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A view from the coalface on RMA reforms

Written By: - Date published: 10:43 am, February 4th, 2009 - 13 comments
Categories: economy, Environment - Tags:

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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13 comments on “A view from the coalface on RMA reforms ”

  1. Tim Ellis 1

    An interesting analysis. I’d be interested in a rough outline of this person’s background, i.e. what makes them an expert on the RMA?

    I was intrigued by this statement: “Or will this be achieved by removing Labour/Green environmentally oriented National Policy Statements (without act of parliament or public debate) and the introduction of development friendly national policy policy that can’t be challenged in any Court room or local council chamber?”

    Was the Labour/Green NPS introduced through an act of parliament or public debate? Is the current Labour/Green NPS able to be challenged in a court room or local council chamber? It seems to me that point is quite minor. It is more of a quibble about not holding the reins of power anymore.

    There doesn’t seem to be a lot of opposition to the RMA plans, despite a lot of hysterical claims before the election. As DPF points out regarding Phil Goff’s press release, it is not clear whether Labour opposes or supports the legislation.

    It appears to me that the biggest change is moving decision-making on projects of national significance to a central decision-making authority rather than local ones. Is this more or less democratic? Are local authorities more democratic and accountable to their constituents than central government?

    [lprent:
    I’d be interested in a rough outline of this person’s background, i.e. what makes them an expert on the RMA?

    Take it or leave it on the basis of what is offered as an opinion about the effects of what Nick Smith and his anonymous contributors to the other side of the debate are offering.

    Where exactly is the forum to find out who Nick’s advisors were and what their advice was. I’d be interested in finding out the broad background of them as well and their ability to advise on RMA law. I suspect that most of the advice has not come from people conversant in the current law. More likely it is from developers of various types trying to make their lives easy (and bugger everyone else).

    That isn’t likely to happen. The number of people who are heavily involved in this area are quite small. If they’d have wanted this to be under their own names then that is what they would have done.

    So I’d have to view your statement as simply being a debate spoiler. Was that your intent? Should my BOFH persona get interested? ]

  2. Felix 2

    Centralised control of resources. More teeth for the nanny state. With no right of appeal.

    So I guess those Waikato farmers who were promised they wouldn’t be getting lumped with pylons can all go jump in the river.

    Is someone keeping score of these broken election promises?

  3. SjS 3

    From my understanding NPS are researched by the Ministry for the Environment, debated through a public consultation and board of inquiry process (with MPs on the Board), then gazetted by parliament. However, the Act doesn’t bind the government to any set process for making NPS, nor does it give anyone the right to appeal a NPS.

    I think the point being made is that the proposed changes give far greater weight to NPS, and the ability for the Minister for the Envrionment to reverse current NPSs that haven’t been gazetted. The changes also remove the ability for local authorities to decide how to best implement national level policy by giving it immedaite effect aat local levels.

  4. Tim Ellis 4

    Felix, I don’t think transferring power from local government to central government is “nanny statism”.

    I think central government is more accountable to the public than local government is.

  5. Ari 5

    What Labour/Green government? There’s never been one.

    ETA:

    I think central government is more accountable to the public than local government is.

    That may be the case, but moving decision-making to central government is often a big impediment to local submissions. The advantage of distributed decision-making was that everyone’s voice got heard.

  6. Page 2 of the guest post says:—

    There is also at least one nasty little fish hook in these small procedural changes. Under ‘improving national instruments’ the government will seek to provide the Minister for the Environment with powers to cancel, postpone and restart a national policy statement development process before it is gazetted. This means that all the NPSs started and awaiting being gazetted by the Labour/Green government can be instantly removed without public debate or act of parliament. This would affect NPS around renewable energy, climate change, and C02 emissions, amongst others.

    Thank you for this one answer to my first reservation..(above)

  7. correction: not above as previously stated but in the previous post ‘first impressions’..

  8. ak 8

    Tim: I think central government is more accountable to the public than local government is.

    Utter balderdash – as the most cursory examination of any local rag will inform you almost daily.

    Just another “tick off the populist election bribe” from the tories – duly watered down and nebulous in actual outcome, the only concrete result apparent being increased Big Brother centralised control and the hiring of more bureaucrats!

    Watch for more, similarly innocuous, “100-days-of-action” fizzers from Nicey and the Lounge Lizards (health razor gang should be a cracker of a damp squid too) as the rest of the world faces reality and just gets on with it. I’d predict a tory meltdown later this year followed by a meek and belated tagging along after our real leaders – Rudd and Obama.

  9. Felix 9

    Tim,

    Debatable, but it’s having no right of appeal to the environment court on decisions made at central govt level that I was referring to. (As I think you know).

  10. Kerry 10

    Why are we suprised that the tories would put forward crap legislation??!!

  11. Youpeopleareidiots 11

    Your sysop made this comment on a previous thread..

    “Monty: I have to say that your suggested topic is a better topic than the alternate. How the greedy (like our current PM) attempted to destroy the world economy, That would be totally negative. It is a topic more suited to those carping dog-whistlers of the right like yourself .”

    Why then does this site seek to do little else apart from rant on about “how the greedy (like our current PM) attempted to destroy the world economy.”

    All that you read here is class this and class that … the workers the wealthy ….. get a life

    [surely, the only one who needs to get a life is the one with nothing better to do than writing tirades on a site they purport not to like telling the writers of said site to get a life. SP]

    [lprent: Besides the ‘class’ thing is sheer foolishness as a mantra – just shows your level of intellectual obsolescence. You’re talking about a chronic over-achiever. I have a MBA and have setup and/or worked in business all my working life as manager, worker, and programmer (the latter is the most productive). Most of the businesses and code succeed.

    However it is hard to see what John Key’s previous employment has done to help business that actually make profits rather than blow pretty bubbles. It is pretty easy to see how those employers has caused other businesses problems.]

  12. Quoth the Raven 12

    Felix, I don’t think transferring power from local government to central government is “nanny statism’.

    I thought you righties hated central planning?

  13. Draco T Bastard 13

    I thought you righties hated central planning?

    Nope, the usual mantra of the right is that we need leaders and that these leaders should make all the decisions for everyone. The only people who they class as leaders are themselves.

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