was manager of the first listed venture capital company, Venturecorp.

He later went into business on his own account as McShane Venture Management.

More recently he established the Centre for Resource Management, a one-man think tank that advocated a laissez-faire approach to environmental and planning issues.

Owen wrote and published extensively on a wide range of issues. He was a columnist for Metro from 1983-94, launched his own magazine, Straight Thinking, in 1994 and was editor of New Zealand Skeptic.

He was well known in the op-ed pages of the country’s leading newspapers, appeared at countless resource consent hearings after the passing of the Resource Management Act, on which he was a consultant, and tirelessly fought against destructive planning practices such as "smart growth."

His last NBR Straight Thinking column was published last week. It raised familiar concerns about the growth of local government and its dampening effect on economic growth:

Councillors suddenly found themselves in charge of multi-million dollar organisations that demanded skills and experience well beyond their levels of competence. Since then, chief executives (previously known as town clerks) have been able to exercise largely unbridled power.

Those problems were then seriously compounded by the 2002 amendments to the Local Government Act that gave councils the power of general competence. This enabled already over-extended authorities to expand into new policies and activities totally outside their competence.

In 1996, he wrote an important report for the Reserve Bank on how planning rules contributed to the high costs of land for residential building – an issue on which the minister for the environment commissioned a further report in 1998.

He was a member of the committee that recommended casinos be established in New Zealand, was a member of the Auckland Area Health Board and was a keenly sought-after speaker for local and overseas conferences.

Owen was an enthusiastic environmentalist, advocated the “gourmet culture” for small land-holders and turned his Kaiwaka property into outstanding example of how private enterprise is a better guardian of the land than public ownership.

His wife, Jenny, announced his death to many friends and associates with the message: "Please know that he valued your friendship and intellectual support so much."

Note: An earlier version of this article mis-stated Own's age. He was born in 1941.

More by Nevil Gibson

Comments and questions

Rip Owen. I will miss your columns.

Another freedom lover gone. I've enjoyed reading Owen's articles and blog comments, and will miss him and them.

An oak has fallen

Mr McShane, was blessed with intellect, vision and common sense. A sad loss to NZ. RIP

I will miss him terribly.

He was such a sane voice in an insane world.

You must listen to

Vale Owen, always a thinker.

Mr McShane had that all too rare gift of an incisive intellect that succinctly exposed the "silliness" in local government planning. Last Friday's article was but an example. I looked forward to his articles and will miss them. Thank you Mr McShane and NBR

Tragically we have lost Mr McShane. A man of vision, integrity and the common sense our dysfunctional country so badly needs.

Who will have the courage to speak out against the Nick Smith's who promote government idiocy?

Owen was one of the few people with the courage to question the wrongs within local government and the planning profession. He got bagged for it of course but nevertheless remained resolute and dignified.

Sad to know of his death but sadder for being saddled with institutions and culture that spurns wisdom and entrenches folly.

You have at least one omission in your round-up of his significant contributions. He was also a foundational member, and recently very active, for the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition.

God speed Owen.

This is a huge loss - his columns were always well-considered and thought provoking. A clear and concise thinker.

His perceptive analysis of government (central & local) will be sadly missed. He was one of the few to challenge entrenched bureaucratic ideaology, dumb decision making and the inept planning laws. And his common sense on climate change was commendable. What a shame NZ doesn't have more of his ilk.RIP

A sad loss. A great clear thinker surrounded by many muddled thinkers

RIP Owen a free thinker. Unfortunately unless we see more Owens the naysayers anti everything left wingers will gain even more control than they have now.

Owen McShane was an outstanding thinker, and an effective advocate for the rights of New Zealanders to use their land as they saw fit, rather than as local government bureaucrats saw fit. He consistently pointed out what the RMA actually provided on land use, in contrast to the perverted view promoted by "planners" in local government. His contribution to clear thinking in this area will be sorely missed.

Wouldn't it have been a whole lot better....and say a great deal more about us as a nation.... if the Great OMS had previously been elevated to the 'order of the 20 (I think) greatest living New Zealanders' instead of that Labour party hack, former mediocre Speaker and abysmal Ambassador to Britain who was deposited there by Ms Clark.....who visits upon us again, I note, with impunity. Aargh.

RIP Owen.What tragic loss for NZ,who will fill this role.?

Straight Thinking was the perfect byline for Owen. He was a one-man army holding at bay the hordes of planners who would take over every vestige of our lives.

With the passing of this leviathan, the war is lost. So is the economy.

A huge loss for free-thinking New Zealanders, a gentleman with a rare intellect who was brave enough to speak out unfazed by the PC custodians, and gifted with that rare component, common sense. Who will take up the baton?

Owen was an example of what an academic thinker should be.

It's a real pity we couldn't get another 10 years out of him. He was/is needed.

I have always hugely respected his efforts and work.

A light goes out as Owen leaves us. He was, to my experience a generous and caring soul. He always had an independent and thought provoking point of view. I/we will grieve at your leaving.
Larry of Puhoi

Owen was so brave and despite many recent setbacks, continued to work to ensure NZ can be a wonderful place to live.

@Davo36 You must listen to