Red Alert

When being green doesn’t mean stopping stuff

Posted by on July 8th, 2012

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.

8 Responses to “When being green doesn’t mean stopping stuff”

  1. Spud says:

    Yeah, people like having a place to live! 😯

  2. Luke says:

    Unfortunately Westgate town centre is one of those dreary developments that needs a lot of work to make it into a positive development. The idea to have a local town centre is a good one, and the internal design of the centre is a big improvement from Albany, Botany.
    However not well linked foe pedestrians to existing mall, and poor pedestrian links to any other development not controlled by KIPT. Therefore still highly auto dependent.

  3. Paul B says:

    Urban landscape is a very minor part (in terms of area) of the whole NZ land and water resource. Cities by their very nature are already grossly modified landscape, and possibly should have a separate piece of environmental legislation? The RMA has increasingly become a minefield – Environment issues of rural and urban NZ are often chalk and cheese. Clearly there could be ‘boundary’ issues to sort, perhaps with a small overview authority.
    Phil Twyford is right to stress city development has many compelling and critical issues which bear on most of us, and have often not been ‘done’ well. But trying to put everything into one basket may be a mistake.
    With respect of urban design and ‘liveability’ there are probably departments better suited for oversight than the Ministry of Environment.
    I feel that it is more the ecology and nature of our countryside which is threatened by development . Urban areas are- sort of by definition -‘destroyed’ (if you can excuse the expression)- and should be administered for the best lifestyle and comfort of the inhabitants – in that peculiarly intense manner of citylife.
    Consequently I am probably inclined to the Greens attitude, particularly as I have little trust in the motives of the incumbents
    I have to admit to being a ‘countrysoul’ at heart, and it is the relentlessly progressive decimation and pollution of our rural environment which most worries me. The Nats seem, on several fronts to be delaying and manoeuvreing for less respect for the rural environment, except in their rhetoric
    So please be very suspicious of National and its agenda. I probably agree with Eugenie Sage that we may be being duped as to the real objective.
    The new Joyce superministry is probably a device to simplify ‘control’. I wonder why they ommited the Ministry of Environment?
    It would be good if the ‘left’ could reach a constructive consensus.

  4. Mark Harvey says:

    Thanks for your comment Phil.

    I think you need to be careful not to pre-judge the Greens with what you say here. Their policy on the RMA I understand places more weight on the protection of the environment, but this is not at all at the expense of creating positive and healthy urban conditions. Quite the opposite is implied by her in fact. Phil you paint Labour here as being more or less the same as National in it’s RMA policies and fail to see the economic and healthy benefits of prioritising environmental protection over other aspects like the business of corporate developers.

  5. SJW says:

    Mr Twyford,

    “Great urban developments” What do you mean by this?

    I agree with Paul B’s suggestion, it seems that a separate piece of environmental leglislation is needed.

    “Stream lining and simplifying processes” “reducing costs and delays” and “speed-up plan making processes” cited as aims for the changes to the RMA on the Ministry for the Environment’s website all mean

    -removing the requirement of careful thought of all considerations that the RMA encourages.

    -It involves losing the participatory nature with which RMA encourages and

    -the costs involved in the planning of a development require a huge amount of expertise to ensure major problems for the future are evaluated prior to the start of any construction. If the costs are being reduced, who is going to be paying for this expertise? Ratepayers? Or will the costs be reduced by no longer requiring such expertise?

    I shudder at your comment re neighbouring properties, suggesting that less weight be given to their objections re sunlight.

    If someone has access to the type of funds to build tall blocks of accommodation then hopefully they have the sense to check with neighbouring properties prior to the purchase of a piece of land and in the case of objection, an offer to purchase the neighbours property, thus allowing the “neighbour” to find somewhere where they are not going to be built out. I can think of nothing worse than neighbours losing the weight in this right to object.

    It is the expectation of huge profit and the knowledge that this expectation won’t be met, that is injuring development of the affordable housing sector. Why? Because the RMA requires conscientiousness.

    Catering to developers desires in respect to “simplifying the process” and “cutting costs” will not lead to “better planned urban designs” it will simply lead to poorly thought out designs, neighbours losing their rights to object-lives thus being ruined-so that profits can be enjoyed by those lacking scruples.

  6. OneTrack says:

    “Being an environmentalist is not just about stopping stuff.”

    You could have fooled me

  7. al1ens says:

    Most of their time is spent convincing dullards there’s a problem

  8. Draco T Bastard says:

    I always get concerned when a politician starts going on about affordable housing as what we end up with is cheap and nasty housing that will, over it’s life time, cost far more. More in sprawl, more roads, more for basic services (servicing a single building that can house ten families is cheaper than servicing ten separate houses) and, due to the low standards set for housing, more power usage and more people dying of preventable diseases caused by living in cold houses.

    Ever consider that that may be because you haven’t actually listened to what the environmentalists actually say and thus don’t actually know WTF you’re talking about?