The Environment Committee (the committee) last week recommended the controversial Resource Management (Enabling Housing Supply and Other Matters) Amendment Bill (the bill) be passed with some amendments.
The bill aims to amend the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) to accelerate the supply of housing in urban areas. You can read further details in our update on the bill’s introduction.
Medium Density Residential Standards
The bill introduces Medium Density Residential Standards (MDRS) which territorial authorities must incorporate into their plans. The MDRS require particular activities and building standards to be permitted activities including, most controversially, enabling up to three units per site and three storey developments.
The committee has suggested changes to a number of the building standards including a reduction to the height in relation to boundary rules, an increase in the outdoor living area for ground units, and an increase in outlook spaces. It has also proposed including new building standards relating to glazing and landscaping. This serves to moderate the density outcomes of the standards somewhat.
It also noted that the bill as currently drafted does not contain any provisions that expressly state the objectives and policies of the MDRS. The committee considered that these should be added to provide guidance and ensure a consistent approach to decision making. Specific proposed drafting for those objectives and policies is included in the report.
Clarification of subdivision rules to come?
The committee recommended that the rules relating to subdivision should be clarified to provide for subdivision as a controlled activity for existing dwellings that meet the MDRS, new dwellings that are permitted under the MDRS or dwellings which have been approved through a resource consent.
Intensification Streamlined Planning Process
The bill introduces a new Intensification Streamlined Planning Process (ISPP) which modifies the usual process in Schedule 1 of the RMA that territorial authorities use when making or changing their plans. The committee recommended that the scope of the ISPP be broadened so that it can be used, not just to incorporate the MDRS, the National Policy Statement on Urban Development and financial contribution provisions, but also to change provisions in plans that are “consequential and complementary” to those matters. This would include changes to the objectives, policies, rules, standards and zonings within existing planning instruments.
Schools singled out for inclusion in intensification opportunity
Submissions were received identifying that the bill’s applicability to residential zones and units only could result in community facilities and services experiencing increased demand due to intensification, but being unable to easily respond to the demand. The committee then focused on schools and recommended that schools should also have the opportunity for intensification on their sites.
However the committee did not address other uses beyond noting that some non-residential uses can be enabled in residential zones. It therefore seems likely that the bill will remain limited to residential properties which could result in some neighbourhoods with a mix of zonings where supporting activities may not be able to intensify to match increased demand.
The committee identified that there should be a requirement for independent hearing panels to include those with expertise in tikanga and that the Minister for Māori Crown Relations. Te Arawhiti (the Office for Māori Crown Relations) should be consulted, in addition to the Minister of Housing, when certain decisions are being made by the Minister for the Environment. The committee also suggested changes to the provisions to facilitate papakāinga housing. This is consistent with the increased focus on Māori participation in the resource management sphere more broadly.
A number of submissions on the bill focused on the need to ensure that the necessary infrastructure is provided at the same pace as the envisaged housing intensification. The committee noted that the bill enables the use of funding tools such as financial contributions, and that there are also alternative options outside of the bill to assist with the funding of infrastructure. The majority view was that the overall impacts on infrastructure would be manageable in the short term, according to the report. The ACT party’s view differed, however, suggesting that the bill fails to address the long-term financing and funding problems that in their view are the real constraint on housing supply.
The committee recommended removal of the current requirement to withdraw proposed district plans or private plan changes when the hearing has not been completed by 20 February 2022, instead allowing for variations in most cases. The committee also noted that councils that have already notified proposed plans should not be required to modify their operative plans. Instead, they should use the ISPP to vary their proposed district plans. Existing plan changes should also be able to progress merely by varying the plan change so that it incorporates the MDRS as, if these plan changes are required to be withdrawn, this could affect housing supply in the short term.
While there was no particular recommendation made in relation to appeal rights, the committee did note that “some of us remain concerned about the absence of a right of appeal to the Environment Court when a council does not accept the recommendations of the independent hearing panel, and a decision instead being made by the Minister for the Environment”. This is an important aspect of the amendments included in the bill and is a matter which should be given more thought as the bill progresses.
In making these recommendations the committee did not propose specific wording amendments to the bill, citing the expedited timeframe as having been insufficient to enable this. A tracked-change version is expected to be created through a Supplementary Order Paper at the Committee of the whole House stage.
The bill will now progress to the second reading for substantive debate. It will be interesting to see if the bi-partisan approach continues following recent changes to the opposition leadership.
If you have any questions about the matters raised in this article, please get in touch with the contacts listed, or your usual Bell Gully adviser.