Being an environmentalist is not just about stopping stuff. Which is why the Greens are wrong about one aspect of the recently announced proposals for RMA reform if this RNZ story is correct.
Eugenie Sage is quoted saying that adding urban development alongside values such as natural character and the protection of fauna and flora would “mean the environment gets traded away for economic gain”.
Wrong. In our cities it is not a matter of trading off the environment against economic gain. Building great urban environments is the best way to get prosperous cities.
The development of our cities, and the building of great urban environments has been sadly neglected under the Resource Management Act. The Act’s architects designed it to protect our coast and our rivers but they didn’t give much thought to the built environment. Of the seven matters of national importance in the Act only one has a direct bearing on cities and that is the protection of historic heritage.
By focusing on (often adverse) effects of development, it loses sight of the big picture and the public good. For instance, a neighbour of a planned block of flats gets the right to object to the loss of a view or sunlight, but the Act doesn’t properly take into account the public good benefits of affordable housing enjoyed by future residents, nor the importance of urban intensification.
Our cities need more developments, not fewer. Better developments, fewer mediocre ones. And sadly the RMA doesn’t do much to incentivise good urban design, or promote central government policy priorities like affordable housing. (Imagine for a moment that affordable housing was a central government policy priority.)
There are things in the advisory group’s recommendations that are worth opposing. Grant has set out Labour’s concerns about the weakening of environmental protection. But raising the status of urban development in the RMA is not one of them.
In fact the advisory group’s proposal is too timid. National doesn’t seem to have made any progress on the recommendations of the Technical Advisory Group that reported two years ago on urban issues and the RMA. Some of its recommendations were pretty useful. For a start, a National Policy Statement on the Built Environment would be a help.
Our cities need the sparkle of Wellington’s waterfront and the bold engineering of Auckland’s City Rail Link. They need ambitious, high quality developments that deliver thousands of affordable homes, jobs and public transport. There is a big reform agenda waiting to be developed on urban development. Making the RMA more relevant and helpful to our cities is a good place to start.