Opinion: BANANA principle belies the cost of progress

BANANA: Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anybody

At a recent TUANZ event I observed that some New Zealand communities appear to have moved beyond Nimby-ism and have now adopted the BANANA principle: Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anybody. Sadly, I can’t take credit for that little gem and I offer a very respectful hat-tip to whoever it was that did.

Everyone in this industry has a story about the absurdities of the Resource Management Act and the frustrations involved in the multiplicity of planning hurdles one has to jump through in order to roll out infrastructure. In one of my former lives as a cellular engineer, I was frustrated that it sometimes took three years to get permission to build a cellsite that took one month to construct. And on occasion the cost of getting permission equalled the cost of what you were building.

I’m not about to launch into local authorities, as I recognise that they have been handed quite a mess to manage. Sure, some authorities are better than others.

But one of the key problems is a multiplicity of inconsistent and disjointed regulatory frameworks (for RMA, road openings and the likes) spread across a plethora of authorities, making life very difficult even when there is goodwill on all sides.

On top of that, there are significant issues in the way New Zealand communities respond to infrastructure development.

I don’t know whether this is a uniquely Kiwi phenomenon, or whether it is something we share with the rest of humanity. Either way, I can’t help thinking that we have lost the ability to balance the costs and benefits of our collective desires: we seem to want all the benefits without any costs whatsoever.

For example, a community association I am aware of opined that the broadband services in its area were inadequate and that wireless was the answer. Not much more than a month later, they were rallying against the deployment of a solitary mobile phone tower that would improve the mobile coverage in the area and provide wireless broadband. In a similar vein, a mayor was adamant that the broadband services in his city should be improved as rapidly as possible, but he refused to facilitate the deployment of the infrastructure necessary to achieve this, and in fact his council has subsequently introduced additional regulatory, process and cost barriers.

If we want to maximise the benefits from the government’s ultra-fast broadband initiative, these attitudes have to change.

It seems to me that there is a (mostly) shared vision of the benefits that are expected from ultra-fast broadband, and a growing level of excitement about the prospects for New Zealand Inc. But we don’t yet share an understanding of how the benefits will be realised, and therefore what the investment priorities are. There is a real risk that we will end up squabbling over where the money is spent, rather than focussing on how we get the best outcome for New Zealand.

Furthermore, we need to accept at a household, community and national level that there will be an impact and that it will be worth it. Our objective needs to be to remove as many barriers as possible, in order to reduce the costs so that our national investment goes as far as possible.

I am reminded of one of Einstein’s famous quotes: “two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity — and I’m not so sure about the universe.”

Let’s prove him wrong.

Chivers is CEO of the Telecommunications Carriers’ Forum

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