Hobson Article - December 2015

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Most of my time is divided between home in Auckland and Parliament in Wellington.  But whenever I can I try to get around the country a bit to see and hear what’s going on.   Last week I spent a couple of days in the deep south, talking to groups in Invercargill, Lumsden and

Gore and visiting local businesses.   People were mostly upbeat, but many I spoke to did worry that all the attention seems to be on Auckland and suggested it would be nice to have some more population growth in their neighbourhoods.

Most of the regions in New Zealand are doing pretty well, though dairy is challenging at the moment.  Quite naturally they all want to do better.  That’s why the Government is investing a lot of thought and energy in regional growth programmes such as the Investment

Attraction Programme and Regional Growth Programmes as a part of our recently updated Business Growth Agenda.

Nothing, however, will change the fact that Auckland is destined to be the centre of greatest dynamism and growth in New Zealand.  The drift of the world is towards larger, global cities.  More and more people want to live in big cities, with the variety and opportunities they offer.   New Zealand needs Auckland to do well.

The only question is how fast Auckland will grow and whether it will feature as one of the Asia Pacific’s more dynamic cities or something more modest.

The very high cost of land and development in Auckland has the potential to hold us back.  It makes housing less affordable, and it raises the cost of doing business, fundamentally making this city a less attractive investment proposition for most sectors, as well as an expensive place to live.

The operation of the Resource Management Act (RMA) by councils has a significant role in all this. 

National, in government, has tried many times to reform it but has struggled to achieve a majority in Parliament for substantive change.  Peter Dunne and New Zealand First, together with Labour and the Greens have resolutely resisted substantial reform since the 1990s. 

We continue to look for a workable compromise.

Meantime, the time has come for a ‘first principles’ review of the urban planning rules.  Not just the Resource Management Act, but also the Local Government Act, the Land Transport Management Act and related laws.

Finance Minister, Bill English, has asked the Productivity Commission to undertake the task.  Their brief is to review urban planning rules and processes, and identify the most appropriate system for land use allocation.

Many parts of the regime are out-dated and unwieldy, having been developed over the years in a piecemeal fashion. International best practice has moved on and so must New Zealand.

The Commission will also consider ways to ensure the future regime is flexible and able to respond to changing demands.

Auckland has so much going for it.  It would be a terrible pity to see it fall off the pace because together we can’t find a way to grow without making land too expensive.  I’m looking forward to seeing the Productivity Commission’s proposals.