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Brief Counsel

Blue skies review for urban planning – the take-off

15 January 2016

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The blue skies review into urban planning has now left the runway, with the release by the Productivity Commission before Christmas of an issues paper seeking feedback on possible directions for change.

Submissions are due by 9 March. 

The Commission has been tasked with identifying from first principles “the most appropriate system for allocating land use to support desirable social, economic, environmental and cultural outcomes”.

The inquiry includes the Resource Management Act (RMA), Local Government Act (LGA), Land Transport Management Act (LTMA) and those elements of the Building Act, the Reserves Act and the Conservation Act which bear on land use.

It sits separate to the work streams around the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill and the proposed National Policy Statement on urban development.

Weaknesses with current framework

The Commission identifies these as including:
  • an absence of strong linkages among the planning processes required under the three main Acts (the RMA, LGA and LTMA) and inconsistences among those links which do exist
  • a lack of common purposes and goals and an unclear hierarchy among the Acts
  • a lack of consistency among the timeframes required by the various plans and the time-phases in which they must be developed
  • rigid overlapping and time-consuming consultation and public participation requirements, which are not necessarily achieving positive outcomes, and
  • complex and unclear legal frameworks and rules.

These factors are making coordinated land use, transport and infrastructure decisions inefficient and ineffective.

The Commission asks why the RMA has not delivered on its original objectives of being purely effects based and consolidating and making more consistent, resource use decision-making.  It asks which elements in the existing structure would be worth transferring to a new structure.

It invites comment on which among a range of alternatives to land use zoning it should explore further.  Mechanisms include common law and private bargaining, covenants, tradable development rights and offsets, levies and user charges.  Possible models are from the US, Germany, Japan, Vancouver and Switzerland.

The big questions

At this early stage, the Commission is still working at the very high level.  Some of the questions it poses are:

  • whether we should continue to regulate environmental protection and land use within a single regulatory framework or under separate frameworks
  • whether different regimes should be developed for urban and non-urban areas
  • whether infrastructure planning and funding should be integrated into a single planning statute, and
  • (although most of the focus is currently on residential land) whether particular tools should be developed to ensure an adequate supply of industrial and commercial land.

Next steps

The Commission will publish a draft report in July, with responses due by September, and will deliver its final recommendations to the Government by 30 November 2016.

Both the Government and the Commission have publicly indicated an appetite for significant reform so there is a lot to play for.  We will be happy to assist you to prepare a submission.

 For further information please contact the lawyers featured.