National’s RMA changes weaken our environment law when we should be strengthening it

At the moment when New Zealand is the focus of international attention over Fonterra’s botulism scare, the National Party seems intent on sabotaging our economy and environment by weakening our environmental laws attacking the Resource Management Act (RMA).

National’s changes will make the RMA an economic development act at the expense of nature and local democracy.

The following changes proposed for legislation later this year are anti-environment:

–        Changes to the “engine room” of the RMA- its sustainable management purpose and principles. These will pancake the current hierarchy of matters of national importance and other matters in sections 6 and 7 into a single grab bag of principles of equal weight.

–        Deleting key environmental principles such as the requirements to maintain and enhance “amenity values” and the “quality of the environment” and weakening others such as the need to “protect the habitat of trout and salmon”.

Many submitters on the February 2013 discussion document opposed these changes as threatening New Zealanders’ way of life and important sectors of the economy including domestic and international tourism.

–        Requiring councils to have identified and specified “outstanding natural features and landscapes” in their plans for these to be considered in any resource consent decision (eg wind farm or mining applications such as Bathurst).

–        Including “the efficient provision of infrastructure” as a new matter of national importance.  This means decision makers  will have to give the same weight to providing new hydro generation and  irrigation infrastructure as to protecting a river’s natural character.

–        Strengthening landowner’s rights.

The changes to the Act’s purpose and principles are based on ideology rather than any evidence or substantive analysis of the need for change.  As the Ministry for the Environment’s on the Minister’s February 2013 discussion document says, “ Submitters were concerned there was an absence of reliable evidence – beyond anecdotes and case studies- on which statements were made. Such concerns were evident irrespective of the submitters’ position regarding the intent of the Discussion Document.”

Even Todd Energy labelled the content of the discussion document as vague or “nebulous.”

The RMA is about enabling development while protecting our environment on which we and the economy depend.   The Green Party’s plan for our economy is to protect and enhance our valuable “100% Pure” New Zealand brand, not help shred it by weakening our key environmental law.

More permissive approach to subdivision

In a major new change to the RMA,  the Government plans to allow new subdivision anywhere and everywhere unless a council expressly restricts this through a plan rule. This change is a recipe for urban sprawl and ad hoc subdivision along the coast, and around lakes and rivers.

Property developers will be overjoyed. So will farmers and other rural landholders wanting a quick profit by carving off sections for sale from a larger rural landholding.

This change won’t solve our housing affordability crisis. It has the potential to blight some of our most spectacular natural landscapes with ad hoc, poorly planned McMansion holiday home development close to beautiful  beaches, high country lakes and other popular holiday spots.     It will also risks the countryside being pepper potted with new homes far from townships and essential services.

The current presumption in the RMA that land can only be subdivided if expressly allowed by a resource consent or a plan rule is based on decades of planning law.  It helps ensure that new subdivision is integrated with existing sewage, water supply and other infrastructure, and avoids sensitive landscapes or areas prone to flooding, coastal erosion and other natural hazards.

At the same time as National is making “the management of significant risks from natural hazards” a new RMA principle, the permissive approach to subdivision proposed will weaken one of the key tools for avoiding development in areas vulnerable to inundation or landslides.

If the local council plan does include a rule requiring developers and landowners to get consent for a new  subdivision, then it appears the public will only be able to comment if the subdivision is inconsistent with the plan objectives and policies. These plan provisions are broadly drafted so expect very few applications to be notified.

National’s RMA changes will let private property rights trump appropriately sited, and well planned and designed compact urban development.


Anti- regulation thrust in  RMA changes

The  RMA changes further entrench private property rights and will make it more difficult for councils to regulate  for clean river for example by controlling land uses such as intensive dairying to protect water quality. This is because of the proposed new requirement in section 7(d) RMA that councils cannot restrict the use of private land unless this is “reasonably required” to achieve the RMA purpose.

The Resource Management Reform Bill 2012 being debated in Parliament already requires councils to produce a more onerous and extensive cost benefit analysis to justify any new plan regulation.   The new section 32 provisions around these cost benefit analyses require councils to consider additional matters of whether such rules provide or reduce economic growth and employment .

These two obstacles to regulation in the form of regional and district plan rules will make it more difficult for councils to, for example, restrict subdivision close to the coast to protect its naturalness or to control nitrate leaching from dairy pasture to protect water quality.  They appear designed to prevent a repeat of the progressive Environment Court decision on the Manawatu-Wanganui  Region’s One Plan which upheld the need for land use rules to control leaching.

Changes attack local democracy and public participation

As well as being an attack on the environment, National’s proposed changes to the Resource Management Act undermine local democracy and citizen participation in decisions affecting their neighbourhoods and places they  value.

The submission summary on the Minister’s February discussion document says 99% of the 13,277 submissions opposed increased powers of Ministerial interference  in plan making.  There has been a small win here as a result of public comment  to allow public submissions. The Minister can still swoop in and direct a council to change a district or regional plan or policy statement.  If she doesn’t approve of the changes a council makes, she can then direct an external commissioner to rewrite part of the plan with the council then seeking public submissions.

Public participation is compromised by the proposed changes around decision making on resource consent applications.  Councils currently only notify four to six per cent of applications for public submissions.  The following RMA changes will increase the powers of council staff and reduce public participation:

–        New powers for councils to allow activities with no need for a resource consent.

–        New powers for councils and Minister to specify activities which cannot be notified for public comment. (This reverses the public participation presumption in the current Act).

–        New restrictions on who can be considered an “affected party” able to comment on a resource consent application.

–        Limiting the matters that submitters can comment on to the reasons a resource consent is required and the effects that led to it being notified. This fails to recognise that submitters often provide additional information on the effects of a proposal which the applicant and council officer may not have considered.

–        New powers for councils to strike out submissions for being irrelevant.

Other changes which will benefit applicants at the expense of submitters include:

–        Allowing applicants but not submitters to object to a council decision and have it referred to an external commissioner to reconsider, rather than the Environment Court.

–        Limiting the matters which can be considered at a council hearing to only those which were not resolved at a pre hearing meeting.

–        No restrictions on an applicants’ right to appeal the council decision. Submitters are restricted to issues raised in their submission.

One of the dumber ideas in the discussion document  – for a new Crown body to process  resource consents – has been dropped. This would have duplicated the work of councils and the EPA.

18 Comments Posted

  1. bj says “You can’t attach a yearly timescale any more than you can limit it to Contact.”

    You’d have to be talking years and years just to get to billions in profits.

    So what are we talking now – every power company over decades?

    Still doesn’t address the lies about bigger profits than ever, when profits were the second lowest in nearly a decade.

  2. The Green Party tells the TRUTH every chance it gets.

    It may be true that the Green Party tells the truth every chance it gets. But that should not be confused with Green Party MPs, who as locally as on this very blog often state things that are simply not true, or opinons claimed to be truths.

    If the truth hurts then maybe the people feeling the pain should do something DIFFERENT.

    Given that the source and destination of the pain are usually two different parties, then a workable first step is to shoot the messenger; it may not solve the (perceived) problem, but it makes the noise go away, which is often a sufficient remedy.

  3. BJ – even if she meant EVERY electricity generator, it’s still lies, because the TOTAL COMBINED profit from all the big generators last year wasn’t even half a billion dollars ($488m).

  4. FIND a quotation mate. OK..

    She did NOT claim Contact Energy made billions of excess profit…. DID she. Quote in context.

    Metiria Turei: Does the Minister believe that it is an acceptable trade-off to allow children to live in cold, crowded homes and become ill because their families cannot afford the power bills, while companies like Contact Energy make billions of dollars in excess profits because he will not do anything about the price gouging that New Zealand families suffer every month?

    ….companies (note the plural which makes it collective, NOT simply Contact) LIKE

    So you are wrong again Photonz. Probably someone else told you that that was what she meant when she said it….but I do NOT have time for your bullshit.

  5. The thing I find astounding.. this Govt. promote the ‘myth’ of ‘Clean Green.. 100% PURE’ whilst doing F-all to actually maintain it. The rivers are full of chemical run-off from farms & the ground is full of other chemicals & plastic from waste dumps etc. The greens are at least trying to highlight this, even if they dont have ‘power’ to actually ‘stem the flow’.. at the end of the day, you can build a mountain of GOLD.. BUT you cant eat, drink of breath in 100% PURE Gold (or B-S) !!

    wake up people.. the environment is what sustains us, NOT the pollutants that come from building: mythical Golden mountains….


  6. BJ can’t handle the truth “I have no time for your crap. I will call it as it is, CRAP and tell you to fuck off.”

    Metiria lied in the Dunedin Star newspaper when she falsely claimed electricity generators were making larger profits than ever before.

    She lied in parliament when she claimed Contact energy was making “billions of dollars in excess profit”

    Contact Energy’s TOTAL profit last year was $176m, $150m in 2011, $150m in 2010, and $$159m in 2009.

    Impossible to make billions in EXCESS profits when your TOTAL annual profit is only a small fraction of that.

  7. Photonz, YOU are the liar here. There isn’t any goddammed way that any part of the Green Party is going to intentionally lie to you. What WILL happen is you will misunderstand and misinterpret what is said with a willful intent to deceive others. I have no time for your crap. I will call it as it is, CRAP and tell you to fuck off. That is as much as you deserve. Others may be more polite about it. I’ve no patience with it. FYWAF-S.

  8. Please link your quote Photonz, lest people think you are just making things up.

    They did however say this:

    On average, privately-owned electricity companies charge 12% more for electricity than publicly-owned ones.
    Privately-owned electricity companies have complained to publicly-owned ones that they are not charging enough for the privately-owned companies to make a profit and the CEO of Contact Energy has said that electricity prices need to rise for private investors to make a profit.

    The green party are at their very core democratic. Green MP’s tell the truth because the membership expects them to, and will (and also has the power to) hold them to account.

    With regards to the 100% pure “brand”. The Green party views this as a goal.

    By calling out where practices in NZ result in degredation and pollution of our environment they are not hurting the brand, they are ensuring that the issues can be addressed in order to strengthen said brand.

  9. BJ says “BJ says “The Green Party tells the TRUTH every chance it gets.”

    And the Green Party was trying to con the public with outright lies when they said the power companies were making bigger profits than ever before.

    Last year their profits totaled $488m. Much less than the $1363m in 2006, or even $667m in 2008, or $713m in 2007, or $677m in 2005, or $519m in 2004, or $606 in 2010, or $592m in 2011.

  10. We’ve pointed out the difference between value and money before for you Photonz. Since you are apparently completely incompetent to understand it, there is no point in explaining it again.

  11. BJ says “The Green Party tells the TRUTH every chance it gets.”

    Yeah right – like when they say that for power generator profits (totaling $488m last year), they’ll give $750m back to consumers, and still make hundreds of millions in dividends.

  12. 100% Pure NZ is not a “brand” – it a delusion and a lie. Greens have noticed – tories are in denial, self-serving, idiotic denial.

  13. The Green Party tells the TRUTH every chance it gets. If the truth hurts then maybe the people feeling the pain should do something DIFFERENT.

  14. The Green Party has been running a deliberate campaign to devalue the “100% Pure NZ” brand rather than one of implementing environmental policy to strengthen it. Quack.

  15. “As for the RMA – it desperately needed some changes. A decade ago I built a deck…”

    Lord, preserve us from fools.

    As for devaluing the brand, thta’s already been done quite nicely by Fonterra, thanks very much. And John Key, who can find scientists who say differently. And Gerry Brownlee and his ‘sexy coal’. And Steven Joyce and his love affair with Shell. Nick Smith and Denniston. The grubby blue list goes on and on. Ask any New Zealander which political party represents the best hope for achieving a 100% clean, green New Zealand, they’ll answer ‘The Greens’.
    And they’d be right.

  16. Eugenie says “The Green Party’s plan for our economy is to protect and enhance our valuable “100% Pure” New Zealand brand, ”

    Yet the Greens rip into “100% Pure NZ” brand and try to devalue it every chance they get.

    As for the RMA – it desperately needed some changes. A decade ago I built a deck for $5000. I recently built one half the size, and had to spend $9000 on plans and permissions BEFORE I even started building.

    I needed to go though a whole resource consent process because it was two metres from the boundary (twice as far away from the boundary as our house) and the neighbour can’t even see it over the fence.

    Insane officialdom at insane expense for zero benefit to anyone.

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