Nats and RMA

Aside from the Nats wanting taxpayers and ratepayers to subsidise urban sprawl and developers, the Nats also used their conference to launch the usual attack on the Resource Management Act. Nick Smith’s speech to their conference made a number of proposals for changing the RMA – some good, mostly bad – that threaten to undermine the ability of the RMA to protect the environment.

Below I have put Nick’s comments indented and then tried to decipher what they mean for people who care about the environment.

Firstly, the Act needs greater central government direction. It is the most devolved environmental statute in the world resulting in every Council having to reinvent the wheel. We propose setting up to 20 national environmental goals to clearly guide decision makers on what needs to be achieved and will measure progress towards them. That is also why we are keen on an Environmental Protection Authority.

If this means they will actually do National Policy Statements and National Environmental Standards which act to improve standards then good – as I’ve blogged about before.

Secondly, National wants greater use of price signals, markets and better recognition of property rights. That is why in areas like water permits, greenhouse gas emissions, and nitrogen discharges, we favour cap-and-trade systems over bureaucratic systems of allocation.

The use of pricing signals for commercial use of water for example would be good – when public resources are used for commercial gain they should pay some kind of resource rental. However, making these into private property rights has some dangers. Giving property rights to fishers in the form of quotas has not led to responsible behaviour on their part.

We also want to improve the compensation mechanisms in the Public Works Act. We want to make explicit that landowners must be consulted over rules affecting their land and believe a net conservation benefit approach would get better environmental outcomes.

This is not good – do we want to pay people compensation for not destroying the environment – should every landowner in the country get a payment for not blowling over a bit of remnant bush on their property?

We want less litigation and more science in decision-making.

Of course – but who knows what that means.

We propose refocusing the legal aid fund and putting the money into more technical support and into mediation services.

What Nick means here is taking legal aid away from community groups fighting resource consent hearings. So developers face off against groups that have to raise money from cake stalls to fund their efforts to stop environmental destruction.

Thirdly, National proposes simplifying and streamlining the processes of the Act to reduce the delays, uncertainties and costs. Let me detail some of our proposals for simplifying the Act:
1. We propose to limit the definition of environment to natural and physical resources so as to avoid vexatious arguments over trade competition and where the Taniwha might live.

It could be good to remove economic argument but bad to remove cultural arguments. Physical places have cultural meanings to different cultures.

2. We propose to reduce the number of consent categories from the current five to three, so it is not nearly so complicated.

A bit unclear but it probably means remove prohibited activities which would facilitate more development regardless of its environmental impact.

3. We propose fixing the vague Treaty clause by removing the broad reference to it’s principles that nobody understands and be quite specific about the consultation requirements with iwi.

Not good if you support the Treaty.

4. We propose reducing the number of plans. We note with interest that Northland has adopted a ‘one plan’ policy integrating its Regional and three District Plans into one, and we are exploring applying it nationwide. Eighty-five plans for a country of four million people is excessive.

This could be very good. Auckland is already trying it voluntarily.

5. We propose integrating the RMA properly with the Historic Places, Forests, Building and Fisheries Acts, so applicants are not confronted by multiple hurdles.

Could be good – continues the process whereby RMA brought together Water & Soil, T&C Planning, etc.

We also want to streamline the Act:
1. It is a waste of everyone’s time to go through years of double process of a consent hearing and then the Environment Court. That’s why we back the direct referral of major applications straight to the Environment Court

Has been debated ad nauseum and rejected. For major projects perhaps we could live with it if community groups were resourced properly through better legal aid….

2. It is wrong that Ministers can veto the process as we saw with the 13-year debacle over the Whangamata Marina. That veto will go under National and decisions will be left with the Environment Court.

It’s not a veto, it’s exercising authority on behalf of the owners of the coastal marine area, which is public space, and only applies to a few types of structure. But it could certainly be applied better than it has been.

3. There should be a penalty when Councils ignore the 20-day timeline for resource consents. Councils charge penalties when the ratepayer is late, as with rates. If it is good enough for the goose, it is good enough for the gander

His private member’s bill on that has just been rejected by select committee

4. There should be limits on requests for more information. An applicant should be able to require that a consent be processed, albeit they run the risk of being rejected. They at least then have the option of appealing to the Environment Court.

As long as they are not allowed to bring new info to the EC, which will then have to reject it too!! This is just another way of getting direct referral by short cutting the first hearing.

5. The Court should have the power to require security for costs, a power taken away by Labour. If an application or objection is weak and likely to involve a costs order, this discretionary power of the Court helps get rid of the vexatious and frivolous.

This would overturn one of our key victories. Applicants use threat of security for costs to intimidate objectors and hey presto easier to get a bad development through.

17 thoughts on “Nats and RMA

  1. Can anyone name a development that would have been really positive for both communities and the environment but missed out because of the RMA? The RMA suffers from having well funded detractors with huge vested interest in slashing the protection offered to communities and the environment.

    Molly

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  2. what we do fwwogs is we repeal the RMA in its entirety,
    then we intern old yellow tooth geoffrey palmer to an island of greenland,
    and we start again with a simple environmental act,
    which people can understand and believe.

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  3. next government is key govewrnment fwogs,
    i told yous before, get prepared or you will be crushed aside,

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  4. Russell,

    Perhaps you should have checked what the Public Works Act says about compensation mechanisms before deciding that this is not a good improvement. These compensation mechanisms are invoked when private land is needed for a public work, eg a new railway line to Port Whangarei or new transmission lines to Auckland. It rarely is invoked by Transit since they seem to have become adept at effective community consultation, unlike their predecessor the MOW.

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  5. PS, That one criticism aside this was a MUCH better post than your first one. Good analysis and very informative.

    On point 4. I thought Smith was referring to a popular delaying tactic or excuse used by councils when they can’t meet their legal deadlines, but I could be wrong on that.

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  6. molly67 asked “Can anyone name a development that would have been really positive for both communities and the environment but missed out because of the RMA?”

    Yes, the completion of Nelson’s Southern Link. This would have removed vast amounts of heavy traffic from local streets and improved regional air quality. Unfortunately the Environment Court ruled regional air quality had insufficient immediacy (ie was too far away from the proposed link road) and only the effect on the air quality of neighbouring properties could be taken into account.

    I would include some of the decisions on wind farms but I don’t know the specifics of any individual case. But it does seem that in these cases the highly subjective notion of noise and visual pollution seem to outweigh global warming in the decision making process. This isn’t so much a case of NIMBYs or BANANAs but simply the age old problem of balancing the interests of local communities and the national community or global community. The RMA seems to have reversed the priorities of the old public works mentality, essentially a pendulum swing rather than a moderation.

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  7. How do home owners stand where (say) a rezoning – (densifcation) means loss of sun/energy (existing resource) [Tough....!]
    The essential principle seems to be held in the notion of property rights in so far as you only own your house, and have a share in public assets, but not your community or other aspects of the environment.
    jh

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  8. “Never, in the field of Human Commerce , has so much money been made, and so much money to be paid”

    Winston Churchill referring to the gap between profits made in property and the cost of new mortgages.
    jh

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  9. What is really scary about this is that despite almost 15 years of new right policies that have pretty much not worked, but even so have been only slightly rolled back by Labour, the Nats are still talking the same old shite from their time in power in the early 90s.

    John Key is merely a new label on an old stinky package.

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  10. On point 4, it’s a great idea. But it is a policy that Nats can be said to have “stolen” from another party. Amendments passed by the government in 2005 provided applicants with enhanced rights in relation to requests for further information. See ss92 & 92A of the RMA.

    When faced with a request for further information, an applicant can:
    – provide the information;
    – object to the local authority to the request under s357, thereby giving a right of appeal to the Env Ct under s358 if the objection is declined;
    – refuse to provide the information; if the local authority still considers it has insufficient then it can decline application; the applicant then has the right to appeal to the Env Ct on the substantive application.

    Great idea but already implemented.

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  11. jh said “How do home owners stand where (say) a rezoning – (densifcation) means loss of sun/energy (existing resource) [Tough….!]”

    This is a problem that is not unique to infill housing, and has a parallel in views being built out. In both cases the amenity is not regarded as an inviolate property right. The usual solution is pallning laws that require a setback from the property boundary and some of the more enlightened councils also restrict the height of the roof ridge.

    Anecdotally the most common complaints that councils receive about loss of sunlight are where trees have grown too tall. To the best of my knowledge no coucil has banned trees or imposed height limits.

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  12. Kevyn

    Do you actually know anything about the Nelson Southern Link – have you read the decision? Your description of the decision – which I am looking at right now – is wholly inaccurate and suggests that you are basically an asphalt addict and National voter who slavishly follows Nick Smith’s uninformed ramblings and rantings about the RMA.

    By asphalt addict I means someone who knows in their deepest most private places that roads are ordained by god as good and looks for a justification for them!

    The main problem with Nelson is not that it lacks an asphalt orgasm ala Transit but that its politicians refuse to consider travel demand management. No city has ever solved its air quality problem by encouraging traffic through road building. All you’d end up with in Nelson is more pollution.

    Or more simply, if the answer is a big new road it was very silly question to begin with…… For once, miraculously, the Environment Court actually did its job rather than simply rubber stamping roading projects as it usually does.

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  13. jg, Yes, I’ve driven on it and wont be making that mistake again. I’m not the only one who has reacted that way as Port Nelson is painfully aware and Port Tauranga is gleefully aware.

    Take away this nation’s roads and what are you left with? Nothing. Take away this nation’s railways and what are you left with? Everything plus a healthy coastal shipping industry. That is the only justification needed for roads.

    It is equally true that no city has ever solved its air quality problem by discouraging traffic through no road building either. Only a fool would argue that emmissions are directly related to traffic volumes rather than being the sum of volume and flow disruption. Unfortunately roading improvements proposed by those who understand this are almost always hijacked by councillors who think the improvements can be utilised for spurious economic objectives such as opening up new land for industry or housing. The extra traffic created by these land use changes not only overloads the new road but is usually inconsistent with the original road network as well resulting in worse congestion than ever.

    Hence you are actually right for the wrong reasons. It is not surprising that local body politicans refuse to consider TDM when they can’t even manage land use sensibly.

    If you seriously believe your last paragraph then you must be in favour of the death penalty for drivers who are momentarily distracted and anybody silly enough to travel with them. Although obviously this was not the main justification for the Southern Link but it is the main justification for most rural highway improvements, a fact recognised by the World Health Organisation in it’s World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention.

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  14. jgg,

    On a calmer and more rational note, you should have noted from my response to your Transmission line comments that I am not what you initially suggested.

    One major problem with the RMA is that only matters raised by the apllicant and objectors are considered. Even if the Environment Court identifies serious deficiencies with district or regional plans it has no power to even recommend changes.

    The major problem with this decision is that while the Court considered alternatives to Transit’s plan it did not consider the environmental impact on communities affected by these alternatives, presumably because they qualify as existing use as long as they stay within existing road reserves. No mention was made of induced traffic for any of the options considered therefore TDM was not considered by the Court as an option to adress predicted traffic growth. Again, a serious failing of the RMA system.

    Transit is caught between a rock and a hard place. The traffic modelling done by Regional Planning Authorites in the 1960s generally correctly identified the amount of traffic growth that has happened since then and recommended moving major arterial traffic off local roads onto purpose built limited access roads. The first step to implementing these programs should have been to purchase the land before it was built up and to have had land zoned to optimise future growth in areas consistent with efficient traffic flows. That would have meant continuing to co-locate industry and housing rather than the segregerated development that has been favoured by councils and government since the 1950s, which of course has been a bigger driver of traffic growth than road building, at least in this country. Transit’s predecessor was unable to buy land when it was available because governments refused to charge road users a high enough price for using roads, which has also been a contributor to traffic growth.

    Outside of Wellington and Auckland this lack of money has always prevented roading improvements from being as efficient and effective as needed and increased the environmental impact. In fact comparing the Transit Southern Link plan with the original its hard to see how Transit expected to get any real improvement. The Transit plans does not shorten the route and more importantly it does not replace any intersections with grade separated interchanges. These are the only improvements to urban arterials that actually improve emissions over the life of the road, although historically councils squander these improvements by taking advantage of the new road to rezone land for development in the misguided belief that these developments generate economic growth when they often do nothing more than discourage redevelopment or rejuvenation of existing housing and commercial areas.

    So, in short, we wont change attitudes to transport problems until we change the underlying attitudes to land use.

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  15. Hi Kevyn

    Apologies for slandering your good name, it was late and I am afraid I saw one more roading apologist! I agree completely re transport and land use. I’d also note that in stopping the Southern Link Road (not rural as you agree) the Environment Court helped increase the pressure for change on Transit and the TDC/NCC axis.

    What you call “flow disruption” is actually just slow traffic. Smoothing out the flow can reduce emissions from stop – start traffic but attempting to speed up traffic and smooth out the flow increases emissions. Quite a lot of cities have improved air quality by not building roads and providing people with choice of transport modes, so while I agree transport and land use integration is critical, not building big new roads is an important part of that.

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  16. jgg, What I meant by flow disruption is intersections busy enough to be controlled by traffic lights or two lane roundabouts. These create the stop-start traffic that is so harmful to air quality. Smoothing out the flow without increasing average speeds reduces emissions. Since the proposed road had higher speed limits I take your point. Grade separating the intersections currently controlled by roundabouts on the existing route would reduce travel times by eliminating the time spent stationary and would reduce emissions per vehicle. Most importantly it is easier to provide safe and convenient pedestrian and cycle facilities at interchanges than at major roundabouts.

    Of course, if we all drove electric or hybrid cars with regenerative braking it wouldn’t really matter whether the traffic flowed or not.

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  17. “2. It is wrong that Ministers can veto the process as we saw with the 13-year debacle over the Whangamata Marina. That veto will go under National and decisions will be left with the Environment Court.”

    on the recent Greens pod cast it has been stated that perhaps the Minister of Conservation will have a say at the BEGINNING of the process rather than the end.

    Documents released under the OIA demonstrate when he was minister of conservation in 1997 -98, he had met with the Whangamaga marina society (no other parties)AT THE BEGINNING OF THE PROCESS and then proceeded to give the DoC Waikato Conservator A CLEAR DIRECTION FOR THE DEPARTMENT TO WITHDRAW ITS APPEAL of the marina.

    So if a Minister can easily be swayed by developers pushing money first, therby negating the science, in a manor that is neither open nor transparent, how can this case be considered to have been thoroughly and exhaustively tested through the Environment Court?

    Part of the Marina Society’s AEE suggested perhaps dredging the Kaimoana beds and putting them somewhere else.

    the court readily accepted the marina society consultant stating the wetland to be turned into a car park and high density housing area would probably dry up of its own accord, despite it being fed by freshwater springs.

    A rare species of Skink was discovered AFTER consents were granted.

    The court REFUSED TO LISTEN to the author of a hydrological study of the harbour, the conclusion of which stated it was the worst place in the harbour for a marina.

    Yet the marina society had already used parts of her study, partly modelled flow results for the bridge and harbour entrance.

    Whangamata was one of Nationals four key platforms touted to reform the RMA.

    Nationals involvement in this DEBACLE highlights financial greed as a priority over rare and endangered species, and Areas of Significant Conservation Value.

    Welcome to the Brave New World.

    for my next trick I think I will develop an area just south of Whangamata, a very large block of land, perhaps that one called Carolina farms , you know that one bought by foreign investors back in the early nineties, I could put a massive exclusive golf course up there, a heli pad, perhaps more gated coastal communities that sort of thing…

    If you want rare native species, go to bloody Museum!!

    Good on Ya Nick!!!

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