The National Government’s proposed changes to the Resource Management Act have attracted more than 800 submissions, many of them critical of key aspects of the Resource Legislation Bill.
There has been much criticism of the new regulation making powers given to the Environment Minister; the restrictions on the public’s right to comment on resource consent applications and council plan changes; and the removal of appeal rights to the Environment Court.
Companies involved in large development projects, and infrastructure operators such as airports, made similar points in line with environmental groups like Fish and Game NZ, the Environmental Defence Society, and Forest and Bird. With such widespread criticism of fundamental aspects of the Bill, the Government needs to start again and bin the Bill.
Federated Farmers, for example, described the proposed Ministerial powers as “excessive” and the provisions which allow central Government to intervene directly in local council plans as “heavy handed”. Sir Geoffrey Palmer, presenting evidence for Fish and Game, described the powers as a “constitutional outrage”.
The Bill allows the Environment Minister to make regulations that override local councils developing their district and regional plans in consultation with their communities. The Minister can use regulations to direct that certain land uses be permitted in a plan; other rules be removed or prohibited, and override local plan rules which deal with the same subject matter as other legislation.
A new RMA tool – a national planning template – would allow the Minister, not just to decide how councils should structure their regional and district plans, but also decide their content by requiring councils to insert certain provisions (including rules) directly into plans.
As Fonterra said, “These provisions can detract from local decision making on local issues; compromise the principles of natural justice for stakeholders, and compromise robust resource management decision making”.
Sustainable management requires that people and communities are involved in decision making. Farmers and others want to be able to comment when a new quarry, wind farm, or industrial plant is proposed in their area. Public submissions and local knowledge help councils make better decisions.
Previous changes to the RMA in 2009 restricted the public’s ability to comment on resource consent applications. The Bill’s changes around notification will further limit public input by limiting submitters to the effects identified by the council in deciding to notify an application; and allowing councils to strike out public submissions if they are not independent or not based on expert evidence.
When less than three percent of applications are notified for submissions, such changes are unnecessary.
Substantially increasing Ministerial powers, limiting people’s right to have a say, and removing appeal rights to the Environment (and the checks this provides on council powers) will lead to worse decisions. Submitters have said the Bill will make the RMA more complicated, not less. It will make it easier for high impact development such as mining, and also subdivision to occur. This comes at the expense of the environment, local democracy and individuals and organisations’ ability to have a say on developments which affect them and their interests – their businesses, their neighbourhood and/or the places they value.
The National Government is desperate to be seen to be doing something about the housing crisis. Giving property developers a more permissive regime for new subdivision is not the answer. The Government needs to start again with its RMA changes.
A shorter version of this blog first appeared in Canterbury Farming.