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.
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.