Growing Hamilton

Hamilton yet to be convinced on RMA reform

Aerial image of a housing development

From the Office of the Mayor

 

Hamilton City Council looks set to raise serious doubts about whether reform of the Resource Management Act (RMA) will deliver what’s needed for high-growth cities.

A draft submission to government, to be discussed by Councillors this week, raises a raft of concerns.

Mayor Paula Southgate agreed the RMA needs to be completely overhauled but said so far, proposals were not hitting the mark.

“We still need robust environmental protections but the existing legislation is a complete mess and has introduced a whole load of complexities for councils, for developers and for the community. We all know it needs a complete transformation.

“But based on what we’ve seen so far, there’s lot more work to do yet. I’m not yet confident the reform proposals as they stand are workable and will deliver what’s needed.”

Hamilton’s draft submission raises concerns about whether the proposed new system could respond adequately to local concerns. It notes the reduced role councils would have in planning for their own communities and says layers of planning will become more – not less – complex.

The draft submission says other legislative changes should have time to “bed in” before a whole new suite of further changes are forced upon local government.

Mayor Southgate said she and Councillors were acutely mindful the local government sector was facing the same staff shortages as everyone else and “this will not help”.

“There is a lack acknowledgement of the very good planning work we have already done as a city and at a regional level and that’s incredibly frustrating for Councillors and for staff. We’ve seen this in a number of heavy-handed urban planning directives that have recently come out of Wellington,” she said.

“Hamilton City Council, alongside its FutureProof partners Waipā and Waikato, have done a very good job in planning for the future. That work has already been recognised by government so I’m disappointed not to see that reflected in the proposals to date.

“I’m concerned that high-growth councils like ours, facing huge infrastructure funding challenges, will see our metro-focussed voices further diluted in Wellington.”

Mayor Southgate said the reform proposals also continue to skirt around the elephant in the room – funding.

“We’re hamstrung by debt-to-equity ratios which are imposed by central government. And we’re further stymied by legislation around the use of development contributions. We cannot ask ratepayers to fund what is simply unaffordable for them.

“We all want more houses and we want them fast. But we need certainty of funding and a much more stream-lined and planned approach to securing that funding. Without it, we simply have no chance of building the infrastructure the city needs because the costs are simply staggering. I would desperately love to see that acknowledged in Wellington and to see much more sustainable funding arrangements considered.”

Hamilton was concerned the proposed resource management reforms do not integrate with other reforms already on the table, including three waters reform and reform of local government itself.

“It just feels like there is a lot of reform on the table at the same time and that it’s not being well integrated.”

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