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Stopping theft by Heritage NZ Poutere Taonga

  • May 13th, 2014

I'm honoured to have New Zealand's Best Blog pick up my Friday evening post today. I add my congratulations, to Cam Slater and to the admirable MSM reps who acknowledged the energy, fearlessness, and compression with which he show us the both the value of freedom of speech, and the price necessarily paid (in tolerant holding of the nose).

But the reposting of that article (by Cam and NBR) reflects how serious are the breaches of principle in the Heritage NZ Poutere Taonga Bill.

It leaves an exposed flank for National. Labour could use it to show their economic development values. For example, David Parker could promote Labour amendments, to remove the new disincentives to outstanding architecture. He could be supported by Grant Robertson (Economic Development),  and Andrew Little (Justice) upholding integrity of property rights (principles Michael Cullen defended better than National just a few years ago).  They could be joined by Clayton Cosgrove, in his capacity as a Christchurch MP and spokesperson on Earthquake and Building matters.

Kennedy Graham, Constitutional Affairs spokesperson of the Green Party, could find good reasons to challenge this objectionable delivery of a power that is effectively a selective wealth tax of up to 100% without Parliamentary supervision, and no control over who benefits (if anyone).

I'd be happy to help with SOPs that could make the Bill less offensive.

Shane Jones' forthright rejection of the enormous new iwi consultation burden in the Auckland Unitary Plan began Labour's rebound in the polls, till he sank them again. . I think there is scope for similar championing of ordinary people's rights while the HNZPT Bill acquires similar notoriety.

Christchurch based MPs should trace closely what the Bill does with the Canterbury Earthquake Royal Commission’s plea for life safety to prevail over the freeze powers of the Heritage activists. Unbelievably, it does next to nothing to ensure the financial capacity to upgrade safety. It leaves the power with hose who just don’t like change, and don’t want to pay for blocking it and feel virtuous knowing their might be a few martyrs to their reverence for old things.

Cases like that of the dangerous Harcourt Building in Wellington, which no one wants to tenant, and which has a façade likely to fall on street users in an earthquake, could have been dealt with simply.

The Heritage Bill could have, for example included protections along all or any of the following lines:

  1. allow owners to strengthen, or replace (with a replica façade if necessary) in any way that best defrays the cost by improving usability,  if they can prove the genuineness of the safety risks. In other words a simple rule that safety outweighs the preferences of the heritage aesthetes, and that safety improvements need funding;
  2. Allow the Council and HPT heritage enthusiasts the right to stop owners renewing or upgrading their properties for safety (or efficiency and value) only if:
  • They take over and indemnify the owner for his Health and Safety exposures, including fines and imprisonment; or
  • Pay the owner the difference between what his land is worth with and without their restrictions; or
  • They do not exceed a cap in the cost of their effective expropriation of value from the owner.. For example, the law could protect owners from Heritage expropriation of more than say 20% of the value of the property without the Heritage order.
  1. Improve the incentives on the HPT Board, by giving them a semblance of the normal budget constraints that affect all other controllers of public resource.  For example they should know the cost they impose on the community. They should have to value the blight losses inflicted on owners and neighbourhoods, and publish the total  cost separately for each community, and nationally;
  2. Set caps on the impacts for communities so the HBT can’t act as if they alone in government have an unlimited budget of loss and cost they can inflict. Old towns where new investment is chancy anyway, need protection from outsiders who decide their pleasure as tourists outweighs the interests of people who live there. Oamaru may be an example where facades should be sufficient instead of a prohibitory tax, represented by taking property owners’ rights to respond to  the reduced satisfaction and safety of users of their sub-standard old buildings.

Of course all this is inferior to a straight-forward reinstatement of principle – if the state, through the Historic Places Trust, wants the community to take the value from an owner for its public benefits, then normal Public Works Act compensation rights should apply.

The biggest benefit of a reform that requires appreciation of the dynamic losses represented by heritage order and claim delays and expropriation , would probably be the enhanced prosperity of the communities which presently suffer blight. The tend not to see the impact on them because it hits the individual owner first. But their costs could be required to be calculated and published.

Communities derive benefits through land-owners’ improvement of land.. Communities should be able to calculate their preferences for the old, against, for example the loss of utilisation of infrastructure  from empty buildings and underutilised land and reduced rateable capacity, not to mention the overseas borrowing attributable to artificial property prices from restrictions on our supply of new buildings.



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