A view from the coalface on RMA reforms

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

The amendment Bill will also set up an Environmental Protection Authority, which will centralise some unspecified regulatory roles. The RMA was set up to allow local communities to decide how they want their community, so centralised decision making would be a backward step in this process. The phase one document doesn’t say much about centralised regulations (other than that they will be implemented by the EPC), so perhaps these will be coming out at phase two? Further, having an EPA managing national environmental goals gives the Central Government the ability to set a national goal without appeal (you can only appeal local authority’s policies to the Environment Court, not the Central Government policy), that could potentially be contrary to the wishes of a local community. For example, a district that has large hydro potential could object to having renewable energy generation as a national goal because of the loss of recreation, eco-systems, and community valued landscapes in their districts, but the government could ignore this and set up a framework where the said district’s ability to participate in decisions about hydro scheme in its jurisdiction is marginalised or removed altogether.

The amendment seeks to remove frivolous, vexatious and anti-competitive objections, which seems like a good idea. The RMA currently does not allow the consideration of trade competition, but this will limit big corporate abilities to fight each other in the Environment Court, which should be a good thing. However, with these changes the devil will be in the detail. There is the potential here for the Government to try to disallow the consideration of economic effects. Such a change could have negative implications. For example, the construction of a shopping mall/big box complex in the middle of nowhere/suburbia can have huge economic effects on long established commercial centres that have been invested in by the community/Council (i.e. city centre beautification), economic costs to the community (i.e. roading) and the loss of urban vibrancy. Also, these provisions could be used against environmentalist if their arguments are considered to be frivolous. Therefore, the wording of any bill will need to be thoroughly debated and investigated to ensure that these changes aren’t a veil for something more sinister.

There is a heap of small process oriented changes suggested. The intentions behind some of them seem to be benign, in that they are set up to improve RMA processes. However, the Government will have to look at the implementation issues with some of these matters, as they may result in more applications being declined by Councils or more time delays as Council policies are updated. No doubt there will be some lengthy cost benefit analysis needed as these provisions go through select committee. 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.

It is pretty clear that the overall intent of the amendments is to clear the way for development, both at a local scale where consultation and proper process could be reduced, and at a national scale for ‘nationally significant projects’ where public participation and local level decision-making and involvement will be reduced or removed altogether.

It also flags a key philosophical change away from local representation and decision-making and towards centralised planning and decision-making. The biggest risk here is that the RMA is set up for local decision and policy making, with guidance from Central Government national policy. The RMA doesn’t give anyone the ability to challenge national policy in the Environment Court, thus giving more weight to national policy removes the ability of New Zealanders to legally challenge policy that directly affects their lives (i.e. if you own land that someone wants to build power lines over).  At present, local authorities consider national policy when making their plans/policy statements. Under National’s changes, Government policy would have immediate effect, regardless of local opinion.

It seems this ‘phase one’ review aims to set up a system that makes it easier for all development to be considered, and big development to be pushed through, but doesn’t explicitly change the Act’s environmental priorities. Does this mean that the following phase two review will be the introduction of criteria and priorities that give greater weighting to developers over eco-systems, local communities,etc? 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?

Also as a side note, the Dompost reported “Prime Minister John Key saidthe rewrite of the Act, touted as its most comprehensive overhaul since it became law in 1991” the phase one review is the result of six brain storming sessions of seven individuals (National’s TAG group) since mid-December hardly the most comprehensive RMA debate since 1991! Especially considering the years of work that went into Labour/Green’s 2003 amendment and
national policy statements

Pages: 1 2

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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    Mountain TuiBy Mountain Tui
    2 weeks ago
  • Something's going to change
    If you’re selling your soul, working all dayOvertime hours for bullshit payNothing’s gonna change if all you do Is wish you could wake up and it not be trueJoin a union, fight for better payJoin a union, brother, organise todayYou’ll see where the problem really liesWhen the union comes around: ...
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    2 weeks ago
  • Weekly Roundup 5-July-2024
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    Greater AucklandBy Greater Auckland
    2 weeks ago
  • How the team of 5 million lost the game
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    2 weeks ago
  • Skeptical Science New Research for Week #27 2024
    Open access notables Climate-driven deoxygenation of northern lakes, Jansen et al., Nature Climate Change: Oxygen depletion constitutes a major threat to lake ecosystems and the services they provide. Most of the world’s lakes are located >45° N, where accelerated climate warming and elevated carbon loads might severely increase the risk of ...
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  • New Zealand's Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety forgets the safety part
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    Mountain TuiBy Mountain Tui
    2 weeks ago
  • America’s dark future
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    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Thoughts and Prayers
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  • Nobody wants to run a boot camp
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    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • What's up with Chris Bishop?
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    Mountain TuiBy Mountain Tui
    2 weeks ago
  • GUEST POST: Why the MPI job cuts are an attack on the environment AND on commercial fisheries
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    Mountain TuiBy Mountain Tui
    2 weeks ago
  • Gordon Campbell on saving journalists, not an industry that routinely exploits them
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    2 weeks ago
  • How much will climate change drag down the economy?
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    2 weeks ago
  • Cold Mornings & Blue Sky
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    Nick’s KōreroBy Nick Rockel
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  • Speak up for safe speeds
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    Greater AucklandBy Greater Auckland
    2 weeks ago
  • My Time at TV3 News
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    David FarrierBy David Farrier
    2 weeks ago
  • David Seymour snapchats minors
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    Mountain TuiBy Mountain Tui
    2 weeks ago
  • New Zealand deserves better than marketing
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    Mountain TuiBy Mountain Tui
    2 weeks ago
  • Of Censorship, Book Publishing, and TERFery
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    2 weeks ago
  • Unfit to be transport minister
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    2 weeks ago
  • AI vs the OIA
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    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Government ignorant of local transport needs
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    Greater AucklandBy Greater Auckland
    2 weeks ago

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  • Government aligns Clean Car Importer Standard with Australia to reduce vehicle prices for Kiwis
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    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • NZQA Board appointments
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    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • More support for Wairoa clean-up
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    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Minister thanks outgoing Secretary for Education
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  • Minister concludes local government review
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  • Consultation begins on new cancer medicines
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  • 50 years on, Niue and NZ look to the future
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  • Dr Shane Reti's speech to Iwi-Maori Partnership Boards, Rotorua
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  • Going for Housing Growth speech
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  • Going for Housing Growth stage one unveiled
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  • 500th RCG mobile tower delivered at Anawhata
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  • Endeavour Fund updated to grow the economy
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  • Critical minerals stocktake underway
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  • Further boost for Wairoa Mayoral Relief Fund
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  • Prime Minister heads to United States for NATO
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  • Govt delivers consistency for assessing Kiwi kids
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  • New Zealand, Solomon Islands boost partnership
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  • Handover of airfield in Solomons
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  • World Choir Games to boost Auckland economy
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  • Kermadec Arc mineral reservation extended
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  • Government taking action to support media sector
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  • Congratulations to Ngā Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Puku o te Ika a Māui
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  • Government Q2 Action Plan delivers for Kiwis
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