Tuesday 22 November 2022

Resource Management and degrees of freedom

The Natural and Built Environment Act has eighteen different outcomes and sub-outcomes that regional planning must seek to achieve, without hierarchy among them. 

When I see this many outcomes, with no way of weighing across them, and without a requirement to run some kind of CBA across the set, I see infinite degrees of freedom for a regional planning body to just go ahead and do whatever the heck it wanted to while justifying it by pointing to one or several of the outcomes.

I mean just look at this.

5 System outcomes

To assist in achieving the purpose of this Act, the national planning framework and all plans must provide for the following system outcomes:

(a) the protection or, if degraded, restoration, of—

     (i) the ecological integrity, mana, and mauri of—

          (A) air, water, and soils; and

          (B) the coastal environment, wetlands, estuaries, and lakes and rivers and their margins; and

          (C) indigenous biodiversity:

               (ii) outstanding natural features and outstanding natural landscapes:

               (iii) the natural character of the coastal environment (including the coastal marine area),  wetlands, and lakes and rivers and their margins:

(b) in relation to climate change and natural hazards, achieving—

     (i) the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions:

     (ii) the removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere:

     (iii) the reduction of risks arising from, and better resilience of the environment to, natural hazards and the effects of climate change:

(c) well functioning urban and rural areas that are responsive to the diverse and changing needs of people and communities in a way that promotes—

     (i) the use and development of land for a variety of activities, including for housing, business use, and primary production; and

     (ii) the ample supply of land for development, to avoid inflated urban land prices; and

     (iii) housing choice and affordability; and

     (iv) an adaptable and resilient urban form with good accessibility for people and communities to social, economic, and cultural opportunities; and

(d) the availability of highly productive land for land-based primary production:

(e) the recognition of, and making provision for, the relationship of iwi and hapū and the exercise of their kawa, tikanga (including kaitiakitanga), and mātauranga in relation to their ancestral lands, water, sites, wāhi tapu, wāhi tūpuna, and other taonga:

(f) the protection of protected customary rights and recognition of any relevant statutory  acknowledgement:

(g) the conservation of cultural heritage:

(h) enhanced public access to and along the coastal marine area, lakes, and rivers:

(i) the ongoing and timely provision of infrastructure services to support the well-being of people and communities.

6 Decision-making principles

(1) To assist in achieving the purpose of this Act, the Minister and every regional planning committee, in making decisions under the Act, must—

     (a) provide for the integrated management of the environment; and

     (b) actively promote the outcomes provided for under this Act; and

     (c) recognise the positive effects of using and developing the environment to achieve the outcomes; and

     (d) manage the effects of using and developing the environment in a way that achieves, and does not undermine, the outcomes; and

     (e) manage the cumulative adverse effects of using and developing the environment.

(2) If, in relation to making a decision under this Act, the information available is uncertain or inadequate, all persons exercising functions, duties, and powers under this Act must favour—

     (a) caution; and

     (b) a level of environmental protection that is proportionate to the risks and effects involved.

(3) All persons exercising powers and performing functions and duties under this Act must recognise and provide for the responsibility and mana of each iwi and hapū to protect and sustain the health and well-being of te taiao in accordance with the kawa, tikanga (including kaitiakitanga), and mātauranga in their area of interest.

I don't think there exists a possible regional spatial plan that can meet all of the objectives without trade-offs between the objectives. And there's enough of them that you could write up whatever spatial plan you preferred (based on aesthetics or whatever else), and then just point to how any alternative worsens one or several of the named outcomes relative to your starting point. 

"Oh, we'd love to allow more density in this region. But as I'm sure you're aware, that area's important for the preservation of cultural heritage. And while we'd like to enable urban expansion at the fringes, we're simply surrounded by land that either has high agricultural value, or is ancestral land, or both. So I'm afraid our hands are tied. We aren't NIMBYs who just hate change and newcomers; we'd love to be able to do what you recommend. But we must give regard to a broad set of outcomes. It is unfortunate."

Unless councils have a lot stronger incentive to want growth, they'll have plenty of degrees of freedom for blocking it. 

My column at Newsroom this week covers it. Ungates tomorrow by dropping /pro from the URL. 

The game of whack-a-mole in which central government legislates against each new way that councils find to obstruct growth seems likely to continue – unless councils are made to welcome urban growth by sharing in its benefits.

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