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Water and road charges in urban ideas

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 18/08/2016

Stronger political direction and less options for people to appeal, along with councils charging for water and roads, will improve urban planning, the government's think tank believes.

The Productivity Commission has released its draft Better Urban Planning report, with recommendations for improving the way New Zealand's cities and towns grow, but it says there is no simple fix.

"It's not just a case of changing legislation," said chairman Murray Sherwin.

"Effective urban planning is about the right mix of legislation, people with the right skills and strong relationships."

Planning was about competing individual interests and where community and private objectives were met. Difficult trade-offs sometimes had to be made.

"These decisions are best made through the political process not the courts," Mr Sherwin said.

The current planning system tended to be adversarial and reactive to the views of "well-resourced and mobilised groups" rather than the majority. he said.

"Central government needs to set stronger boundaries around planning, and councils need to allow people greater scope to decide how to best use their land."

Finance Minister Bill English was pleased with what the commission had come up with and its criticisms of the Resource Management Act.

"It finds that a lack of central government guidance has led to decisions that suit local interests, but have caused negative, wider impacts like rising land and house prices," he said in a statement.

It was particularly pleasing to see a shift in planning culture had been identified.

"We've seen this thinking constrain growth in Auckland, which has caused the land and housing supply issues."

The urban planning recommendations include:

* Allowing councils to charge for drinking water and wastewater

* Allowing councils to charge for road use

* Allowing government to override local plans

* Making a distinction between the built and natural environment with clear objectives for each

* Favouring development in urban areas, subject to clear limits

* Developing a government environmental sustainability policy to provide boundaries for urban development

* Providing narrower access to appeals and tighter notification requirements

* Establishing an independent hearings panel to consider and new council plans

The commission is inviting submissions by October 3 and it will report to the government by November 30.

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