Changes Afoot for Local Government

Grant Hewison 166X210                  The Annual Local Government New Zealand Conference provides an opportunity for the Prime Minister and Minister of Local Government to set out their agenda for the local government sector for the following year. This year’s conference, held in Hamilton in July, was no different.
  • by Grant Hewison, member of ADLS’s Environment and Resource Management Law Committee

So – what is in store for Auckland Council and local government generally over the next 12 months?

The Prime Minister’s speech particularly highlighted the reforms that are underway to the RMA and housing. The current RMA reform Bill, he said, is “about providing greater confidence for businesses to grow and create jobs … bringing greater certainty for communities to plan for their area’s needs, and stronger environmental regulation.”

Submissions made by Auckland Council were critical of several aspects of the Bill, including the proposals for tree protection and the process for appointing members to the panel to hear the Unitary Plan. Nonetheless, these proposals have remained largely intact. The PM confirmed that Bill will be progressed in August.

The rising cost of housing was acknowledged by the PM as a significant concern in Auckland. To improve the supply side of the housing market, the Government is establishing Housing Accords, in partnership with local government, to create special housing areas.

Housing Accords aim to streamline the planning and consenting process and get central and local government working more closely together on housing development. The first of these Accords is with Auckland, and gives the Auckland Council the tools to get on and consent thousands more sections.

The Government has set targets within the Auckland Accord of 39,000 new homes over the next three years. Part of the urgency in getting a Unitary Plan in place is to provide a framework for implementation of the Housing Accord.

Again, the Auckland Council was very critical of several aspects of the Housing Accords and Special Housing Areas Bill being passed to implement these changes, particularly the powers proposed for Minister of Housing to override local government planning and consenting functions.

The Minister of Local Government announced that a Local Government Amendment Bill will be introduced before the end of this year.

Among the measures in the Bill will be the removal of the Special Consultative Procedure, except in relation to long-term plans and new or significant changes to bylaws.

This will enable councils to consult in ways that are appropriate to different matters and local circumstances, but it also means the community will need to be more vigilant to changes being progressed by councils, as there won’t be the same requirement to consult.

At any one time, the Auckland Council group has a broad range of regulatory and non-regulatory strategy and policy being developed. Keeping an eye on this will become even more difficult without the need for special consultation.

As part of the Government’s work on housing affordability, a review is underway of Development Contributions. The Minister says the Government is keen to see development contributions “made more transparent and more tightly confined to infrastructure used in the development”.

While the Government is not proposing to abolish development contributions altogether, the move to more tightly confine their use will be welcomed by the development sector.

On the other hand, Auckland Council has been opposed to any changes to the current regime.

In its submission, the Council argued that “the removal of, or reduction in, the Council’s ability to recover the capital costs of growth related infrastructure, through development contributions … combined with an effective rates cap, would have a devastating impact on Auckland’s ability to provide for the needs of its rapidly growing population.”

Finally, both the PM and Minister of Local Government mentioned the local government elections which will take place in October. Candidate nominations opened on 19 July and close on 16 August. With the Auckland Council group emerging as a significant player in New Zealand’s governance arrangements, these elections are now almost as important as the national ones. 

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