Welcome to the first in our series of posts about recent changes to the RMA and what they mean for Regular People. Some of the RMA changes address resource consent issues to make them easier and cheaper for people to deal with: Boundary activities, marginal infringements, and temporary infringements.
Today we’ll jump into the first topic that lots of Regular People can relate to: Boundary activities (new section 87BA of RMA).
The Resource Legislation Amendment Act 2017 (RLAA) was adopted by the New Zealand government in April 2017. It contains changes to 5 different Acts, one of which is the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA). Some of the changes to the RMA happened immediately, and others will go live in October 2017.
What is a boundary activity?
Example 1: Louise's house
After RLAA: If Louise can get her neighbour Steve’s written approval that he’s okay with her building 1 metre from the boundary he shares with her, then she can go ahead and do it. No resource consent is required.
That sounds pretty reasonable to us. Why make someone go through a resource consent if the boundary infringement is only 2m and the affected neighbour is fine with the deal? The new change to boundary activities saves Louise time and money.
Let’s visit Louise’s neighbourhood in 10 years. What if everyone around her gradually gave each other permission to build 1m from side and rear boundaries?
It looks to us like an unintended side effect of the boundary activity change is neighbourhood intensification, but without the input of the whole community. After 10 years of unintentional building congestion, we're pretty sure that many councils will review their plans and put in larger boundary setbacks - to gradually get more space between houses again.
Example 2: Nigel's development
Okay, this is an extreme example, but we wanted to see what we could get away with under the boundary activity change. It does raise some legitimate issues around "letting the market decide" and bad urban planning!
The neighbours who spoke in the hearing didn’t know that more intensive building was in the pipeline, nor were they required to be told about it under the new boundary activity rule. At this large scale, the new boundary activities change means the subdivision's housing density could change without community input.
Communities participate in creating district plans, including agreeing on what residential building setbacks should be. The boundary activities change essentially allows agreeable neighbours to ignore those setback rules.
There are infrastructure concerns with Nigel and Fiona's plans as well. What about stormwater runoff? Bigger houses mean more runoff - where does it go? Do you think Nigel's original subdivision concept planned for it?
What other issues do you see arising from developers giving each other permission to breach boundary activity rules?
Conclusion: Good idea, poorly thought through
The change to boundary activities is a nice idea on small scale projects, but it has the potential to create cumulative effects. Louise’s neighbourhood got more congested than her district plan intended over 10 years. Nigel and Fiona's development created a really large immediate effect - unanticipated building density in large residential subdivisions.
How might this new change affect you? What do you think?
Photo credits: San Francisco Painted Ladies, public domain; Markham suburbs, Ian Duke CC Share Alike 2.5 license.