BusinessDesk report by Pattrick Smellie
The law firm that hosted today’s launch by Environment Minister Amy Adams’ of a government discussion paper on reform to the Resource Management Act has praised the initiatives, saying they are not before time. But a triumverate of environmental advocates has expressed alarm.
“This is by any analysis a substantial reform package, not a tune up,” said John Hassan, a resource management partner at Chapman Tripp. “It targets all parts of the RMA’s planning and consenting framework to deliver better community-led outcomes.”
That package “would make councils much more clearly accountable to their communities for what their plans are delivering,” said Hassan. “The task of determining values and policies will be more clearly that of elected representatives, rather than the Environment Court.”
However, in a joint statement, the Royal New Zealand Forest & Bird Protection Society, the New Zealand Fish and Game Council and Ecologic, a consultancy led by Guy Salmon, a one-time close adviser to former Environment Minister Nick Smith, said the RMA’s purpose would be undermined by the proposals.
“At present, independent panels of local commissioners, supported by the oversight of Environment Courts, are able to hear and evaluate evidence, and develop plans that reflect their communities’ values.
“Under these proposals, the independence of the system will largely be lost, and Ministers will be able to impose in specific areas the outcomes that are judged in Wellington to be the right ones.”
Forest & Bird also issued a more heated statement on its own, saying the proposals “must be stopped.”
The discussion paper, which requires submissions by April 2, proposes changes to fundamental provisions of the Act relating to environmental bottom lines; faster and cheaper resource consent proposals; a huge reduction in the number of local government planning documents; and potential for a new Crown agency to fast-track important developments, such as large-scale new sub-divisions in Auckland.
Chapman Tripp’s Hassan described the package as “overwhelmingly positive”, while anticipating heated debate about the balance between environmental protection and economic development.
“The RMA’s purpose has always reflected use, development and protection dimensions. Importantly too, the accountabilities of central and local government for the trade-offs that must always be made as to the use, development and protection of resources will be made sharper. The reform proposals cannot realistically be characterised as licence to exploit,” Hassan said.