NZ POLITICS DAILY: Blue-Green battle over housing crisis and RMA

NZ POLITICS DAILY: January 23 2015

A blue-green battle is looming over housing affordability and the reform of the Resource Management Act. This might well be one of the biggest political battles of 2015. After all, the issue of housing affordability is of significant concern to the general public, while the reform of the RMA is of particular concern to political parties, with the ideologies of National/Act and the Green Party looking to clash the strongest. 

A Blue versus Green debate
True blue Nats have never been comfortable with the RMA (despite it actually being passed by a National government). It has been seen as being too green (environmentally weighted) and not blue enough (economically weighted). For two decades, therefore, National’s traditional constituency of farmers and business have wanted to see the legislation turned into more of an Economic Development Act. 

That’s precisely what’s going to happen according to Chris Trotter, who says today that New Zealand Doesn't Need A "Developers' Charter". He argues that the new reforms signalled this week by Nick Smith ‘would be about using the legislative process to advance the interests of a section of New Zealand society which has, for more than sixty years, grown extremely wealthy (and dangerously influential) by convincing the National Party to continue following a model of sprawling urban development, based on the single-story detached dwelling and the private automobile’. 

Today’s Dominion Post editorial also expresses concern about the reforms being too business-friendly: ‘But when the politician says he wants more rights for property owners, and says his Government is "blue as well as green" and wants development along with conservation, many will feel queasy. These sound like National Party code for: we are here to help the developers’ – see: Scant detail on Nick Smith's proposed RMA overhaul

This rather scathing editorial raises the question of whether the planning laws can really be ‘streamlined without turning the law into a developer's charter, a green light for unfettered development and eco-destruction’. Overall, the Dominion Post argues for scepticism towards the Government’s reform agenda.

According to an ODT editorial, Heeding housing advice, there is an trade-off between economic and environmental values: ‘It seems inevitable there will be some trade-offs, but there is little doubt the major housing crises in our two biggest cities will dictate some big policy changes in order to restore our supposedly egalitarian society to one in which the average family can afford to buy a home - and then to live a reasonably comfortable existence when they have done so’.

There is no doubt, according to the NBR’s Rob Hosking, that in understanding National’s need to reform the laws, ‘the wider economic issue is more significant. The RMA has long been a bugbear of business’; ‘the burden on firms and farms has been high’ – see: Nick Smith declares full speed ahead on RMA reform (paywalled).

A column by Hosking last year, Why the PM 'parked' RMA reform (paywalled), also explained the importance of the reforms for National: ‘The RMA changes are in fact crucial to National's overall economic programme. Announced by Environment Minister Amy Adams at the party conference last year, the nub of the changes involves putting economic development considerations on an equal footing with environmental considerations when considering use of resources. At present, environment considerations over-ride economic ones’.

How radical will RMA reform be?
How contentious will the RMA reform battle be? That depends how radical the Government’s reforms will be, and so far Nick Smith has been entirely vague on the details. 

There is some reason to believe that the Government will be toning down the reforms it had wanted to introduce in its last term, with John Key promising late last year that the reforms would be ‘moderate and pragmatic’.

For a very good backgrounder on RMA reform agenda, see Pattrick Smellie’s post-election article, What will be done with the RMA?

In his announcement of the reforms, Nick Smith said that ‘tinkering with the RMA won't do’ and that ‘He expected "intense discussion" over some of the "hundreds" of amendments to the existing legislation’. According to Hamish Rutherford and Kelly Dennett, ‘Smith signalled that National was reviewing the most contentious of its proposed reforms of the RMA, covering changes to the act's principles – a move critics have argued would aid development - but otherwise the tone of today's speech was consistent with the last term’ – see: National pushes on with Resource Management Act reform

According to Brent Edwards there are expectations of more major reforms, and ‘It is likely that National has been emboldened by last year's election result’ – see: Powerplay.  

Edwards also reports Peter Dunne’s disquiet: ‘National's blunderbuss attempts to obliterate the RMA, egged on by ACT which fears National is not going far enough, are obscuring the vast areas of agreement for change across the political spectrum, upon which a responsible package of change could be developed’. It’s likely that National’s support partners – apart from Act – are seriously unhappy about the way in which they are being sidelined in this week’s manouveres by National.

Could it be that the Government’s proposed reforms will actually be far too mild? That’s certainly the view on the radical right, with bloggers expressing some support for the shift, but bemoaning, to various degrees, that it won’t go nearly far enough – see Peter Cresswell’s RMA reform? Mush, without any details to give it form, Eric Crampton’s Auckland SimCity, and David Farrar’s RMA reform

What will the other parties do?
The sidelining of National’s support partners, the United Future and Maori parties, bodes ill for the coming reform, according to today’s Herald editorial, RMA move too important for bare majority: ‘This suggests National and Act are pressing ahead with the most contentious element of its proposals - the insertion of economic considerations into the act's stated purposes - which the Maori Party and Mr Dunne would not support in the previous term’.

Vernon Small also writes about National building support for their changes in his column, Smith lays some bait lines on RMA remodeling. He suggests that National are outmaneuvering some of the parties, and will seek to snooker Labour: ‘Smith and Prime Minister John Key are trying to sucker Labour, in particular, into overdoing their opposition. To make it as tricky as possible they are setting the reforms within the wider context of affordable housing’.

At the moment the Greens are making the biggest opposition to the reforms, and this is likely to continue to be the case due to the strong blue-green ideological dynamic at play. Labour are being cautious in their response but they will need to take make a more decisive response at some stage. There will be some pressure to fall behind National – see, for example Nevil Gibson’s Why Labour must support RMA reforms (paywalled). He says, ‘The key will be the attitude of Labour leader Andrew Little and his intention to restore a pro-growth and pro-development agenda to a party that has a reputation for being more green than red’.

Is RMA reform really the solution to expensive housing?
‘The Government is doing something about unaffordable housing’ - that’s the public response National is hoping to gain from this reform exercise. But there are many expressing strong scepticism about how much difference these reforms could really make.

Perhaps the most sceptical is John Armstrong who has argued this week that the RMA has become an easy scapegoat: ‘Got a problem? Then blame it on the Resource Management Act. When it comes to political whipping boys (or girls), few pieces of legislation get whacked with such alacrity and regularity as the RMA’ – see: We all know the act is not the problem

Armstrong says that that ‘Smith is using the RMA as a smokescreen’, and suggests that the reform debate needs rather more complexity than we are being offered.

So, should regulation be seen as a bad word? Writing in praise of regulation, Greg Presland gives an exaggerated idea of what it might mean if we jettisoned such constraints entirely: ‘Obviously if we had buildings with lower ceilings and apartments without balconies prices could reduce.  And smaller lot sizes will reduce cost.  We could even go as far as removing windows in apartment buildings and insist on footpaths and road berms being removed.  But would you want to live there?  Or would you want to live down the road from such buildings?’ – see: Nick Smith’s RMA reforms – low cost housing in Epsom?

And of course, it has to be asked whether the RMA really is making housing more expensive. The Treasury-commission research publicised this week certainly had some shortcomings, and the Eye of the fish blogsite looked at how much councils charge for Resource Consent – see: RMA vs Affordable housing. It asked, ‘Have you ever been charged $30,000 for a Resource Consent application? Has anyone? Is that not, like, an exaggeration? Or just a lie?’

Labour blogger Rob Salmond has also made a strong case that the proposed RMA reforms will hardly make a difference to the rising costs of housing, calculating that ‘Even if those three heroic assumptions [of the Government] come to pass, Auckland house prices would drop (once you average out houses and apartments) by about $10,000, one off. Which would make Auckland's "severely unaffordable" score of 8.2 in the Demographia survey drop amazingly to a "severely affordable" 8.06’ – see: Nick Smith's gambit

The RMA reforms and their ability to produce cheaper housing are therefore easily mocked, and Scott Yorke is doing just this in his blog post, On the RMA changes

The forgotten renters
The housing debate focuses almost exclusively on the plight of homeowners and those entering the market. But the situation of renters is normally ignored. 

Yet it’s the rental market that might benefit the most from reform. According to NZIER economist Shamubeel Eaqub, such reform could be a partial solution to the current housing crisis. In Anne Gibson’s article, Property: Mad truths on home prices in Auckland, Eaquab’s views are reported: ‘We must make renting more attractive. Tenancy policy and agreements provide flexibility but this is a barrier to regarding renting as a substitute for owning. More balanced tenure and tenants' rights in Britain and Germany support renting as a normal alternative’.

In fact, according to Pattrick Smellie, the Government needs desperately to focus on reforms to improve rental housing quality – see: A reform that would give healthy gains. Smellie’s must-read article bolsters calls for a mandatory warrant of fitness for private rentals, and he explains why the quality of housing is so important. 

Smellie also attempts to explain why such initiatives are unlikely: ‘Calls for a mandatory warrant of fitness for private rentals seem to stall at every turn. The tempting conclusion is that small-time real estate investors and landlords are part of the core National Party vote, making the imposition of new regulations on this sector politically unpalatable.  It might also look contradictory to impose new regulation in one area of housing when the aim elsewhere is to reduce, or at least streamline, the red tape mountain’.

See also, Asher Goldman’s blogpost, Instability, home ownership and kids, in which he argues that ‘Pro-renter policies – those that improve the quality of rentals, the affordability of renting and the stability of renting – are a must for any future Government’.

Big solutions required
The extent of the housing crisis appears to mean that big solutions are required. No doubt there will be more calls for larger state housing provision and building. Already, the Dominion Post is showing some support for this. In its editorial, Many facets to housing solution, the newspaper says, ‘It seems clear that something more is required, and that probably means a decision by the Government to spend money on increasing the housing stock. The Government has ideological objections to this. But reality might force it to reconsider’.

The Greens are also pushing this, with Julie Anne Genter saying, ‘The Government has the ability to build affordable homes and address the housing crisis now but it is simply not doing it. New Zealand needs a major state home building programme, to meet the need for new homes and drive down high prices’ – see TVNZ’s 'There is no silver bullet to housing' - Housing Minister.

Of course, this is an age-old concern: the market isn’t delivering for the poor. This is well pointed out by social housing researcher, Elinor Chisholm – see her blog post, Building houses for poor people in 1912 and 2013

Finally, is it worth reevaluating the problem? According to scholarly blogger, Andrew Chen, the housing crisis might not be quite how it is portrayed. He applies some alternative calculations and comparisons and shows, for example, that ‘while house prices may not be affordable for many, the general trend is that they are becoming more affordable over the last four or five years’ – see: Property Price to Income Ratios

Furthermore, might we soon see the ‘housing bubble’ burst, effectively solving the problem? According to investor Brian Gaynor, the ‘massive momentum to the property market’ won’t last too much longer, and ‘it will come back 10, 15, 20 or even 25% and that will have a really devastating impact upon the New Zealand economy because of the high level of debt – see TVNZ’s NZ house prices could fall by up to 25% - Brian Gaynor


Today’s content


Housing and RMA reform

Chris Trotter (Bowalley Road): New Zealand Doesn't Need A "Developers' Charter"

Herald: Editorial: RMA move too important for bare majority

Dominion Post: Editorial – Scant detail on Nick Smith's proposed RMA overhaul

Brent Edwards (Radio NZ): Powerplay

Audrey Young (Herald): RMA will do 'nothing' for house prices - Winston Peters

John Armstrong (Herald): We all know the act is not the problem

Isaac Davison (Herald): Govt to unveil home affordability plans in new-look RMA

Isaac Davison (Herald): Nick Smith announces 10 dramatic changes to Resource Management Act

Vernon Small (Stuff): Smith lays some bait lines on RMA remodeling

Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Renters Rights

Pattrick Smellie (BusinessDesk): A reform that would give healthy gains

Dominion Post: Editorial: Many facets to housing solution

Hamish Rutherford and Kelly Dennett (Stuff): National pushes on with Resource Management Act reform

Rob Hosking (NBR): Nick Smith declares full speed ahead on RMA reform (paywalled)

Rob Salmond (Polity): Nick Smith's gambit

TVNZ: 'There is no silver bullet to housing' - Housing Minister

Scott Yorke (Imperator Fish): On the RMA changes

Duncan Garner (Radiolive): Smith’s sentiment right but it lacks details

Bill Moore (Stuff): Smith vows to cut 'red tape gone mad' in RMA

Peter Cresswell (Not PC): RMA reform? Mush, without any details to give it form

Nevil Gibson (NBR): Why Labour must support RMA reforms (paywalled)

Eric Crampton (Offsetting behaviour): Auckland SimCity

David Kennedy (Local bodies): RMA Changes, A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?

TV3: Labour: RMA reforms won't build more homes

TVNZ: NZ house prices could fall by up to 25% - Brian Gaynor

Gareth Vaughan (Interest): Brian Gaynor says he's not quite as positive as he was a year ago

Craig McCulloch (Radio NZ): Smith's RMA speech strident, says Dunne

Tova O'Brien and Simon Wong (TV3): RMA changes 'biggest in 25 years'

Greg Presland (The Standard): Nick Smith’s RMA reforms – low cost housing in Epsom?

Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): The real problem with affordable housing

Eye of the fish: RMA vs Affordable housing

Pete George (Your NZ): RMA reform – same old opposition

Elinor Chisholm (One Two Three Home): Building housese for poor people in 1912 and 2013

Stuff: Cost of building a new home rising fastest in Auckland

Amy Brooke (100 Days): Is this fair play for New Zealanders? Unaffordable housing a disgrace…

Waikato Times: Editorial – Resource Management Act reform needs support

Catherine Harris (Stuff): Investors driving Auckland property market

Rebecca Quilliam (Herald): Haggle, but rents will still rise: expert

Andrew McRae (RNZ): Home truths for property buyers

RNZ: Call for thousands of new homes

TVNZ: Wages must increase to make housing affordable - Andrew Little

Duncan Garner (Dom Post): Time to boost workers' pay, and first home buyers

Laura Walters (Stuff): Auckland in world top ten for housing unaffordability: report

Anne Gibson (Herald): Property: Mad truths on home prices in Auckland

ODT: Editorial: Heeding housing advice

Anne Gibson (Herald): Government's Auckland Housing Accord: Where are all the houses?

TV3: Auckland housing fix underway

Chris Hutching (NBR): Smith tries to take heat out of scorching housing report

Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): Special housing areas a total failure

RNZ: Call for more stable housing for Maori

The Standard: Where have all the houses gone?

Anna Pearson (Stuff): Housing fraud investigations 'free up' 180 houses

Andrew Chen (Mashed Calculus): Property Price to Income Ratios

Duncan Garner (RadioLIve): Ten reasons why houses are unaffordable

Asher Goldman (On the Left): Instability, home ownership and kids

Simon Wong and Dan Satherley (TV3): Govt's RMA changes gains some support

Dan Satherley (TV3): Greens: RMA changes won't make a dent in house prices

RNZ: Marama Fox wants closer look at RMA

Hamish Rutherford (Stuff): Government has numbers to pass RMA vote

TV3: Govt passing RMA change without support 'unwise'

RNZ: RMA changes no quick fix

Jono Natusch (Occasionally Erudite): (Almost) unconditional support: Act forgets to play its hand

The Standard: RMA reforms … be very afraid

Peter Cresswell (Not PC): So they’re “reforming” the RMA again?


John Key in Europe

Fran O'Sullivan (Herald): PM can strut rock star economy in Davos

Rob Salmond (Polity): Davos

Andrea Vance (Stuff): John Key and David Cameron compare notes over jelly and icecream

Herald: Editorial: 'Club's' rules of engagement not set in stone

Audrey Young (Herald): Prime Minister John Key: Isis fight 'price of the club'

TVNZ: John Key: The price of being part of Five Eyes is joining ISIS fight

Scott Yorke (Imperator Fish): A statement from the Prime Minister

Stuff: NZ part of international anti-Islamic State coalition - Prime Minister John Key

Audrey Young (Herald): John Key meets David Cameron: Isis fight tops the agenda

No Right Turn: Not worth the price

Mike Smith (Standard): But which club?

Anthony Robins (Standard): The price of the club

TVNZ: John Key talks Charlie Hebdo with British PM David Cameron

Tony Field (TV3): Davos 2015 to focus on wealth gap

Melissa Davies (TV3): NZ's links with UK, EU focus of London talks

Gordon Campbell (Scoop): On the similarities between John Key and David Cameron

Karl du Fresne (Dom Post): John Key: Mr Nice Guy's unbelievable aura of serenity


Treaty of Waitangi and Ratana

Andrea Vance (Stuff): Greens use Ratana meeting to attack John Key

TV3: Joint politicians' welcome a first at Ratana

Newswire: Political year kicks off in Ratana

Gareth Morgan’s Ratana speech

TV3: Treaty settlements not 'genuine partnership' – Greens

Dan Satherley (TV3): Gareth Morgan: Rednecks 'off their tree' over book

Claire Trevett (Herald): The great crusader comes up short

David Fisher (Herald): Gareth Morgan: Get radical on race issues

Claire Trevett (Herald): Gareth Morgan lays down challenge on Treaty and Maori seats

Mike Butler (Herald): Morgan errs on land-loss rhetoric

Gareth’s World: We need to lift Pakeha understanding of the Treaty of Waitangi

Rob Salmond (Polity): I agree with Gareth Morgan

RenewNZ: Gareth Morgan has been studying fashion – not facts

Newswire: Pakeha 'ignorant' about Waitangi – Gareth Morgan

Matthew Grocott (Stuff): Ratana birthday celebration begins



Manawatu Standard: Editorial: Power and money in the hands of a few

RNZ: Over 100,000 NZers in world's top 1%

Catriona MacLennan (Herald): Benefit debt punishment out of all proportion to 'crime'

Donna Wynd (CPAG): We must get on the same page about child poverty numbers

Anthony Robins (Standard): Beneficiaries falling



Jamie Morton (Herald): Cost of 'free' education in New Zealand: $35,000 or more a child

Dom Post: Editorial: Time to revisit government-funded food in schools

Jody O’Callaghan (Stuff): School costs pile up for parents

Audrey Young (Herald): Rise in tertiary fees outstrips living allowance

Michael Forbes (Stuff): High debt scares off Victoria University prospects



Alastair Thompson (Scoop): Reinventing News As A Public Right - A Public Conversation

Alison McCulloch (Scoop): Stop The Press : Alison McCulloch

Scoop: Setting Free The News - The Story Of Scoop #1 | 500 Words

Scoop: Scoop Independent News Launches "Operation Chrysalis"

Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Scoop’s latest attempt to rebrand itself

Damian Christie (Public Address): Absolute Genius: The New Paul Henry Show


Labour Party

Andrea Vance (Stuff): A game-plan that may just work for Little

Martyn Bradbury (Waatea News): What can Maori expect from Andrew Little's first speech on January 28th?



The Press: Editorial: Confidence in agency crucial

Herald: Editorial: Opposition should help pick spy chief

Rob Salmond (Polity): Herald on GCSB appointment



Katherine Percy (Herald): Bill puts focus on safe health practices

Geoff Simmons (Gareth’s World): Ten Types of People Who Would be Better Off with an Unconditional Basic Income

Audrey Young (Herald): Public sector staff on hunt for pay rise

Audrey Young (Herald): English: Smaller wage increases on the table due to low inflation

Paul McBeth (Newswire): English to restrain public sector pay

Colin James (ODT): Work is not what it used to be

Christie Hall (Stuff): Where next for equal pay

Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Time for Andrew Little to give unions teeth



Herald: The Insider: MPs bask in a longer summer

Adam Bennett (Herald): Meet the backbenchers: Mother's courage showed the way

Chris Trotter (Daily Blog): Why Jamie Whyte’s Daughter Is A Better Philosopher Than Her Dad

Dita de Boni (Herald): NZ daftly addicted to smart solutions

TVNZ: NZ flag change a matter of patriotism - John Key

Patrice Dougan and Kurt Bayer (Herald): Cabinet to look at David Bain compensation

Susan Devoy (Herald): We can't afford complacency in race relations

No Right Turn: More harassment of Dotcom

Liam Hehir (Manawatu Standard): Democracy's bitter taste worth bearing

Audrey Young (Herald): McCully denies he's quitting for UN envoy role

Michael Cox (Herald): Clark's sad legacy in '84 affair shrinks UN hopes

Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Is Islam intrinsically evil? Reflections on Rupert Murdoch’s text

Scott Hamilton (Reading the maps): A quick non-contribution to a constitutional debate

Eric Crampton (Offsetting behaviour): False equivalences

Greg Presland (The Standard): Dirty Politics in 2015

Deborah Morris-Travers (Herald): Kids should top Key's New Year resolutions

Rebecca Macfie (Listener): Dying wishes (paywalled)

Redline: Capitalism and the state

Greg Presland (The Standard): What John Key actually believes in

Carrie Stoddart-Smith (Ellipsister): Twitter. It can be rough

Fairfax: How accurate were our political predictions for 2014?

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): 2015 predictions

Dominion Post: Editorial: New Zealand faces big choices in 2015

James Griffin (Herald): My 2015 to-do list by PM John Key

Fran O'Sullivan (Herald): Sloganeering offers little protection for our freedoms and values

Steve Braunias (Herald): The secret diary of ... 2015

David Fisher (Herald): NZ spies to combat new terror threats