Our guest RMA expert, offers an analysis of National’s proposed changes to our resource management framework:
National’s phase one RMA review document looks good at a first glance, but after a detailed look fish hooks, and the right-wing agenda, are more and more evident.
The phase one review is clearly set up to bulldoze through big development at the expense of local participation and involvement in decision-making. The review rightly claims that it will not change the environmental priorities of the Act, but it does set up a system where there will be much stronger Central Government control over RMA policy, and allows the Minister for the Environment to set national RMA policy as they see fit, without public involvement or recourse, and with immediate effect at the local level. At present local authorities adapt their policies through the RMA process in response to central government policy, allowing for local level participation and involvement. National’s plans will bypass this step giving national level policy immediate effect throughout NZ, regardless of opposition by local authorities/communities.
It seems that National have heeded to professional and public opinion by removing the two worse aspects of their RMA reforms: The removal of references to the Treaty of Waitangi, and the narrowing of the definition of the environment. However, there may be a few fish hooks remaining in National’s phase one review.
The proposed streamlining of processes by the creation of an Environmental Protection Agency to manage large ‘nationally significant’ applications would result in some loss of local representation and participation. At the moment, when there is a large cross-district infrastructure project, each Council makes its decision in its own chamber for its own jurisdiction. Under these provisions, these decisions could be made by a Board of Inquiry in Wellington – nowhere near the location of the activity. This Board would be chaired by an Environment Court Judge, with local authorities only able to nominate board members (there are no requirements for the board to accept nominations). This would mean that the Board’s hearings could be further away from local communities and far more formal, thus removing the ability of communities to easily participate in decision-making on major projects. National’s intention here to bulldoze through major infrastructure projects is quite clear, particularly as they intend to make the recognition of “operational infrastructure needs of a nationwide network utility operator” a matter of national importance, the highest priority the RMA can give* (i.e: build your transmission lines wherever you like, as they’re a matter of national importance!).
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