RMA reform roundup

Yesterday the government announced its proposed reforms for the Resource Management Act (RMA). Personally, I was unimpressed, as it seemed to me that many of the so called reforms were mechanisms that already existed in the current legislation. It looked like a re-branding exercise. Most of the changes were actually tweaks to the existing regime, such as the increase in fines for breaches. Half of the announcements were changes to peripheral things, like national policy statements and district planning.

Russel, however,  looked at it far more carefully than I did, and his press release is here. He pointed out that the “reforms” eroded the public’s ability to participate in the process while offering nothing to enhance protections for the environment.

Gary Taylor over at the Environmental Defence Society was less circumspect, hitting out against the anti-democratic nature of the reforms:

“Overall there are a number of changes that taken together will weaken proactive planning, further limit public involvement in RMA processes and shift the balance further towards development interests. This is hardly surprising given the development bias in the membership of the TAG.

“We note that there is a second phase of RMA reform to follow. This is likely to deal with more substantive issues. It is hoped that the government will set up a more balanced and consultative process than the one it used this time,” Mr Taylor concluded.

Forest and Bird echoes the anti-democratic line, with an interesting point about how the reforms erode individual property rights:

“It will be a very sad day for the environment and our communities when only those who can afford expensive lawyers can have a say,” Forest & Bird Advocacy Manager Kevin Hackwell says. “Most of the proposed changes will make the RMA easier for very big, wealthy companies and rich individuals.”

The proposal to remove the Minister of Conservation’s powers to make decisions on restricted coastal activities is a real concern. “The Minister represents the Crown’s ownership of the coast and as the ‘owner’ the Minister should be able to have the final say,” Kevin Hackwell says. The logical next step would be to take away private landowners’ rights to say no to someone else’s proposed development on their land.

Greenpeace laments the continued destruction of our clean, green image and its affects on tourism and the economy and the environment:

“The Government seems to have forgotten that many overseas consumers won’t visit New Zealand or buy New Zealand products if they discover our clean green reputation is a con.

“In these times of economic crisis, one of our key means of survival will be our clean green brand. Weakening New Zealand’s environmental laws is counterproductive because it will leave that brand in tatters.”

Mayor Harvey of Waitakere City, glibly billing himself as “one of the country’s leading environmentalists”, (cough, cough, splutter), sums it all up better than anyone:

These changes will usher in more and better development.

Too right, Bob. Pity that National’s kind of development is not what real environmentalists are looking for.

NoRightTurn provides his usual excellent analysis, while the Property Council waxes poetic about how these anaemic changes will rescue the economy.

Kiwiblog parrots the New Zealand Herald’s blushing support of the announcement.

The Wind Energy Association, is cheering the changes that will allow some of the bigger wind projects to get through the consent process earlier. RadioNZ brought together both sides of the Project Hayes windfarm for a love fest in support of the changes.

All in all, the voices have fallen out around the lines that you would expect. Those legitimately troubled by the RMA process giving wholehearted or at least luke warm support, while those most aligned to the environment bemoaning the furhter erosion in the public’s ability to have their say. For me it is an issue of democratic participation, and I believe we are worse off for the Phase I reforms.

39 thoughts on “RMA reform roundup

  1. at first glance i too thought maybe it wasn’t too bad. but when you read the detail, it is bad. i’m particularly concerned about changes to the environment court – raising the cost of lodging proceedings from $55 to $500 – and why? to prevent vexatious and frivolous claims.

    the court already has mechanisms to prevent such claims, and all it really does is mean that rich people can be frivolous while poor people (as many of those who advocate for the environment at grassroots level are) can not.

    allowing the court to insist of security of costs has the same effect.

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  2. As I predicted a couple of days ago on g.blog, I think the most interesting thing about this announcement is what’s not there.

    It is this part of National’s election policy:

    The definition of environment is too broad, which allows costly and time-consuming arguments over irrelevant issues. … National will simplify the Act by limiting the definition of environment to natural and physical resources…

    While I congratulate National in not pushing forward with this, which was the worst aspect of their pre-election RMA policy, I wonder why. Is it because:

    1) There actually are some people with environmental awareness in the National caucus, and gained the ascendency of the “develop at all costs” Brownlee/Williamson approach; or

    2) National are playing the mitigation game of putting up something absulutely dreadful, then backing down on it, so the rest of it doesn’t appear so bad; or

    3) They needed to get Maori Party support, which they would not have got if they had persisted with this policy, because ACT were threatening to pull the plug on the Bill for not being sufficiently pro-development?

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  3. Doesn’t go near far enough, but at least it is a start.

    >>while poor people (as many of those who advocate for the environment at grassroots level are) can not.

    Fantastic.

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  4. Perhaps 9.09 “advocates for the environment” can get together, socialist style, and come up with $55 each :)

    That’s if they’re really serious, of course. And hopefully if their claim is deemed frivolous, they’re fined at least that amount.

    Why should the one party face all the jeopardy?

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  5. BTW

    Another one of BluePeter’s Fabulous Predictions ™ comes true:

    “Wind and solar power have been growing at a blistering pace in recent years, and that growth seemed likely to accelerate under the green-minded Obama administration. But because of the credit crisis and the broader economic downturn, the opposite is happening: installation of wind and solar power is plummeting.”

    A lot of this greenie stuff relies on a booming economy and people feeling flush.

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  6. BP, I’m not too woried about the filing fees – sure, anyone on the minimum wage with no assets can still run a couple of raffles to cover the $500. What concerns me is the security for costs.

    Why should someone wanting to retain the status quo have to pay to do so? Surely, if people want to change the status quo through development, they should pay the costs of doing so – including the cost of litigation that may arise.

    I accept the converse – if someone already has the lawful consents to undertake a particular activity, and I want to stop it because I consider it is unsustainable, then I agree it should be me who meets the legal costs of challenging it if I lose.

    The reality is that if the Environment Court makes an order for, say, $20,000 security for costs, many people with legitimate concerns about a consent application will either not have the assets to front the security, or will not be prepared to put their only substantial asset (their home) at risk by doing so, however meritorious their challenge may be.

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  7. >>Why should someone wanting to retain the status quo have to pay to do so?

    Perhaps you’re a conservative after all, Mr Toad :)

    >>if people want to change the status quo through development

    Like bike lanes, bus roads and stuff?

    >>then I agree it should be me who meets the legal costs of challenging it if I lose.

    Right. I guess many feel that the shoe has been on the other foot for too long. It’s ridiculous that competitors can block development for competitive reasons, don’t you think?

    What are your thoughts on the wind farm objections down south?

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  8. Rodney hide was saying on TV last night (something like) “NZ used to be a can do nation. It is because we have all these regulations that we got into this mess” (ie credit crunch).

    Of course environmentalists are much weaker for having Keith Locke SB etc on board.

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  9. BluePeter said: Perhaps you’re a conservative after all, Mr Toad

    Indeed, I am, in its true sense of the word, which does not equate with “neo-con” or “neo-liberal” at all. A true conservative is someone who values our existing environment and society, and will agree to changing it only if a convincing case for change is made.

    I think that describes me pretty well. While on some social issues I believe there is a convincing case for change, I think on environmental issue those who want to do things that have might have a significant effect on the environment should have to justify through a jusicial process the benefits over the detriments before they are permitted to proceed.

    Social changes that has an adverse impact can be undone, but because natural resources are finite, environmental changes that have an adverse impact often cannot be undone.

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  10. “A plan to narrow the definition of “environment” in the Act has also been dropped after an expert technical advisory group set up to study changes to the law following the election advised it could have *unintended consequences*.”

    I wonder what these were (perhaps unfavourable to a developer).

    “Lincoln University planning and environmental management professor Ali Memon said any move to streamline the act was positive.

    He welcomed the proposal to refer major applications to a board of inquiry for infrastructure projects because it would save time “and with projects that are of national importance, especially in the current economic climate, it is important they get going as soon as they can”.

    But he had concerns about the proposal to limit appeals on district plan reviews to points of law unless the permission of the Environment Court was obtained.

    If this amendment goes ahead it would mean that a local authority dominated by development interests would pay little regard to environmental concerns. The power of the court is cut down.

    Memon believed the balance had shifted more towards development interests.”

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/thepress/4837019a6009.html

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  11. From Chris trotters blog

    “Property speculation has always been the evil twin of New Zealand’s growth and development. Wherever people have settled; wherever the bush has been felled and the swamps drained; wherever, with back-breaking labour, fences have been erected, bridges built, and roads and railways laid down; there also, lurking in the shadows, have been the property speculators, ready to pocket the “unearned increment” that naturally accrues from mankind’s “improvement” of the natural environment.

    http://bowalleyroad.blogspot.com/2009/02/developments-evil-twin.html

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  12. If the changes in the RMA stop the NIMBY brigade, then I am happy. Naturally, I am concerned if people with legitimate concerns are blocked, however, it was getting frustrating to see important things, such as power lines into Auckland or new prisons, being blocked because a whole bunch of people were opposed to progress

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  13. Toad,

    Social changes that has an adverse impact can be undone, but because natural resources are finite, environmental changes that have an adverse impact often cannot be undone.

    Well accually social changes are much harder to reverse than environmental changes. :P

    As to the changes; The nation will benefit from the removal of some of the excessive influence held by NIMBY groups, even the environment will benefit due to renewable power being far less expensive to build.

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  14. Sapient said: Well accually social changes are much harder to reverse than environmental changes.

    Pull the other one Sapient.

    A simple legislative change would make belting kids with hosepipes and riding crops lawful again if there were a Government that was stupid enough to do it (thankfully, the miniscule vote received by the Kiwi Party and the Family Party who stood at the last election on this platform gives me confidence there will not be).

    But no amount of legislation will restore the Canterbury plains if they are turned into the Canterbury desert because excessive extraction of water from the aquifers for irrigation causes them to become salinated.

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  15. The problem NIMBY’s have is lack of compensation for “progress” (someone else’s profit). The reality is that one large sector is set up to exploit the wealthy middle classes of large overpopulated countries.

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  16. toad Says:
    A simple legislative change would make belting kids with hosepipes and riding crops lawful again if there were a Government that was stupid enough to do it (thankfully, the miniscule vote received by the Kiwi Party and the Family Party who stood at the last election on this platform gives me confidence there will not be)
    ……………………………

    In east Coast Bays the Family party Candidate got 1307 more votes than Sue Bradford, whereas party vote was 934 the other way. Given Sue Bradford’s high profile my impression is that over all she is a draw to a proactiv(ist) left but an anathema to the majority (and that isn’t changing).

    http://2008.electionresults.govt.nz/electorate-11.html

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  17. jh, East Coast Bays has a relatively high fundy Christian demographic and a very low beneficiary and a low income worker demographic, so that’s hardly surprising. Whats more, Sue Bradford, like all Green candidates, did not actively seek the electorate vote but sought only to maximise the party vote for the Green Party.

    If Sue were to actively campaign for an electorate, I would suggest East Coast Bays would be one of the worst electorates for her, given its demographics not reflecting the voter sectors with whom she has rapport.

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  18. >>would make belting kids with hosepipes and riding crops lawful again

    It would not. It’s never been lawful. It has traditionally been up to a jury to decide what is excessive, and in most cases they get it right. In some -rare high profile – cases, they may get it wrong.

    The alternative, of course, is that good parents get hauled before the courts. But that’s not a bother for proponents, because all smacking is child abuse in their eyes.

    Would be curious if the law included yelling, manhandling, incarceration, and psychological “abuse”, too. Wonder how many greenie parents have never done any of those things?

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  19. jh asked:
    “A plan to narrow the definition of “environment” in the Act has also been dropped after an expert technical advisory group set up to study changes to the law following the election advised it could have *unintended consequences*.”

    I wonder what these were (perhaps unfavourable to a developer).”

    I am not sure what the final reasons were but I am aware that Local Government NZ considered the following comment in response to the proposal to narrow the definition of “environment”:

    “If the definition is narrowed, what does that mean for ability for councils to plan under RMA, ability to consider social/economic aspects of infrastructure proposals?
    Significant risk in narrow definition taking away ability to control urban environments. Significant caselaw would become redundant. ”

    From this I gather that the idea of integrated planning would be compromised under the RMA as councils would not be able to consider issues such as the social impact of development (or any other proposal) on the community.

    While much is currently made of the idea of getting rid of trade objections the current RMA already in section 74(3) of the RMA states:
    “In preparing or changing any district plan, a territorial authority must not have regard to trade competition”.

    In practice though trade objectors have sometimes used “social/economic” issues as a stalking horse e.g the Discount Supermarket case on the North Shore of Auckland. I assume the initial idea of narrowing the definition to only natural and physical environment by excluding social/economic considerations was to deal to trade objections but after realisation that changing the definition of the environment would remove valid social considerations as well other methods of excluding trade objections had to be considered.

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  20. I think this blog has a different kind of Godwin’s law, instead of bringing up the nazi party on here we bring up the smacking legislation.

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  21. “The alternative, of course, is that good parents get hauled before the courts. But that’s not a bother for proponents, because all smacking is child abuse in their eyes.”

    Its not a bother because its not happening.

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  22. SImon Upton has long advocated removing the last clause of the definition of environment because it has allowed the decision makers to lose their focus which was supposed to be on the natural and physical environment.
    This was the clause which was used by anti competitive objectors.
    The Act was supposed to focus on the soil water and air and natural habitats.

    This last clause allowed all manner of economic planning and social engineering issues to come in through the back door. I would have thought environentalists would suport removing this “anti innovation” clause and encourage councils to focus on the real environmental issues.
    Here are the Centre’s recommended changes to definition of the environment:
    Environment includes –
    (a) [del eteEcosystems] Habitats of flora and fauna and their constituent parts,
    (b) people and [del communities] settlements and
    (c) All natural and physical resources; and
    (d) Amenities. [delete Amenity values].
    (e) [delete all: The social, economic, aesthetic and cultural conditions which affect the matters stated in paragraphs a to d of this definition or which are affected by those matters]:
    Exp. Note: Clause (e) is the “killer clause” which has allowed Westfield and others to justify trade competition to enter the courts.

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  23. I noticed the Wellington Mayor, Kerry Prenderghast, saying the changes meant people would have to pay much more attention to the district plan process, as there wouldn’t be a further opportunity to block unreasonable development.

    Does this mean that instead of projects being held up in the RMA process, the district plan deveopment process will become slower, the plan much stricter, and designed to ensure that controversial projects never get off the ground in the first place?

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  24. Toad,
    Yes, the legislation can be repeled simply and easily but that is not the social change itself, it is mearly the tool by which the social change was first implimented. To compare it to the environment; it is kind of like taking a blow torch to a dry forest, just because you turn the blow torch off it does not mean that the forest will stop being an inferno as the flames have become self-propigating.
    Consider this; You make the example of belting kids with hoses, we could easily legislate that it is okay to beat ones wife like used to be common, but society would not return to doing so to the same degree as initially, or even much more than presently, because of the social conventions that have formed.
    Presently there is a show on about roman history, this is particuarly apt to this point as it highligheted the rise and fall of ceasar; even though he was the dictator for only three years befor ebeing assaasinated, the forum could never revert the empire into a democracy again and for the rest of its existance the empire was run be dictators/emperors.
    Many examples abound, most revolutions acting much as diodes in a electrical circuit, do you think we could ever convince the americans to become a colony of britan again?
    Salted land can be treated relativly easily, it just takes time and money. You need to put water on the land with low salinty and let it drain off instead of evaporate, taking up much salt as it goes. Even just leaving the rain to do its thing will fix matters eventually.
    Forests can be replanted, rivers cleaned, they wont remmember the past and clucth it; that is the domain of humans.

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  25. So where do you get the water from to do this Sapient, given the aquifers have become salinated and there’s hardly any rain in a desert (that’s part of what makes it a desert).

    And the biggie of them all – how do you propose to reverse anthropogenic climate change Sapient?

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  26. Toad,
    The where is near irrelivant as the point is that it CAN be undone relativly easily if enough resources are committed. Though it may be impractical, just for the sake of arguement, one could pipe it from the west coast or from the summer melt.
    Canterbury wont become a desert, easterlys deliver too much rainfall and the summer melts provide plenty via the rivers. It may be that nothing can grow, but i doubt the rainfall will drop to such an extent that it can be defined as a true desert. the silt may blow, but the rain will continue to fall. But then again, its not my area.

    Antropogenic climate change? that really depends, assuming it is not too late a massive reduction in carbon emmision and increase in carbon sequestion could do it. If it is too late and no matter how many plants we plant or algae we spawn run-away climate change will continue, then i suggest genetically modified blue-green algae being encouraged to bloom en mass, massive sabetor processes, etc. who knows, again not my area, but it can certanly be done given enough investment.

    And RE; the RMA, the consultation process almost resulted in the possible creaton of a potentially massive environmental disaster when residents decided that they didint want the countries only battery recyling plant in their area, it only being allowed to continue because the counsel had enough foresight to see that it was for the good of the nation. If we didint have it not only would we have to ship our batteries from the south to the north but to australia. If that ship ever went down all the oil spills in the world would look trivial :P .

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  27. I emailed my local council to see if i could be on an email list re any changes proposed to the district plan. A rather agitated rep phoned me: they don’t do that because “peoples emails change” and my area is residential one (there are recession planes etc). He wasn’t one to be argued with and i was more interested in his reaction. The point being that a plan can change at the stroke of a pen.

    We need to recognise direct sunlight as a property right (especially given the solar revolution no)?

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  28. Power seeks rent wherever official approval is required

    Wang Yan became bureau chief at 36, and was known as a “political star,” one of the “top ten young people in Qingdao,” and “leading cadre with outstanding contributions,” in Qingdao. It has been discovered that among the over RMB4.9m in bribes he took, most came from real estate developers. The Shandong Supreme Court on Feb. 28, 2005 approved the criminal sentence handed down by Jinan Intermediary Court and sentenced Wang Yan to death with two years probation for taking bribes.

    Apart from Wang Yan, former chief of the Qingdao Planning Bureau Zhang Zhiguang and former chief of the Laoshan District State Resource Bureau Yu Zhijun also received strict sentences for their involvement. The two took over RMB8.6m and RMB5.39m in bribes respectively. Their case involved the different parts of the land approval, planning approval, and building approval process, this case is seen as typical of real estate market corruption cases.

    Looking back on the real estate boom in Qingdao, Wang Yan has much to say. He says, since the 1990s, all kinds of high-end residential buildings named “something Coast,” “something Century,” popped up in Qingdao, and a many developers became billionaires by encroaching on state-owned land. Naturally, local officials with the power to allot land became the primary target of developers.

    “On the surface, procedures for land development are extremely complicated, but in reality, the chief official in charge of every procedure has the final say.” Wan Yan says, “If I am the boss of the entire district, what I say gets done.”

    It has been discovered that Wang Yan helped over ten developers and accepted bribes from them. The things he did to help them mainly included accelerating the process of giving them the right to use state-owned land; allowing them to take part in urban renovation projects; coordinating urban facilities for development zones; and settling accounts for construction projects on time.
    http://www.sinofile.net/saiweng/sip_blog.nsf/d6plinks/YZHI-6WMACZ

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  29. toad Says:
    A simple legislative change would make belting kids with hosepipes and riding crops lawful again if there were a Government that was stupid enough to do it (thankfully, the miniscule vote received by the Kiwi Party and the Family Party who stood at the last election on this platform gives me confidence there will not be)

    So a simple legislative change to make smoking ‘P’ and robbing people illegal would lead to social change? Well, lets do it, I say. Can’t imagine why it has taken so long for us to get around it.

    While we’re are at it, why not do something about equal pay for equal work, hate-speech banning injustice.

    Or does social change only happen when you legalize something that was previously illegal – if we legalized cannabis, say, you’d expect lots of people to suddenly start smoking?

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  30. “One could also argue the government’s changes to the RMA are good for the market. No doubt they are not negative. However, I have a view that the RMA isn’t a big deal for mum and dad property investors. Sure it is for the big guys and the developers, but for the average property owner? I don’t think so.”
    http://www.landlords.co.nz/blog/mr-good-news-here-again

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