Owen McShane, Champion of Free Enterprise, Dies

NBR Straight Thinking columnist, venture capitalist and planning consultant Owen McShane has died, aged 70. Owen had been on the Frontier Centre's Expert Advisory Panel since 1999.

NBR Straight Thinking columnist, venture capitalist and planning consultant Owen McShane has died, aged 70.

He recently had a major heart operation and died suddenly at his home in Kaiwaka near Kaipara Harbour, on Tuesday.

After a career that encompassed planning, urban economics and public policy, he turned to venture capitalism in the 1970s with the government-owned Development Finance Corporation and in 1984 was manager of the first listed venture capital company, Venturecorp.

He later went into business on his own account as McShane Venture Management.

More recently he established the Centre for Resource Management, a one-man think tank that advocated a laissez-faire approach to environmental and planning issues.

Owen wrote and published extensively on a wide range of issues. He was a columnist for Metro from 1983-94, launched his own magazine, Straight Thinking, in 1994 and was editor of New Zealand Skeptic.

He was well known in the op-ed pages of the country’s leading newspapers, appeared at countless resource consent hearings after the passing of the Resource Management Act, on which he was a consultant, and tirelessly fought against destructive planning practices such as "smart growth."

His last NBR Straight Thinking column was published last week. It raised familiar concerns about the growth of local government and its dampening effect on economic growth:

Councillors suddenly found themselves in charge of multi-million dollar organisations that demanded skills and experience well beyond their levels of competence. Since then, chief executives (previously known as town clerks) have been able to exercise largely unbridled power.

Those problems were then seriously compounded by the 2002 amendments to the Local Government Act that gave councils the power of general competence. This enabled already over-extended authorities to expand into new policies and activities totally outside their competence.

In 1996, he wrote an important report for the Reserve Bank on how planning rules contributed to the high costs of land for residential building – an issue on which the minister for the environment commissioned a further report in 1998.

He was a member of the committee that recommended casinos be established in New Zealand, was a member of the Auckland Area Health Board and was a keenly sought-after speaker for local and overseas conferences.

Owen was an enthusiastic environmentalist, advocated the “gourmet culture” for small land-holders and turned his Kaiwaka property into outstanding example of how private enterprise is a better guardian of the land than public ownership.

His wife, Jenny, announced his death to many friends and associates with the message: "Please know that he valued your friendship and intellectual support so much."

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